Despite a heavy spending spree over the summer, amidst speculation of a potential takeover and the appointment of a fresh face, AC Milan concluded the season in a modest 7th place.
The race to 7th place at the fag end of this season is a microcosmic demonstration of the changing dynamics of Serie A. Having fallen from the summit, Milan have found a new rival perhaps in Sassuolo who along with their talisman Domenico Berardi have been quite the thorn in Milan’s side in recent years.
After all, who can forget the remarkable Berardi hattrick last year against a team coached by Inzaghi. Berardi has made a habit of scoring against Milan. Although the season didn’t start well, it had its moments as Mihajlovic, for the better part of the season, was able to deliver what was promised after an expensive summer.
The Transfers that Worked and Those that did not
After hitting a few bumps on the road with back to back transfer market humiliations failing to secure the signatures of Jackson Martinez and Geoffrey Kondogbia, Galliani responded by signing Carlos Bacca for 30 million euros, who went on to score 18 goals for the season.
The name on Mihajlovic’s wishlist was Sampdoria’s Alessio Romagnoli, who was owned by bitter rivals Roma. After months of speculation and tough negotiations, the capital outfit let their academy gem leave for 25 million euros which since then has proved to be a very good bargain considering Romagnoli’s label as the “future of Italy”.
However the other Roman that Galliani brought alongside Romagnoli has been a massive failure in his first season. Andrea Bertolacci made quite a few admirers after his stint with Genoa. But he failed to live up to the promise he had shown playing for the grifoni.
Jose Mauri, the talented Italo-Argentine who had recently declined to play for Italy, was brought on a free transfer from Parma, but was hardly given time to prove his capabilities. Luiz Adriano brought from Shakhtar in Ukraine had a decent start to the campaign only to be benched after a few games following a plethora of missed chances in the first derby della madonina.
Milan had a slow start to the season after an away loss to Paulo Sosa’s new look impressive Fiorentina side. Things did not get any better for the Rossoneri as they picked up only 1 win in September and lost the first derby to Inter by a goal. Despite tinkering with the formation, changing it to a 4-4-2, Mihajlovic was unable to find a winning combination as the string of bad results culminated in a 4-0 whipping by Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli.
Mihajlovic tried putting Niang on the flanks and then placed him alongside Bacca in the attack, dropping Adriano to the bench and putting Japanese international Keisuke Honda on the flanks. That turned out to be a more effective formation as Milan started getting results and putting points on the board.
The Moments of the Season
The 3-0 thumping of rivals Inter Milan, putting a serious dent in Mancini’s title hopes, was indisputably the high point of the season for Milan. Milan had not beaten Inter for more than two years in the league. The victory culminated in what was a great stretch of results, having also defeated the impressive Fiorentina 2-0 at home and destroying Lazio 1-3 at the Olimpico.
M’baye Niang’s injury after a car crash turned the wheel of fortune again as Milan hit a rough patch, one that they were unable to come out of and ended in Mihajlovic’s dismissal after a 1-2 loss to Juventus. Brocchi, who was previously the manager of the primevera squad, took charge and was off to a winning start.
A Europa League spot looked within a stone’s throw away for Milan as they only had to play teams like Verona, Frosinone, Carpi and Bologna, teams struggling on the wrong end of the table. Out of these four games, Brocchi only managed a draw against Carpi and Frosinone and lost to the already relegated Hellas Verona side and Donadoni’s Bologna.
The season ended in a 3-1 loss to Roma with Sassuolo winning their tie against Inter to finish 6th ahead of Milan. Stephan El Sharaawy scored against his former side to rub salt in the wounds.
A Few Good Men
Despite being a season that many would like to forget, Mihajlovic’s Milan side produced some unforgettable moments and protagonists that fans would cherish. Gianluigi Donnarumma is one such positive. Credits to Mihajlovic, and to his mentor Christian Abiatti, for being daring enough to hand a 16 year old his first ever start in Serie A, benching the vastly experienced former Real Madrid man Diego Lopez. Donnarumma, on many occasions, kept the season alive for Milan. His performance against Roma was simply incredible, producing save after save to keep the game alive.
Carlos Bacca with his 18 goals and 2 assists definitely played his part in the 7th place finish, however as a star of international repute is expected to, he often went missing in the big games, especially against Juventus, Napoli and Roma. Niang was perhaps the driving force in attack for Milan. His quick feet, composure, energy and workload made him an asset for the coach. He has proved his critics wrong this season despite having a poor show in front of the goal.
On the Horizon
With the financial takeover imminent and Berlusconi set to remain as honorary President, one can only speculate as to how far the infrastructure within the club itself will change. Retired players have often voiced concerns as to how the club is run. The club is yet to finance a stadium, something that Sassuolo have already achieved and so has the newly promoted Cagliari.
When one looks at the number of youth and prospective future squad players Roma and Juventus have on loan to various clubs and compare that to Milan, one gets an idea how far they have fallen off the radar even in Italy. While Juve and Roma are busy stocking mid table teams in Italy as well as abroad with players like Berardi, Sanabria, Paredes (names we could see in their respective lineups next season), Milan have absolutely nothing to show for.
At the moment, the decision seems to be between keeping Brocchi or getting Marco Giampaolo, who has announced his departure from Empoli. Berlusconi’s demands of what he calls ‘champagne football’ can perhaps be met by Giampaolo, who has an unorthodox approach to football which is closer to the Spanish style than to Italian. Giampaolo’s preferred formation is also 4-3-1-2 as he likes his midfield playing short passes in closed spaces.
Rudi Garcia is another name that has been linked to Milan in recent days. Irrespective of who coaches Milan and despite how the season ended, Mihajlovic has been the most successful Milan coach ever since Allegri was sacked, an unfortunate event which the Milan management indubitably rues and will continue to, along with many other things in the last three years of oblivion and ignominy.