As the new year approaches, let us reminisce on what was the best, and the worst, of Milan’s 2016:
First things first, the formation that has blatantly worked best for Milan this year has been the 4-3-3, at the heart of the team’s successes since September.
In goal, inevitably, we have chosen Gigio Donnarumma. For the whole year, he’s been the undisputed starting keeper and we need not mention just how much of a prodigy the kid is.
The back line we’ve selected is the following: Ignazio Abate as right back, Alessio Romagnoli and Gabriel Paletta as the central pairing and Luca Antonelli as left-back. In the centre, Romagnoli’s technique and Paletta’s sturdiness have finally provided a sense of solidity to the defensive department. On the left-hand side, Antonelli, despite the injuries that have tormented him during the current campaign, has been far more consistent than De Sciglio.
The middle of the park is formed by Manuel Locatelli in the playmaker role, flanked by Juraj Kucka and Jack Bonaventura. Whilst no explanation is needed for Bonaventura’s presence in this formation, Kucka has been a physical powerhouse for Milan’s midfield this year and Locatelli has been an extremely pleasant surprise for all rossoneri, providing them with a viable and much appreciated alternative to Riccardo Montolivo.
Finally, our front trident is formed by Suso on the right, Carlos Bacca as the striker and M’Baye Niang on the left. Since returning from his loan spell with Genoa, Suso has been a delight to watch and has finally given Milan a strong right-wing, after last-season’s countless disappointments (Cerci, Honda and what have you). In the striker’s position, Bacca undoubtedly deserves a place in our XI, being the team’s undisputed top goalscorer, with 26 goals for the club. Finally, despite his recently poor form, Niang has also been an essential element for Milan, both under Mihajlovic and under Montella.
Surprisingly, and despite last season’s disappointing final result, there are many contenders for this “award”. Wonder-kids Donnarumma and Locatelli were great surprises, Bacca carried the team with his many goals and Suso looks like he could be the next big thing. However, Milan’s best player was definitely Giacomo Bonaventura. Jack was a player of paramount importance both under Mihajlovic and, now, under Montella. The ex-Atalanta man is an incredibly complete and reliable midfielder: he has great technique, scores goals, assists and still has an impressive work-rate. Above all, Bonaventura is a player who has made of continuity his core strength – when Bacca stops scoring, when the defence shows gaps, you know you can count on Jack di Cuori. An example of this is his goal scored against Juve in the Supercoppa, beautiful as much as important.
Here’s another example of Jack’s inventiveness and decisiveness: a cheeky free-kick to beat Pescara at San Siro
Both with regards to the team’s style of play and to the points made, Milan’s best manager this year has been Vincenzo Montella. The aeroplanino replaced Mihajlovic’s rudimentary style of play and Brocchi’s confusion, instead implementing a possession-based football with consistent performances both defensively and offensively. Points-wise, Montella has so-far collected 5 more than Mihajlovic had at this stage this season, and he’s done it with virtually the same squad. Only 2017 will tell us who was effectively the better manager for Milan, but, as things stand right now, we must pick Montella.
The best moment of Milan’s 2016 was a moment that was cherished not only by the rossoneri, but by every lover of the beautiful game. In a footballing world that is increasingly dominated by power-hungry agents and by arrogant, dabbing-addicted teens, it was a teenager of a different kind to shine a light at the end of the tunnel. Manuel Locatelli’s first goal for Milan, a 21-yard screamer to put them 3-3 level with Sassuolo, was not only important result-wise, but it also was a powerful emotional moment. In particular, Locatelli’s celebration, hands on his head as if to say “I don’t believe it” and tears of joy, was a symbol of humility and real passion – something that many footballers, young and old, are lacking nowadays. Seeing a kid’s dream come true, and in the most spectacular fashion, was a touching moment in Milan’s year, and in Milan’s history.
His cracking goal and celebration:
His moving tears of joy in the post-game interviews:
Despite the turbulent year the club has lived through, Milan fans have witnessed some truly amazing games in 2016, ranging from last season’s thrashing of Inter in the derby (3-0) up to the epic 4-3 comeback on Sassuolo. However, Milan’s best game was the most recently disputed one: the Supercoppa victory over Juve. After an all but dull 1-1, the game dragged on to extra time and then to penalties, where Donnarumma was decisive, denying Dybala’s effort from the spot. Chelsea-loanee Mario Pasalic then beat Buffon with a beautifully struck penalty. This surely brought back some powerful memories to Milan fans: during the Champions League final in 2003, it was another product of Eastern European football, Andriy Schevchenko, to beat Buffon from the spot. Moreover, this victory came against the toughest possible opponent and demonstrated that Milan might effectively be back in Italy’s top flight – the rossoneri didn’t just win, but overplayed Juve for a great portion of the match. Also, this game brought some silverware back to Casa Milan, with the last trophy won being the 2011 Supercoppa itself, 5 long years ago. This game was a great Christmas present for Milan and was certainly the best-played match of the year.
A fan-clip of Mario Pasalic’s winning penalty:
In a year which was characterised by countless disappointments, most Milan fans will agree that the ending of last season was hands down the biggest one. It’s not just about the final 7th place, but more about the way it happened. With five games left till the end of the season, Sinisa Mihajlovic was sacked, to the outrage of most fans. Yes, the season hadn’t been the best, but Milan were 5th (Europa League spot) and had shown gradual signs of improvement. In addition, and to the surprise of players and supporters alike, the inexperienced Christian Brocchi was appointed as a replacement for Mihajlovic. Under Brocchi, Milan managed to draw with Carpi and Frosinone and to lose to Hellas Verona, all three of which were relegated at the end of the season. Consequently, Milan were surpassed by Sassuolo and missed out, yet again, on the possibility to come back to European football – the most frustrating and disappointing moment of the year.
1999-born Gianluigi Donnarumma has had a truly amazing year, which can only be described as heroic. The keeper, a starter for the team since the age of 16, has finally provided stability in a position where Milan had been flaky for the past few years. More than this, Gigio has literally saved Milan on many occasions, with his saves proving to be decisive week in and week out. The kid is without a doubt the biggest talent in Italian football, and not just with regards to the future, given his current importance for the team. For instance, in this season’s opening game, he saved Belotti’s effort from the spot in the 90th minute, ensuring Milan’s 3-2 victory over Torino. Another example was his ridiculous flying save on Khedira during Milan’s victory by 1-0 over Juve: once more, in the 90th minute, Donnarumma saved the Rossoneri’s fate. Finally, and most recently, Donnarumma provided Milan’s early Christmas present – his penalty-kick save on none other than Paulo Dybala was simply magnificent.
Check out the Supercoppa deciding save:
Although some individuals have been disappointing for Milan this year, none of them is really worthy of being called a villain. For example, Bertolacci was paid 20 million euros and has so-far failed to meet the expectations, but he’s showing signs of improvement and has hardly been a villain in the real sense of the word. Perhaps you might think of Mario Balotelli (yes, he was at Milan last season) or of the irritating Alessio Cerci, but yet again these are not villains. So, we’ve decided to take on this award with a “banterous” approach, and our designated winner is Gabriel Paletta. The Italian Argentine has been very solid for Milan this season and has positively surprised the fans. Nonetheless, with two red cards, two yellows, and many, many ambiguous challenges, Paletta is certainly what you could define as a villain (on the pitch) – especially if you were to play against him.
Here’s a brilliant example of what Paletta is capable of at times: