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The Milan Season Preview You’ve Been Waiting For



This is the post where I write about what to expect for this season. And once again, this season is all about expectations. After the past seven years or more at Milan, fans should have learned to temper our expectations. But with all of the changes this summer, I fear the worst for unrealistic fans. The mercato is still not quite closed, either, so that isn’t helping the expectation levels. But it is the beginning of the season, and that is always exciting, one way or the other.

Great expectations

Goalkeepers
I don’t know what needs to be said here. Gigio has pressure from Reina for a starting berth, so it’s a win-win. And we saw last year that Antonio stood tall when called upon, so we are great at this spot. Anyone worried about Gigio’s performances of last year should take comfort in the fact that when fans don’t abuse him and threaten him and his family, he plays like we all know he can. We also have as of this writing Gabriel, Plizzari, and Guarnone, simply a wealth of keepers. Reports say that Gabriel will be released and is wanted at Perugia by Nesta. I assume the other two young keepers will be loaned or sold as well.

We good.

Defense
Originally, I was concerned about losing Bonucci. But Romagnoli has already stepped it up with the armband, and Caldara looks very exciting, too. Musacchio has not had any consistent playing time, but the more he plays, the more confident he seems. We’ve also still got Zapata, who, despite reputation, was very reliable last season when called upon. And, as if having a 23 year-old captain at center back and a 24 year-old Caldara poised to complete the starting pairing, it looks like Milan are calling the 23 year-old Simic back from his loans. And there is a possibility they may keep the young Gabbia in the squad, as well, to complete our center back roster.

The shiny new younger model impressing already

Our right back spot is the fullback position I think most are excited about. Conti, who was injured for most of last season, should be back by the end of September. Behind him in line is probably Calabria, who has been really solid on the right and really not if played on the left. Abate is still in the squad, and can usually give us a solid 20-30 minutes when called upon. Additionally, there is the possibility that the young Bellanova could stay in the squad. And when all else fails, we also have the legendary right back, Borini.

The left back spot belongs to Rodriguez, but will be contested for by Strinic once he is 100%. Both played in the World Cup, even if Strinic’s team made it to the final, Rodriguez is younger and more solid and has played with the team for a year.

A very expensive backup?

Midfield
Despite reinforcing at nearly every position this summer, we still lack that solid center defensive midfielder that we’ve been missing since Pirlo left in 2011. That’s a long time to go without a decent playmaker. Despite fans pleading, praying, and begging for Milinkovic-Savic, UEFA’s FFP rules are etched in stone, and Lotito has a vice grip on his jewel of a player. This is the one position Milan most needed strengthening, but with two days left of the mercato, there doesn’t seem to be much hope.

Starting at that spot will be Biglia, if a reinforcement doesn’t arrive. Which is only slightly better than Montolivo, who refuses to leave the club despite being told he is unwanted. There is also José Mauri, who is surprisingly still at the club as well. Gattuso had mentioned possibly playing Halilovic at this position, but he has said that he is more of an attacking midfielder.

Is he threatening to take Suso's starting spot?

Other midfielders include Kessie and the new Bakayoko, who has been prematurely labeled as a very expensive vice-Kessie. On the left will likely be Bonaventura or new signing Laxalt. Gattuso has insisted on keeping Bertolacci for some unknown reason, although he can play at any spot in the midfield, when he’s not rolling around or whining to the refs. And Halilovic should actually be in this group, too. Calhanoglu is technically a trequartista, but it is unlikely he’ll be played at that spot unless we change systems.

The wingers have gotten more interesting. In addition to Suso, the main reason Milan have played a 4-3-3 for so long, Castillejo plays at the same spot and it will be interesting to see who starts there. Well, obviously Borini would be first choice… I can’t even type that with a straight face. There was talk of buying a left winger, but apparently the playing of Calhanoglu at that spot will have to do. Or Bonaventura. Who knows?

The braided Uruguayan is just so happy to be here

Strikers
There is Higuain, whose credentials speak for themselves. And then there’s Cutrone, our top scorer from last season. That’s it. Unless you want to add Borini to this category, too. But scoring is not his strength. There is a chance that Gattuso may hang onto a young striker like Tsadjout and/or Tiago Dias for depth, but depth is not a word I’d use to describe this position. Imagine if both of them get injured? I shudder to think where our goals would come from.

Formation
Thus far in the friendlies, Gattuso has pretty much used his tried and true 4-3-3. Or is that tired and true? He said that he would be working on other systems this summer. And he threatened to use a three man back line, too. Let’s hope that was an empty threat, or that Bonucci’s exit changed his mind. It will be very interesting to see what he does with so many new players, especially considering that so many of them will challenge our existing players at each position.


The striker we've been missing

Manager
Having met Gattuso this summer, I can vouch that he is, in fact, made up of pure grinta. Which is phenomenal when he was able to transmit that to the team last year and lift them up out of their slump. And it’s phenomenal in general, because it seems that for him, every match is do or die, and that perhaps his children’s lives are in danger if we don’t perform well enough. It also translates to lots of slaps on the backs of the heads, it’s a good thing he’s not with the Primavera anymore, because that might be child abuse.

But so much grinta can actually inhibit the transmission of new ideas or the ability to receive inspiration for change, too. Sometimes, that much passion can cause a manager to lose sight of the big picture and only focus on one thing… I can only assume that’s how Kalinic started so much last season. But Gattuso is going to have to branch out and try new things, not just pigeonhole our new players into last year’s team. If he doesn’t, he could easily end up the same as Montella, sacked by November. And Milan could end up losing so many points, too. He’ll really need to show some tactical depth this season, or we’ll be in trouble in Serie A and the Europa League, too. Or we could always have Borini coach. He’s such a utility player.

So much grinta

Season Forecast
With so much improvement in our depth this year, something we’ve missed for a long time, one has to believe that we can finish above sixth this year. Champions League Qualification is obviously the goal, but if we have more management or coaching changes, more injuries, or whatever, fifth might be more realistic.

In the Europa League, one would hope that we could do well. However, the draw is scheduled to be held August 31st for our Group Stage, and there is a chance we could get drawn in a group with the likes of Sarri’s Chelsea. So if we get a good draw, I think we could make it to the Round of 16. But I also wouldn’t mind bowing out at the Group Stage to focus on making it back to the Champions League.

Bringing the Milan back to Milan

Whatever the results on the pitch, our summer unexpectedly took a turn for the best after pretty much the worst possible scenario. Elliott Management are surprisingly hanging onto the club and making all the right moves, including the impossible feat of bringing Maldini back home. That alone is really better than winning trophies, but we still get to play the season on the pitch, too. So even if we don’t complete the team by Friday’s transfer deadline, there is some cause for  great expectations this season just by being more Milan than we have been in a very long time.


This post inspired by the music of Savages’ “The Answer”


Our next match is
Serie A Week 1
Milan vs. Genoa
Sunday, August 19 • 20:30 CEST (2:30pm)