Milan failed to reach the Champions League yet again, but Vilizar Yakimov sees Marco Giampaolo’s new-look team as a worthy top four contender.
Coach: Marco Giampaolo
Last season: Fifth, 68 points
Player of the Year 2018-19: Krzysztof Piatek
Look out for: Theo Hernandez
Prediction: Champions League place
Just like in previous seasons, Milan started the 2018-19 campaign with high hopes. Everybody thought the Rossoneri had pulled out a masterstroke with the arrivals of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara from Juventus, but in all honesty those transfers could not have gone any worse.
Ironically, Higuain’s disastrous performance against the Bianconeri in November virtually ended his Milan career, while Caldara’s series of horror injuries deprived Il Diavolo from the powerful centre-back that they so sorely needed.
Unlike their summer dealings, Milan’s January moves proved to be a real hit, as the arrivals of Krzysztof Piątek and Lucas Paqueta provided the spark that Genaro Gattuso’s side lacked. Despite the instant improvement, the Rossoneri didn’t manage to make up the deficit from the first part of the campaign, as they were left heart-broken and finished fifth with Inter snatching up fourth spot on the final day.
However, for the first time in a while Milan have something to build on and Marco Giampaolo’s arrival should boost their 2019-20 hopes even further. Champions League qualification is the main goal once again and the attacking philosophy of the ex-Sampdoria Coach should bring back the big-team mentality that Milan have lacked in previous seasons.
Gattuso was often criticized for his tactical choices, but the truth is the 2006 World Cup winner had a very limited squad prior to Piatek and Paqueta’s arrivals. Being able to count on the duo from the start of the campaign will be a huge advantage, but what’s more important is that Milan finally seem to put sense into their other transfer dealings.
Ismael Bennacer and Rade Krunic might not be names that strike fear in the opposition, but they are functional players and it’s hard to imagine the ex-Empoli pair doing much worse than Andrea Bertolacci and Jose Mauri. In fact, Giampaolo was the one who launched Krunic’s career at the Tuscan club back in 2015, so the Bosnian should have no problems adjusting to his former boss’ methods.
Theo Hernandez is another summer signing that should provide more quality and depth at left back, as the 21-year-old arrived from Real Madrid for €20m. He will challenge the unconvincing Ricardo Rodriguez for a place in the starting XI, but Milan’s defensive reinforcements do not stop there, as 23-year-old Brazilian centre back Leonardo Duarte also arrived from Flamengo for €11m.
Unsurprisingly, Milan’s most expensive summer acquisition so far is in attack, as the Rossoneri paid a reported fee close to €35m to Lille for Rafael Leao’s services. The 20-year-old Portuguese represents somewhat of a gamble, but his pace and ability to occupy wide positions make him a suitable partner for Piatek.
Leao came in as the direct replacement of fan favourite Patrick Cutrone, as the Rossoneri youth product didn’t manage to create any cohesion with Piatek and doesn’t appear to be suitable for Giampaolo’s fluid 4-3-1-2 formation.
Milan are also linked with a move for Angel Correa, but regardless if they manage to secure the services of the €55m Atletico Madrid forward, it can be concluded that the Rossoneri’s mercato has been very positive so far.
Il Diavolo not only kept their best players, but also brought in solid reinforcements in key positions. The Rossoneri also managed to get rid of some dead wood as Cristian Zapata, Jose Mauri, Ignazio Abate, Riccardo Montolivo and Bertolacci all left.
Overall it can be concluded that Milan seem to be moving in the right direction, as the exaggerated spending from the last few seasons is now gone. It’s very positive to see the club finally putting some sense into their transfer dealings, which left the squad unbalanced on multiple occasions in the past.
The Coach: Marco Giampaolo
After impressing with Sampdoria in the last three seasons, Marco Giampaolo finally got the chance of managing one of Serie A’s big boys. Giampaolo’s favourite 4-3-1-2 formation should allow Milan to play a more attacking and proactive brand of football, which is something the Rossoneri failed to do under Gattuso.
Key summer signing: Ismael Bennacer
Giampaolo’s playing style requires technically gifted midfielders that can move the ball efficiently and the Algerian is exactly that. Bennacer played a key role for his country’s triumph at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and it was no coincidence that he was voted as the player of the tournament. If the 21-year-old defensive midfielder manages to replicate his Algeria performances in a Milan shirt, the €16m that the Rossoneri paid for him might look a real bargain.
Key summer sale: Patrick Cutrone
Ever since Krzysztof Piątek’s arrival in January, it became clear that Cutrone’s role in the team would become very limited. Gattuso tried to implement the 21-year-old alongside Piatek, but the truth is the Pole is just overall the better player. Sadly, but logically, this led to Cutrone’s departure, as the Rossoneri sold their youth product to Wolverhampton Wanderers for a fee close to €22m.
Predicted XI [4-3-1-2]: Donnarumma; Conti, Duarte, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer, Bonaventura; Paqueta; Leao, Piatek