Coppa Italia: Final / Team rating: 5 / Top scorer: Bacca (18)
A summer that promised so much ended in a third likely failure to qualify for European competition and leaves the Diavolo back where they started, writes Livio Caferoglu.
Having recorded their worst Serie A finish for 18 years last season, changes had to be made at Milan – and fast – if they were to avoid a similar outcome in 2015-16. And for a brief spell, it appeared Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani had finally awoken from their slumber and made the right moves to resurrect Italy’s most successful export.
Filippo Inzaghi was duly removed as Coach, and Milan quickly set their sights on Sinisa Mihajlovic, who had spent the past year-and-a-half transforming Sampdoria from relegation battlers to European contenders. Fresh investment also seemed to be on the horizon as Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol agreed to pay almost €500m for a 48 percent stake in the club.
That investment appeared to have been reflected in their subsequent spending binge on Sevilla sharpshooter Carlos Bacca, defensive starlet Alessio Romagnoli and burgeoning playmaker Andrea Bertolacci for a combined €75m, while the signings of Shakhtar Donetsk striker Luiz Adriano and Genoa stalwart Juraj Kucka were seen as shrewd captures, the loan return of Mario Balotelli less so.
However, it soon became clear that there were deficiencies in Milan’s masterplan. While the Rossoneri were commended for their ambitious transfer activity – and rightly so – the decision to allocate so much of their budget on only three players not only afforded the trio little time to adapt, but also prompted questions of their strength in depth, with many older heads having simultaneously made way.
Progress on Mr Bee’s takeover, in the meantime, slowed down, and the uncertainty off the pitch during pre-season surely impacted on the club’s efforts on it as they lost four friendlies, although they did beat arch-rivals Inter. Nonetheless, the prospect of a new dawn at San Siro was too great for the Rossoneri faithful to ignore, despite a 2-0 defeat to Fiorentina on the opening day of the campaign.
Bacca needed little time to settle, with three goals in his first four games, while Romagnoli quickly established himself as a first-choice player in central defence, but Bertolacci was struggling to pull the strings in the middle of the park, Miha’s decision to switch to a 4-3-3 from a 4-4-2 in October failing to inspire a recovery in the midfielder’s form. In hindsight, the Roman would be the signing who most resembled the side’s season.
The change in formation immediately brought about three straight wins against Sassuolo, Chievo and Lazio, the Serbian having overseen a 4-0 home defeat to Napoli and a 1-0 loss to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in his first eight matches, but that was to be the highlight of Milan’s campaign as they failed to embark on any victorious runs lasting beyond two matches.
Problems aside, the Diavolo had established themselves as one of the teams in European contention, a status strengthened by only two defeats between October and March. In that time, they inflicted sweet revenge on both Inter and Fiorentina, rivals who were also in the top-six mix, and engineered a run to the Coppa Italia final, where they will meet Juventus on May 21.
Preparations should have been smooth, with the side sixth in Serie A and holding a healthy six-point lead on Sassuolo as March began, but it was only the start of another troubled spell in the club’s recent history. A 2-0 loss to the Neroverdi was an unwelcome blow, and four more winless results followed to condemn Mihajlovic to the scrapheap, a 2-1 home reverse to Juve proving the final straw.
Worse yet, Mr Bee’s planned takeover of the club hit the rocks, to the extent that the deal was off by February, and while there was talk of another Asian buyout before the end of the campaign, which would have seen Marcello Lippi succeed Miha and Jackson Martinez possibly arrive on loan, Primavera boss Cristian Brocchi was installed to steady the ship for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately for the union, only two wins out of a possible six – not even against relegated trio Frosinone, Carpi and Verona, whom they faced – were registered, and Milan’s sorry campaign ended with not only a third likely failure to qualify for Europe, but Brocchi accusing his side of lacking “balls” after their final League assignment at home to Roma, which ended 3-1 to the capital outfit.
They may have a cup final to look forward to, yet the Rossoneri are back where they started. A classic case of one step forward and two steps back, or as the Aston Villa fans of the past nine months succinctly asked: proud history, what future?
Mihajlovic was never considered a popular appointment due to his past affinity with Inter, and the plug was eventually pulled on the Serbian after Week 32’s home defeat to Juventus. Primavera boss Cristian Brocchi was next in line, but the former Milan midfielder managed just two wins in his six games.
Despite Carlos Bacca running out top goalscorer and Giacomo Bonaventura regularly churning out spirited performances, Milan can claim Serie A’s find of the season through Donnarumma, who ousted veterans Christian Abbiati and Diego Lopez in Week 9 and didn’t look back, as the goalkeeper became an ever-present at just 17 years of age.
- Milan ended the season winless in their last four home games, for the first time since December 2007.
- The Diavolo scored more than one goal in only one of their last 13 Serie A matches, during a 3-3 with Frosinone.
- Cristian Brocchi became Milan’s sixth full-time Coach since 2009 – the sextet’s predecessor Carlo Ancelotti outlasted all of them combined.
|32||GK||Christian Abbiati||0 (1)||-||-|
|31||D||Luca Antonelli||25 (3)||3||1|
|2||D||Mattia De Sciglio||21 (1)||-||1|
|15||D||Rodrigo Ely||2 (1)||-||-|
|5||D||Philippe Mexes||4 (1)||1||-|
|13||D||Alessio Romagnoli||33 (1)||-||-|
|17||D||Cristian Zapata||14 (2)||1||-|
|91||M||Andrea Bertolacci||21 (6)||1||1|
|28||M||Giacomo Bonaventura||31 (2)||6||8|
|-||M||Nigel de Jong||5||-||-|
|10||M||Keisuke Honda||23 (7)||1||3|
|27||M||Juraj Kucka||24 (5)||1||3|
|73||M||Manuel Locatelli||1 (1)||-||-|
|4||M||Jose Mauri||3 (2)||-||-|
|-||M||Antonio Nocerino||1 (1)||-||-|
|16||M||Andrea Poli||4 (14)||-||1|
|9||F||Luiz Adriano||12 (14)||4||3|
|70||F||Carlos Bacca||36 (2)||18||2|
|45||F||Mario Balotelli||8 (12)||1||1|
|-||F||Alessio Cerci||8 (5)||-||1|
|7||F||Jeremy Menez||2 (8)||2||-|
|19||F||M'Baye Niang||15 (1)||5||4|
|72||F||Kevin Prince-Boateng||1 (10)||1||-|