Friday February 26 2021
Time for Pioli to make difficult decisions

One trait most successful coaches share is the ability to make the difficult, and perhaps unpopular, decisions and Matt Santangelo argues that is what is now necessary for Stefano Pioli.

After suffering their fifth defeat in all competitions this year to Inter, Milan survived against a gritty Red Star side to advance into the UEFA Europa League round of 16 where they will meet Manchester United.

The performance against Dejan Stankovic’s side failed to convince, highlighting further the issues that remain prevalent throughout the squad.

The Rossoneri, with recent defeats in the derby and to Serie A newcomers Spezia, are currently in their worst form in 12 months. The lack of sharpness, enthusiasm and ability to control matches has seen them concede first place to the Nerazzurri atop the table.

Now, with the first of four matches in ten days behind Stefano Pioli, focus shifts to Sunday’s pivotal test away to Roma who smell blood in the water as they seek a massive victory over a top six side.

This upcoming phase has been deemed an opportunity for Milan to round back into form and, when up against a bit of adversity, exercise a bit of bravery to pull out important results when they are otherwise not performing to winning standards.

Seeing as this is a trait most winning sides possess, the onus falls back onto Pioli to now identify the problem areas that have lingered for much of 2021 and find immediate solutions.

Alessio Romagnoli and Simon Kjaer have taken on criticism of late, committing errors in key moments and failing to meet the standard the two had previously set throughout 2020.

Entering last weekend’s derby, the 26-year-old captain had the daunting task of keeping Romelu Lukaku under control, only to be spun and beaten for pace on numerous occasions.

The Italian’s post-injury performances seem to have highlighted fitness concerns, with cracks in his defensive game often being papered over by the team’s good form and his Danish partner shouldering heightened responsibility.

As a unit though, Romagnoli and Kjaer are simply not performing like the sturdy defensive tandem we had come to witness, leaving many begging for Fikayo Tomori to receive a run in the starting XI.

The 23-year old moved to the Italian giants on loan from Chelsea last month with a €28 million option to buy in the summer, a sum many believe the Milan hierarchy has already thought strongly about exercising. Last night, Pioli tried him alongside Romagnoli, with the former proving more aggressive and confident in his defensive approach.

Tomori confronted each challenge with intent to win the battle or ball as opposed to Romagnoli who currently looks non-committal and fearful of costly errors. The Englishman was spatially aware and positioned well to close down the space and ball carrier whereas the Italian remains a bit too zonal, thus conceding space and windows for attackers to exploit as Ben did for goal last night.

Assuming Pioli opts to sit Kjaer for Romagnoli, Tomori’s contrasting profile could be utilized as the more progressive central defender that carries the ball out the back and takes those risks defensively higher up the pitch.

This limits Romagnoli’s vulnerability to be beaten in a high-line setup while also simplifying his defensive assignment a bit more to help restore confidence that has obviously taken a hit. The former Derby County loanee’s recent outings lend credence to an individual who, while still acclimating to new life in Italy, is chomping at the bit to come good and make the decision Milan currently mull over his hefty option a rather easy one.

Though currently sitting in a favorable league position to finish top four and into the next phase of the Europa League, Milan must restore order and balance if they are to make it through this moment.

Even if it requires Pioli making the difficult, and perhaps unpopular, decisions regarding his selections, now it is a matter of taking control of a season that promised so much and finishing the job of a long awaited return to the Champions League.


Have your say...
*I meant to say we are not in that position*
on the 5th March, 2021 at 9:42pm
@Milan Fan @Bunga I think Maldini’s Heir just likes to argue for the sake of arguing. I agree with you both. If you’ve a winning team add 1-2 quality players that improve the squad each year. We are in that position as finished outside top 4 last 10 years. Also don’t have a budget of €50-60 million for one player. We have to look for players on the fringes of good teams which is a sensible plan eg. Theo, Tomori were excellent recruits. Finding such players isn’t so easy and not always available.
on the 5th March, 2021 at 7:16pm
@ Bunga2

Exactly. That’s why he always gives the example of the recent teams of Real or Barca. Of course no sane person would change too much of a winning team.
on the 5th March, 2021 at 2:46pm
IMHO, MH's strategy is sound when a team is actually WINNING the league or at least comfortably being in the top four for a while; not when a team has been pretty much crappy for a decade..

