The 2014-15 season for Milan was yet another disappointing one as a tenth place finish in the league under rookie manager Pippo Inzaghi led to his sacking. Consecutive seasons without European qualification for the Rossoneri is shocking, however a busy summer mercato has instilled optimism of getting back into a major tournament in 2015-16
The coaching carousel continued for the 2014-15 season as the Rossoneri sacked Clarence Seedorf not even half a year into his tenure and appointed Pippo Inzaghi to the same role with hopes of hot-wiring the new Milan regime.
After the club hit the ground running in the first three matches of the season, it all suddenly crumbled before them despite a breakout campaign for Jérémy Ménez. The French international finished the season as the club’s leading scorer with 16 goals to his name, a career best for the former Paris-Saint Germain forward but a 10th place finish in Serie A wasted the performance.
This summer, the Champions League winning striker (Inzaghi) was fired from his role as manager and replaced with Sampdoria’s Siniša Mihajlović, who was brought in to provide a level of discipline to a side in need of it. Perhaps one of the club’s biggest moves was the arrival of Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol who is expected to close the deal to purchase 48% of the club, making him an instant celebrity among the supporters. With his arrival, the 7-time Champions League winners were ready to restore the club for 2015-16 season and if it was to come to fruition, the summer transfer window was the place to begin. Has (and will) Milan done enough this summer to secure one of the top spots in Serie A good for European qualification?
Summer Transfers- Who’s in, who’s out
Adriano Galliani and the Rossoneri have been one of the more active clubs in not just Italy but Europe as they needed a massive overhaul of their lackluster squad. Mihajlovic has had a big say in what players were to be brought in this summer and despite being new to the job, the former Serbia boss appears to be a vital shot caller.
The first arrival this summer included Rodrigo Ely, the central-defender from Avellino who initially was observed as a bottom-of-the-depth chart defender but now appears to be favored by Mihajlovic to be a major contributor. The next wave of arrivals included: Andrea Bertolacci (20 million euros from Roma), Josè Mauri on a free transfer from Parma, Luiz Adriano (8 million euros from Shakhtar Donetsk), Carlos Bacca (30 million euros from Sevilla) and Alessio Romagnoli from Roma for 25 million euros. Included in the “transfers in” for Milan are Matteo Pessina from Monza (loaned out to Lecce) and Simone Verdi (season loan to Eibar) but it’s the first names mentioned that are seen as the impact additions.
While this player isn’t considered an addition, rather a “retained,” Nigel de Jong renewed with the club for three years, a very important midfielder that Milan desperately need moving forward.
Bertolacci, who Milan spent handsomely on, will be interesting to watch in 2015-16. Many believe that the club overspent on him but he will get the chance to prove that his arrival was money well spent. A quality season with Genoa last year, the Italian has the tools the Milan midfield needs to generate opportunistic chances for goals. Mauri, 19-year old Italian international, was on the radar of Milan for most of last season as it was a breakout year for him despite the turmoil that surrounded the gialloblu. He joins a side looking for any glimmer of ability to improve the midfield so while he may not start every single match, Mihajlovic will surely look his way on the bench to contribute in 15-16.
Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca are expected to be the starting duo up top in Mihajlovic’s preferred 4-3-1-2 formation. The Brazilian Adriano, after a long successful career in Ukraine with Shakhtar, arrives to Italy with a new challenge in the prime of his career. Coming off a season in Premier Liga in which he tallied 21 goals in all competitions (9 in the UEFA Champions League alone), Adriano should be an upgrade over Pazzini and deepen the squad on the attacking front. It’s unfair to expect him to score regularly but he should have no problem hitting double-digits in goals. As for Carlos Bacca, the Colombian international is the key target man. A footballing career tested by struggles to support his family, Bacca overcame this and went on to be a successful footballer at Club Brugge and recently Sevilla where he lifted the UEFA Europa League trophy twice in two years. Now at Milan, the 28-year old gives the club a skill set they haven’t seen in the last few seasons with a blend of speed, strength and finishing ability that will be valuable this season. A total of 28 goals in all competitions last season, Bacca has the tools to be a top scorer in Serie A and become the focal point of the attack.
