AC Milan are coming off another disappointing season. The Rossoneri finished 7th in Serie A, seven points out of the Europa League, and got only nine points in their last ten matches of the season. Milan needs drastic improvement in several areas to be competitive and to stay competitive, including a reliable transfer strategy, a coach who can keep his job for more than a season and an improved roster.
Just looking at the roster, Milan is admittedly in a better position now than they were a year ago. The team is younger than it was, but that isn’t exactly saying a lot. The squad has several solid pieces in place, instead of just one, so Milan do have players to build around. These players are, of course, the outstanding Gianluigi Donnarumma, who is just 17; Alessio Romagnoli in the center of the defense, who is one of the best young center backs in Italy; Giacomo Bonaventura, the dynamic midfielder who was one of Milan’s most valuable pieces last season; and M’Baye Niang, the young forward who has finally come into his own as a Milan player.
Milan have these players to build around, which is not a bad start. That puts one player in each part of the field that they can rely on. However, it gets a little tricky from there, as Milan’s remaining players range from solid, to not great, to deserving a seat on the bench.
Starting in defense, Milan is, for the first time in years, actually good in defense. They have Ignazio Abate, who found another level last season; Luca Antonelli, who was a solid starter all season; Mattia De Sciglio, who alternates between good and in desperate need of improvement, but is just coming off a good Euro tournament; Davide Calabria, a 19-year-old wing back who came in for a couple solid starts last season and is only looking up; Rodrigo Ely, who is a young solid center back, but is prone to mistakes and may be loaned out soon; Leonel Vangioni, who was just signed as another wing back; and Cristian Zapata. Gabriel Paletta is also returning from a loan with Atalanta. Milan has enough players at wing back, with Abate, Antonelli, Vangioni, Calabria, and De Sciglio. Between those five, you have two starters, one solid backup, one young player who may be a star soon, and one player who you don’t know who you will get. The center-back position has one spot locked up with Romagnoli, and while Zapata was not bad last season, I would like to see either Paletta or Ely take the spot beside him. However, considering there are only three backs who are not Romagnoli, one need for Milan would be a solid young center-back. He doesn’t need to be a starter. He would need to be able to come in when needed and start maybe ten matches, but that’s not to say that Villarreal’s Mateo Musacchio wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms.
Moving on to the midfield, this is where things get rocky. Besides Bonaventura, who is one of the most valuable players on the team, Milan does not have much in the midfield, as has been the case for years. Juraj Kucka is a great starter, and is also valuable to the team. His starting spot is secured. And then there is a drop off. Andrea Bertolacci is a bust in the midfield. The potential is there if he is in the right spot, but you have no idea what you will get. Keisuke Honda is on and off, although he has shown some bright spots. Jose Mauri and Manuel Locatelli did not see much of the pitch at all last season, but Milanisti would love to see them get some more action, as they are both 20 years of age or younger. Then you have Andrea Poli, who, unfortunately, is not good at anything except running, and Riccardo Montolivo, Milan’s captain, who is either the key to the midfield or an absolute bust.
Milan needs midfielders. It does not matter what formation they play. They need help in the midfield for the third season in a row. When Montolivo is the key to the center of the midfield, you know you need a step up. Milan needs a playmaker, or Mauri and Locatelli need to be given starting spots and time to reach their high potentials. Even so, that would mean Montolivo is relegated to a bench role, along with Honda and Bertolacci (assuming four in the midfield, with Kucka, Mauri, Locatelli, and Bonaventura), which not one coach has yet been willing to do, which can mean either they are not ready for the spots (Locatelli just came up at the end of last season, so we have not seen a lot from him), or the coaches have refused to take Montolivo out. If they will not start, Milan needs a playmaker. Someone who can move the ball and create plays without having to look for the long ball on every other play.
If all of these players performed at their brightest and hardest, Milan wouldn’t have a problem. And yet here we are. Milan’s midfield fell flat in the twilight of last season, and fell even more flat when Bonaventura was out. Milan need an addition to the midfield more than anything else.
Up in the attack, Milan looked to be in a good position last season, but it is more uncertain now. Milan’s leading scorer, Carlos Bacca, may be sold very soon. Luiz Adriano, who was once supposed to be the partner for Bacca, may also be on his way out. Niang, as bright as he can be, is coming off injury, but will have a starting spot. Suso is coming back from loan, but may be sent out again. Alessandro Matri will be loaned out until his contract is up. Jeremy Menez could be sold, or injured, or on the bench, or starting. We have no idea. And finally, Milan just added Gianluca Lapadula, from Serie B side Pescara, where he was the league’s top scorer with 30 goals in 43 appearances. This is obviously a great addition to a Milan attacking force that has question marks everywhere. The question is whether he will live up to what they expect him to be. If he does, that would have him and Niang up top (in a 4-4-2 that worked for so long for Mihajlovic last season). If he does not, Milan have a hole up top. With all the question marks and possible sales, Milan may do well to add another attacker or two, for depth and also for need.
Ideally, based on youth, potential, and performance, Milan could have a lineup, right now, that has Donnarumma in goal; with Antonelli, Romagnoli, Ely, and Abate in defense; Locatelli, Kucka, Mauri, and Bonaventura in the midfield; and Lapadula/Bacca and Niang in attack. This is not a likely formation or lineup, but Milan also does not yet have an answer for who will have control of the club for next season, so it is just speculation.
Since that lineup will probably not happen, Milan should look to add a center back, a midfielder, and a forward, with possibly an additional attacker. There are plenty of players in and out of Italy who can fit that bill for the club. And while Milan has been quiet in the transfer market, and figuring out who will own and manage the club next season, the transfer market has raged on for other teams, with players who Milan could have targeted moving to new clubs. Milan have additions to make if they want to be competitive, and if they don’t sort this out soon, they may be in for another season where they’re watching European competition from home.