Like, Bayern would be silly and replace 5-6 players at once, but it cannot be applied to Milan, who is honestly lacking in qualities in many departments. Yes we were good with this crop, but that was when every one of the players somehow overachieved and in white hot form. Once the form dropped, we struggle
on the 5th March, 2021 at 9:53am
@Maldini's Heir Buy one player a season? Absolutely won't work if your aim is to win the league or finish top 4. Castillejo isn't good enough so will be sold. A striker is necessary, a Trequartista (instead of Diaz) + Romagnoli needs to go. That 4 changes minimum. On your logic it would take 4 years to solve those issues. Im beginning to think you are anti football. Bizarre.
on the 5th March, 2021 at 1:31am
@ Maldini’s ...

Every weekend I watch the jersey of the club that I love on the back of players who might or might not be there tomorrow. They won’t take a part of the club with themselves if they leave.

Just stop with your breaking record, everybody understands what you’re saying, it’s not something revolutionary or complicated, but you’re making it absurdly more than it should be.

If you were our director I bet Kevin Constant was still our left-back and had your full support.
on the 5th March, 2021 at 12:03am
@ Vero Rossonero I like what you're thinking but I don't see a need to drastically change things. The fact is the current system has worked very well for the past year. The big issue in recent months has been we have not moved the ball quickly enough. It doesn't matter what formation we play if we slow down the play too much we'll struggle to break down teams like Udinese.

Don't we have Brahim as cover for Calha?

The big challenge this summer will be how we deal with all of the loan signings
on the 4th March, 2021 at 10:07pm
@ Milan Fan The club IS the players (and the staff). What are you watching on weekends? Archive footage? Each week we watch a group of players brought together under a banner. Those are the people we support. Sure we might criticise them like we would our own but this constant push for newer, shiner things undermines everything that supporting a team should be about.
on the 4th March, 2021 at 10:03pm
1. Gigio
2. Tata
3. The other Donnarumma
1. Theo
2. New LB
1. Roma
2. Gabbia
3. Kalulu
1. Kjaer
2. Gabbia
3. Kalulu
1. Tomori
2. Kalulu
3. Gabbia
1. Cala
2. Alexis
3. Kalulu
1. Bennacer
2. Tonali
3. Pobega
1. Kessie
2. Pobega
3. Tonali
1. Calha
2. ???
1. Rebic
2. Leao/Hauge/Colombo/Roback
1. Ibra/*Leao (*if Ibra leaves)
2. Leao/Hauge/Colombo/Roback

Just realized we'd need a backup for Calha. 24 players. No big changes. 3-4-3 also possible.
on the 4th March, 2021 at 7:24pm
@Maldini's Heir. Not giving up on our captain. I'm suggesting a change of formation to best take advantage of the strengths that we have, and mitigate the weaknesses. For some reason my final post didn't post. I'm saying we should consider changing to a 3-4-1-2. This will mean that our only expenses this summer are making Tomori and Tonali permanent, with a small amount spent on bring a real LB to back up Theo. Maybe we can do this with someone from the academy. Our squad would look like this:
on the 4th March, 2021 at 7:10pm
@ Maldini’s hair
That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The club is not just the players, they are a part of it, like the coach, they come and go, the club remains. I prefer fans who speak the truth. I said Romagnoli is decent in a certain style of play, which is not our style at the moment. What’s so hard to understand about that? I could care less if he’s the captain or the president of the club, if he deserves criticism he should get it.