Alessia Romagnoli is arguably the most important signing for many reasons. His age, ability and upside is a rarity in today’s era and Galliani broke the bank for the 21-year old U-21 Italian international with a lucrative €25m purchase. The Sampdoria standout from 2015-16 rejoins with Mihajlovic who he thrived under and the two rekindle the relationship for this season and hopefully years to come.
As for the departures, the club has finally set free some of the players who really provided little to nothing for this side over the past few seasons, with a few sales mixed in. Daniele Bonera, Giampaolo Pazzini, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien did not have their contracts renewed which should trim the wage bill for this year as well as the future. Renewing these types of players has haunted the club as of late and finally, Milan has elected to actually reinforce the squad through legitimate investment into the market.
In addition, Adil Rami and Stephan El Shaarawy were sold this summer to Sevilla and Monaco respectively. The French defender made the move back to Spain in search of European football while El Shaarawy joined the Ligue 1 side on a season-long loan with an option to buy by the club for next season, hoping to find new life in his quest for success. Gabriel, the young Brazilian goalkeeper who helped lead Carpi to a Serie B title last year, signed an extension before being loaned to Napoli for the season with no buy-back option held by the Neapolitans.
Looking ahead to 2015-16
Milan has done a good job building a side that Mihajlovic can succeed with, even if succeeding means missing out on Champions League qualification. However, being as this large financial investment has been non-existent in recent years, most would feel that anything shy of Europa League play for the 2016-17 season would be disappointing. With nearly 90 million euros spent thus far, the Rossoneri still have work to do this summer as the midfield’s restoration is still lacking that prolific midfield piece.
Throughout this pre-season, Milan has played fairly well when you consider the crop of new names that still need time to adjust to a new scheme and approach set forth by a newly appointed manager. A few defeats to Bayern Munich and Tottenham Hotspur should not diminish the overall play of the club as a whole with wins against Inter, Sassuolo and Perugia. Mihajlovic is expected to field a 4-3-1-2 regularly this season and from what we have seen, it appears to be the logical formation to render success.
Diego Lopez; Antonelli, Ely, Romagnoli, Abate; Bertolacci, De Jong, Bonaventura; Honda; Luiz Adriano, Bacca
Mihajlović fielded this squad against Perugia in the Coppa Italia and it certainly clicked for the most part. Honda is being moved into a more familiar and well suited number 10 role behind the strikers which allowed the Japanese playmaker the opportunity to roam around and service Bacca and Adriano while also being able to push forward into the attack. De Jong and Bertolacci are expected to be two of the three starters in the midfield so while Bonaventura is inserted here, it is worth noting that the lingering rumors of Axel Witsel and Roberto Soriano could perhaps change this. In the defense, the only real shock starter is Ely, however Mihajlovic handpicked him earlier this summer so it appears the Gremio youth player is preferred over Mexes.
Key Player To Watch: Carlos Bacca
The newly acquired Colombian arrives to the club as the main scoring threat and the man who can really provide a spark up front. He has all the tools to be a top scorer and despite questions surrounding who will be the main source of creativity in the midfield, Bacca has the ability to create chances on goal for himself. A large transfer fee to live up to, the former Club Brugge forward will have no issues putting on the red and black kit, taking the pitch on match day and giving it his all as he knows what it takes to work hard for achievement.
A vital part in securing back to back Europa League crowns for Sevilla, Bacca sits in the prime of his career and playing for one of the world’s most prestigious clubs. There are areas of the squad that hold key players but in the eyes of many, Bacca is the missing ingredient to any success as he will be asked to carry his own and lead Milan to European play for 2016-17.
Predicted League Finish: 6th
A 6th-place finish is fair when you consider the power shift in Serie A now slowly balancing out amongst the league’s best. Juventus have dominated over these past four years but with a few key losses and clubs like Lazio, Roma, Inter and Napoli all improving, it could be a “dog-fight.” Milan could find themselves competing for a Champions League spot but a lot could depend on how they finish this summer mercato off.
Predicted Coppa Italia Finish: Semi-final