As the 2019/20 Serie A gears up for a return to normalcy, we equip you with an in-depth view of everything about AC Milan and their season so far.
One of the most successful clubs in the game of football, AC Milan have been going through a period of turbulence and tumult for a number of years now.
There used to be a time when Milan was synonymous with trophies. The early years of success soon after their formation in 1899, the era of dominance in the late 1950s and early 1960s led by the likes of Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm, Jose Alfatini and Giovanni Trapattoni were some of the brightest periods for the club.
Then there was the golden period in the late 80s and early 90s spearheaded by Franco Baresi, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Boban, George Weah and Paolo Maldini. And who can forget Carlo Ancelotti’s star-studded team in the 2000s with Filippo Inzaghi, Maldini (again), Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Andriy Shevchenko, Kaka among many many others.
With 18 Italian top-flight titles, they are the joint-second most successful team in the country, behind only Juventus (35). Their tally of seven European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles is the best in Italy and is only eclipsed by Real Madrid (13) across Europe. Five UEFA Super Cups, five Italian Cups, seven Italian Super Cups, the list goes on and on.
However, as mentioned previously, for almost a decade now, the Rossoneri have been going through a period of turmoil. It has been nine years since Milan won the Serie A title (2010/11), even longer since they lifted the Champions League (2006/07). Recent campaigns have seen them struggle to qualify for Europe’s premier competition.
Milan haven’t finished in the top four of Serie A even once since 2012/13. In fact, they did not feature in any continental competition between 2014 and 2017. Once a European royalty, their decline to a club battling to qualify for the Europa League has been disheartening to watch.
AC Milan’s 2019/20 season so far…
It has been pretty much the same story of struggles for AC Milan during the 2019/20 campaign. With Gennaro Gattuso resigning from the managerial post in May last year, the club hired Marco Giampaolo to guide the team into a new dawn.
Milan, though, did not have the best of the starts under the former Sampdoria boss. They lost four of their first seven Serie A matches this season. This series of poor results, coupled with questionable selections and unclear tactics saw Giampaolo get booted out in October – just 111 days into the hotseat.
Stefano Pioli was brought in on a two-year deal to try and turn around the fortunes of the Rossoneri. Things did not begin well for him either, with just one win and three defeats in his first five league games. But slowly and steadily, the results have improved, although Milan are well below their rivals Inter and Juventus.
Indeed, the Italian giants have lost just three of their last 14 Serie A clashes (W6 D5), although two of those defeats came in their last four, meaning they were showing signs of decline prior to the suspension of the campaign. As things stand, Milan are seventh in the table, with 36 points from 25 matches. They are three points shy of Napoli in sixth and twelve below Atalanta in fourth.
Milan have done decently in the Coppa Italia this season. Having beaten SPAL and Torino in the Round of 16 and quarter-final stages, respectively, they managed to hold Juventus to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the semi-final. A top six finish in the Serie A with a cup victory would be seen as a good season by the club.
The Manager: Stefano Pioli
Stefano Pioli is one of the most experienced managers around in the Serie A currently. The 54-year-old started out back in 2000 with the Bologna Under-19 side and has since gone on to manage the likes of Parma, Palermo and Lazio among others. He also had a short stint at Milan’s local rivals Inter during the 2016/17 term, following which he was at Fiorentina for close to two years.
Having been without a job since April last year, the Italian tactician was appointed by Milan in October. And while it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for him at the San Siro, Pioli, so far, has done a decent enough job. So far, he has taken charge of 22 matches for the club, leading them to 9 victories and 6 defeats, posting a win percentage of 40.1.
While he has never won any trophy in his managerial career, Pioli is known for his tactical astuteness. After Inter Milan, this is the most high-profile job that the Italian has taken.
Tactics & Style of Play
Pioli usually sets his teams up in 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formations, although during his time at Milan he has also tried an unconventional 3-2-2-3 setup on occasions. His teams are known for their high-intensity pressing, something that has been visible since he took over the reins at Milan.
The 54-year-old likes to operate with a two-man midfield pivot, wherein one holds the fort and offers cover to the backline when not in possession, while the other is given more licence to get upfield. The former role has usually been performed by Ismael Bennacer for the Rossoneri this season, with Franck Kessie being his partner in the middle.
Bennacer is also usually the key to building up play from the back for Milan when in possession. He is one of their best dribblers in the league and possesses the ability to make progressive runs forward, before releasing a teammate with an accurate pass, kickstarting an attack.
Best dribble success rate by league (50+ attempted dribbles)
🇩🇪 Thiago – 87.5%
🇪🇸 Thomas Partey – 86.8%
🏴 Mateo Kovacic – 86.3%
🇮🇹 Ismael Bennacer – 82.6%
🇫🇷 Jeff Reine-Adelaide – 74.6% pic.twitter.com/GaVajdRXxU
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) March 2, 2020
Milan’s general attacking play under Pioli has seen them create an overload on the right flank, before moving the ball swiftly to the other side once they are well within the opposition half. This usually starts with Bennacer dropping deep to free up his partner Kessie by dragging his marker along with him. This enables the Ivorian to receive a pass from the goalkeeper or a defender.