Yeah Tomori is much better looking than Romagnoli.
on the 4th March, 2021 at 11:20am
@ Luigi That is true on both fronts, although Pioli could still surprise is. Ranieri did!
on the 4th March, 2021 at 9:18am
Drop romagnoli would also cause unstability within the team since he is the captain. Milan would drop more points if this problem unresolved. Milan could be out of the title race and even losing champions league spot if its continue like this. Yup, pioli did great in the first half of the season in a big clubs like milan and inter. But the second half of the season, he would always losing many points to grab, even against teams in the relegation zone. Good luck Milan,see you in the europa league
on the 4th March, 2021 at 5:19am
right conditions. Finding those conditions is really very hard. That is why so few football transfers actually work out - and by "work out" I mean the player performs at the same or a higher level with his new club. Most football transfers end in failure. Most loans are a complete waste of time. The only people who benefit from football transfers are agents (who get commission), directors (who justify their existence) and players' bank accounts.
on the 4th March, 2021 at 4:06am
of the squad was written off. Then something changed. But it's not just Milan. Man Utd went from 1st to 7th between 12/13 and 13/14 with basically the same squad just because Ferguson retired. Chelsea went from 1st to 10th to 1st to 5th in 4 seasons from 14/15 to 17/18 with basically the same squad. Juve went from 7th to an unbeaten 1st between 10/11 and 11/12 by basically adding Pirlo. Eriksen was a write off at Inter a month ago. The exact same players can perform completely differently in the
on the 4th March, 2021 at 4:03am
@ pauly Yes. That's exactly what I'd do. I'd say: "This is the one area we need strengthening the most, now let's throw everything at that one area". I would then focus on getting the best out of the existing players. That has as much chance of success as signing 6 or 7 players at once that don't know each other from Adam. Football is a team game and so you need a team. A team is more than just a collection of random individuals thrown together. Milan are an exact case in point. A year ago most
on the 4th March, 2021 at 3:52am
@Maldini's Heir 27? 4th goalkeeper is training with squad no a first team player. Ok take your example. You new football team owner comes to you & says I want you to build a football team to get us champions league. Need about 6-7 players. Your budget 40-50 million. What would you do? Buy 1 player? Finish mid table? You get sacked if that happens. You need to wake up that owners are investors. They dont love the team. The Glazers, Sunning, Elliot. All about buy low, sell for profit in 5-7 years.
on the 4th March, 2021 at 1:14am
separate out the players from the team. If you support the team you support the players. Worts and all. If more people took this attitude then more people would object to the constant merry-go-round of the transfer market that kills teams' identities and prevents players from ever reaching their potentials.
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:35pm
@ Milan Fan Was YAGO being too positive for you? Do you prefer fans who spend their whole time criticising the players and imagining what wonders await the next transfer window? That's what "fans" seem to love doing the most. Criticising the players who we're supposed to be supporting whilst dreaming of a better looking guy - it's increasingly difficult to tell the difference between football news and glamour magazines. Should we not just back our captain? The club IS the players. You can't
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:33pm
slowly. Had we taken this approach for the past 10 years we wouldn't have gone through hundreds (that's HUNDREDS) of players and we might even have had the likes of Cristante and Locatelli as long term solutions to a problem that we now need to spend about 20m if we want to make Tonali a permanent transfer after a pretty mediocre season where he's performed probably worse than our former players. So it's a mess mainly because there's constant tinkering and bargain basement signings.
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:28pm
Tomori, Dalot, Tonali, Meïté and Brahim. So before we can even add to the squad we need to resolve all those problems. We of course won't buy out all those players because we can't afford to, so we'll get more players on loan which will be with us for one season (or 6 months) and so on and so forth and we will never, ever improve. We'll just keep putting out fires every single transfer window. Alternatively we could focus on signing one player each transfer window on a permanent basis and build
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:25pm
6 months time. This is with a squad of 27 players. So Dalot will only be with us for 1 season? Again, in your job, do you change personnel every 6-12 months? Unless you work in a bar or a ski resort, probably not. I've no idea about all these new signings you're talking about. I can almost guarantee that Pobega will never make it because we have too many midfielders as it is (5 including Krunić and another loanee Tonali). Just to keep the squad we have we'll need to spend about 100m to buy
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:23pm
@ pauly I count 27 players in the first team squad. The 5 loanees are the first problem. Why do we have loanees? I don't know what job you do but you do borrow employees from your competitors? Maybe borrow them for 6 months at a time? Of course not. Because in the real world that would be completely ridiculous. In football teams borrow players from each other including direct rivals. We had 5 CBs (who we owned), we let 2 go, and brought in Tomori (on loan) and have created another problem in
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 11:19pm
Roma has been on poor form recently and his lack of pace will always be a hindrance, however let's not forget for 18 months he was rock solid and a big part of Milan doing so well of late. He was also up against Lukaku in one of those poor games he had who on current form is pretty much unplayable. Roma has a place in this squad for sure, whether that's as a starter in a back 3 or a rotation option he should be kept for sure.
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 3:58pm
...with that playing style, but when you play a high line, as big modern teams should play to press the opponent and dominate them with their quality, he fails. Reading of the game mostly comes naturally for a defender, pace is an innate ability, you can’t teach these things to a 26 year old defender. Even Chiellini fails in a high line, he’s a great deep defender the way Juve have been playing for the past decade, but even they are trying to change with De Ligt and Demiral.
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 7:23am
Where do you get your information? Romagnoli barely performs hard tackles because he NEVER challenges for the ball. His stats in tackles, interceptions and clearances are terribly short compared to both Tomori and Kjaer, look it up. He’s the biggest backtracker of all backtrackers. Strikers turn him easily when he tries to mark them. Now he played well under Gattuso because his tactics were to defend deep with 10 men in and around the box and then counter. Romagnoli is decent with that...
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 7:11am
@Maldini's Heir what do you mean sign MORE players?Madrid have a squad of 22, Barca 23, Bayern 25.We have 26 (5 of which are loanees).We had 3 CBs & we brought Tomori - & he looks excellent.We need 4 CBs & 4 CMs for the season because of the system we play.Dalot will move on in the summer. Kerkez will replace him. Castillejo & Krunic will will go. Thauvin will join. Potega will return. We need a striker. Plus we sold dead wood already.Surely even you can agree all of the above has been positive?
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 2:59am
@ Yago Excellent comments. I certainly haven't given up hope on our captain. If he can recover his form then it solves a huge problem for us and we can focus on finding a replacement for Ibra this summer.

