Devastating news for AC Milan: right-wing-back Andrea Conti is officially out for six months after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in training Friday morning.
According to AC Milan’s official statement, Conti will undergo ACL reconstruction surgery tomorrow. Reports say that this injury is unrelated to his previous injury which kept him out of Milan’s 5-1 Europa League win over Austria Wien.
First things first: this is massively unfortunate news for both Conti and AC Milan. You hate to see any player go down with an injury, and the 23-year-old Italian was one of club’s top summer signings, brought in from Atalanta to shore up the right side of the defense and provide an attacking, crossing threat on the other end of the pitch. Now, Milan have to regroup and find a way to fill that void and perform for the next six months.
Milan, coming off a week where they lost 4-1 to Lazio and won 5-1 in Vienna, now have a burning question of who will start on the right-wing-back spot, regardless of the formation Vincenzo Montella uses.
The Rossoneri have a limited number of full-backs at their disposal that can fill Conti’s spot. Ricardo Rodriguez is the starting left-back. Luca Antonelli, while able to play in the right role, plays primarily on the left as well. This leaves Ignazio Abate and Davide Calabria as the two options.
Abate has spent plenty of time with Milan in the starting lineup, so he is an easy plug-and-go player for the time being. The 30-year-old has been known for his pace moving forward, and is not a bad defender on the ball, but does not provide the crossing ability that Conti does. While Abate can certainly do the job for Milan, they may suffer on the offensive end in terms of delivery from that side of the pitch, as Abate is not one to whip crosses into the box that find their targets.
Calabria, on the other hand, is 20 years old, and sometimes plays like it. The youth system product has shown flashes of great potential for Milan, and can certainly get it done when called upon, but is prone to making mistakes or simply getting beat. Defensively, he is decent, and provides an attacking option in that he can cross the ball, but there is a reason there were talks of Calabria being loaned out for more experience over the summer: he is young and frankly needs more time to develop before being booked as a full-time starter. This could be just the opportunity he needed, to step in and grow as needed before becoming a consistent player for the Rossoneri, but if that is the case, there must be patience from all sides. Milan were not expecting a development project in the right-back position, but may just be in that scenario now. For this reason, Abate is the clear favorite to insert into the starting XI, and Calabria will get time in the Coppa Italia and some Serie A matches.
There is one dark-horse candidate to fill the spot left by Conti, and that is Suso. However, this would only be in the event that Montella sticks with a defensive back three, as we saw on Thursday. Suso, as a right-wing attacker, could move back into the RWB role in the midfield, with a tendency to attack, with Franck Kessie beside him in the CM spot. This would let the former Liverpool attacker move forward as he does, as well as require him to get back on defense, with Kessie as cover. It is important to emphasize, however, that Suso is not an option for the RB spot if Montella keeps a back four system in play: this is only if there is a back three that Suso could play there, and only if he has enough cover on the defensive end.
Andrea Conti’s injury, while unfortunate, is not the end of the season for Milan. They have a veteran who can step up immediately in Abate, a young Calabria who can do the job and be in rotation, and another option in Suso if the formation fits. It is not panic time for Milan, as this is just a case of the injury bug striking back again, but it is time for the next man up and for the team to adjust, and to win for Andrea Conti.