Kessie then carries the ball forward with some neat combination play with the right-back and the No. 10, Hakan Calhanoglu, or the right-sided winger, a position which Samu Castillejo has made his own under Pioli. The trio form intricate passing triangles to develop play down the right.
Once they are well into the opposition half, the ball is moved horizontally towards the centre-forward, who either holds it up before laying it on for the left-sided winger, who usually drifts in centrally, or turns and takes a shot at goal himself. What this also does is leave the left-back free to maraud down the flank and get into dangerous positions without always being marked. Theo Hernandez has reaped great benefits from this.
Without the ball, as mentioned previously, Pioli’s Milan press opponents aggressively high up the pitch from the front itself. They tend to play with a high backline, which does leave them susceptible when the centre-backs charge out, leaving plenty of vacant spaces in behind.
Milan have a good mix of youth and experience in their current squad, although they lacked the presence of a bonafide superstar within the ranks, until the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the January transfer window.
With an average age of 26.4 years, the AC Milan squad is the third-youngest in the Serie A, behind only Fiorentina (25.7) and Hellas Verona (26.2). When restricted to players that have been used in the competition, the average age of the squad drops to 24.4, making them the youngest squad in the league.
In Gianluigi Donnarumma, the Rossoneri have one of the most talented young goalkeepers in the game currently. Captain Alessio Romagnoli has been a permanent fixture in defence, but injuries and inconsistencies have meant he has had to switch partners among the likes of Leo Duarte, Mateo Musacchio and Simon Kjaer. Although this has also opened up a chance for youngster Matteo Gabbia to make a name for himself.
Andrea Conti and Davide Calabria have been in and out at right-back, whereas Theo Hernandez has been the undisputed choice on the opposite end, so much so that, veteran Ricardo Rodriguez was loaned out.
Ismael Bennacer has grown into a key player for the Rossoneri since arriving last summer, while Franck Kessie has also continued to enjoy a steady rise in prominence. The duo have been Pioli’s preferred partnership in the centre, with the likes of Rade Krunic, Lucas Paqueta and Lucas Biglia providing additional options.
Hakan Calhanoglu has been a certain starter in the No. 10 role. The departure of Suso in January was seen as a blow for Milan. However, Samu Castillejo has stepped up admirably in his absence, establishing himself as a permanent fixture on the right flank.
Ante Rebic, too, has been in impressive form since the turn of the year, after a dull start to the season following his summer switch on a two-year loan. With seven goals since the start of the year, he is the club’s top goalscorer. Having been left impressed by the turnaround, Milan are contemplating signing him permanently.
Milan sold Patrick Cutrone in the summer and Krzysztof Piatek in January, but the arrival of Ibrahimovic has spurred them on in the second half of the season. The veteran Swede has been an ever-present in attack since joining in January, with Rafael Leao providing cover when needed.
Marquee Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Who else but Zlatan.
He may be 38 years old, but the Swedish maverick continues to stand out with his performances on the field. Having returned to Milan after his deal at MLS club LA Galaxy ran out in January, Ibrahimovic hasn’t missed a beat. The veteran forward has missed just one Serie A match since returning, which is a testament to his fitness levels even at this age.
The former Manchester United and PSG superstar has bagged three goals in eight Serie A matches, while also scoring once in the Coppa Italia. It’s not just about goals with him, though. Ibrahimovic’s presence and his aura naturally spur everyone around him to up their game a notch. So, it mustn’t come as a surprise that the improvement of results have coincided with his arrival.
Should he be fit and firing for the final run-in, there is every chance that Ibrahimovic will lead Milan to a top six finish in the Serie A as well as the Coppa Italia trophy.
Academy Watch: Marco Brescianini
While the 20-year-old is yet to make his first-team debut for AC Milan, Marco Brescianini is regarded as one of the finest young prospects to have come through the youth ranks at the club recently. A versatile central midfielder, Brescianini is currently the captain of Milan’s Primavera side.
🎥 Highlights 🎥
Milan 🆚 #MilanPrimavera
— AC Milan (@acmilan) October 12, 2019
The midfielder has featured 16 times across all competitions for the Primavera outfit, producing an impressive return of eight goals and two assists. He has been on the first-team bench for a number of Serie A matches this season.
Brescianini has attracted interest from Premier League, with West Ham United reportedly eyeing a summer swoop for the youngster. However, Milan handed him a five-year contract last September, indicating his standing within the club. He may not feature in the ongoing campaign, but he is surely one to watch out for the future.
Apart from Brescianini, Daniel Maldini is another exciting prospect coming through the AC Milan youth ranks. Son of club legend Paolo Maldini, the 18-year-old attacking midfielder has already made his first-team debut this season and has been tipped for a bright future.
AC Milan are not the mighty force they once used to be. And for them to reach the heights of their gloried past, there is a long, long way to go. While there remain doubts if Stefano Pioli is the right man to take the team back to the top in Italy, he has done a fine job steadying things in his tenure so far.
As far as the 2019/20 campaign is concerned, they are still within the mix for a top six finish and a return to Europa League will be a step in the right direction for the club. If they manage to add a trophy in the form of Coppa Italia, it might turn out to be quite a decent campaign for the Rossoneri.