@ Vero Rossonero Firstly he's no worse than Bonucci and look how many titles he's won. Secondly he actually did a very good job on Lukaku in the second half of the derby. I don't think he'll ever be a Maldini but you don't need Maldini's. Look at Bonucci!
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 1:00am
@ pauly As I've said before, Real, Barca and Bayern do not need massive squads. If injuries are a problem then we need to find the source of the injuries because we won't win anything if players are injured. And if we don't have money then it's even more of a reason for not signing too many players and for keeping the squad size down. I never understand why a tight budget means we sign MORE players!
on the 3rd March, 2021 at 12:54am
(Cont'd) Come to think of it switching to a 3-4-1-2 in the summer might end up being the most economical way to move on the market in a summer market that will still be affected by decreased revenues due to covid. You don't have to spend money to improve at RW, as that is eliminated, and you already have 90% of all the other positions covered. Viable even without signing Tomori and Diaz. Cont'd...
on the 2nd March, 2021 at 10:33pm

Post new comment

Your email address is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
If you have your own website, enter its address here.
Maximum 500 characters.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Your responses will be moderated, and sometimes edited, by Football Italia before appearing on the site. Your data may be made public and you accept our Privacy Policy. Please keep your comments clean and try to keep them relevant to the blog above. We reserve the right to reject views that we deem unsuitable for publication.