“Nothing has changed from last year, there was too much fear,” Milan coach Sinisia Mihajlovic raged to press following Milan’s 2-1 win over Empoli.
However, on paper and in the pagelle it seems like a fair bit has changed at the Rossoneri – Milan winning was a rare occurrence last season and several new faces saw the San Siro grass for the first time as a member of the home team. Yet, Sinisa – a new part of Milan himself – was right, the Diavolo looking as passive as they had been under Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf and Massimiliano Allegri.
Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano’s first Serie A goals for Milan saved the Rossoneri the indignity of failing to win their opening two games in the league, a contribution recognised by their boss.
“Milan would’ve lost this game a year ago, but that is only because they didn’t have these strikers. Nothing else is different.”
The Serbian was correct in his diagnosis. Despite the additions of Andrea Bertolacci, Jose Mauri and re-signing of Nigel De Jong, the Milan midfield was dire in a game they should have dominated. The passing was slow and unimaginative, each midfielder hoping another red-shirt would have the insight to challenge the Empoli defence. Ironically, a player like the Azzurri’s Riccardo Saponara may have come in useful – had Milan not sold him back to the club. The Italian certainly looked better than former Liverpool starlet Suso, Genoa signing Juraj Kucka or €20m Andrea Bertolacci, who looked a lot like a good deal for Roma as he misplaced passes for an hour on Saturday night.
It was a clear symbol for Adriano Galliani, who admitted Milan “need something” in midfield – it was clear on Saturday that reinforcements still were necessary. Spending €38m on a new strikeforce doesn’t mean a thing if no-one can get them the ball, right?
It seems the Rossoneri’s inactivity stretched to the transfer in the final days, too. So often known as Adriano Galliani’s “zone” with so many Milan fans eulogising previous deadline day deals including the one that brought Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho to the club in 2010, many were expecting a repeat performance with a midfielder like Axel Witsel being the target.
Milan made space, off-loading Christian Zaccardo and loaning out Alessandro Matri but no-one came. The Rossoneri backed out of the Roberto Soriano deal and stalled on Witsel, refusing to alter their “option” to buy to “obligation.” Despite the Russian club lowering their demands over the summer from €35m to €25m, Milan’s refusal to sacrifice the option to back-out may cost them as they struggle to compete with their rivals over the course of the season.
When all is said and done, that may be one of the reasons that people will point to if the Rossoneri do miss out on Champions League. Even putting aside the Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Carlo Ancelotti-Bee Taechauboul optimism that bordered on fantasy at various points during the summer, Milan had a tangible opportunity to close the gap with their rivals and failed to act. Meanwhile, Juventus added Hernanes to a midfield that already has Paul Pogba, Sami Khedira and Claudio Marchisio while Inter added Ljajic to an attack that had already recruited Stevan Jovetic and Ivan Perisic.
Maybe Mihajlovic is right about more than he thinks: nothing has changed since last year.