“Young players don’t win you titles.”
Those were the words of Juventus’ Sporting Director Giuseppe Marotta following his side’s 1-0 loss to AC Milan at the weekend. Whilst it’s easy to point out the examples of where that trend falls short, most football fans will find themselves agreeing with Marotta.
Young players can offer a breath of fresh air, flair and spontaneity. They can win a side games and they can play big roles in relegation battles, title pushes and everything in between. But what they can’t do is collectively find the consistency necessary to win a title. Young players tend to find form fleeting, almost hard to come by. A fledgling young striker could score a goal one weekend, but miss a sitter seven days later, and this is where the mentality is key.
Although it’s a cliché: with age comes experience. Sometimes it takes maturity to be able to keep your feet on the ground when the wind is behind you and to pick yourself up when the world is on your shoulders. It takes an exceptional individual to be as mature, at a young age, as the modern game demands.
This is where Milan’s problems lie. The Rossoneri have a fantastic collection of youngsters, that are increasingly receiving game time, yet despite those youngsters aptly beating Juventus at the weekend, the same players fell to a 3-0 loss to Genoa last night.
Against Juventus, the likes of Manuel Locatelli, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, M’Baye Niang, Matteo De Sciglio and Suso all stood out in a team that had an average age of 25-years-old. Yet last night, as a collective, they fell apart against a side that you would think they’d be beating comfortably if they applied themselves, as they had done against the champions.
Milan’s manager Vincenzo Montella made a few rotational changes, but five of the six previously mentioned players started the match.
From early on it was clear that Milan were not at the races. The intense pressing from the weekend game against Juventus was gone. Where they had previously been rushing the Juve’s players in packs like hungry wolves on the hunt, they were now sitting off and giving Genoa the time and space to play their game and pick Milan apart.
After going behind early on, Milan searched to find a way back into the tie. However, when going forward they simply lacked the cohesion to create any substantial chances in the final third.
Despite supposedly playing in a 4-3-3 formation, Milan looked to be playing with two up top as Niang roamed alongside Carlos Bacca. Although playing so close to the Colombian, throughout the 58 minutes where they were on the pitch together, Niang passed to Bacca just once and received the ball twice in return. On the opposite side to Niang, the right-hand-side, Honda was invisible. You’d need to have a heart of stone to have watched the match and not feel sorry for Bacca.
In the middle of the park it was Locatelli who started alongside Kucka and in-behind Bonaventura. The teenage match-winner from the weekend didn’t have an awful game, but carried out the role of passenger to a tee.
After Genoa had taken the lead, and before they had conceded the second goal, Milan pushed forward their front three and Bonaventura in a bid to find a goal, which left a huge gap in-between the pivot of Kucka and Locatelli and the forward line. With Bonaventura playing so far forward and the wingers offering nothing, Milan found it very hard to create any meaningful chances. In fact, Genoa seemed to be doing to them what they had done to Juventus.
However, despite the failures up front and in midfield, it was at the back where Milan lost the game. Although not looking like conceding for much of the time after the first goal went in, Milan were given a major setback when Gabriel Paletta was given a straight red card for essentially throwing himself feet first at Luca Rigoni.
With ten-men and the increasing need for an equaliser, Milan were caught out and duly punished by a Genoa team that successfully utilised the motto: slow and steady wins the race. Genoa were content to let Milan aimlessly ping the ball into Bacca and Niang, so that they could hit Montella’s side on the break.
Like most problems in football, the only solution to Milan’s problems seems to be to spend in the upcoming transfer window. Whilst wholesale changes are obviously not needed, it would be advisable for Milan to strengthen with a few experienced and composed players, who could act as mentors for the rising youth players and also as first team options. When a manager wants to rotate their team, they shouldn’t have to worry about their second-string side falling short.