Midfield Exposed

The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) begins on Sunday and is scheduled to run through February 6th. Despite many efforts to have it rescheduled, or for clubs to be able to hang onto players, it is an important tournament, and for players it is truly an honor to represent their country. For Milan, though, this tournament presents a potential nightmare. Two of our best midfielders and our backup left back are all called up for their national teams, and will miss up to six Milan matches between the league and Coppa Italia. But it's not just that they will miss just any six matches, they will miss our matches vs. Roma, Juventus, and Inter. This leaves us with very few options, and with Milan's injury history, truly this leaves our midfield exposed.

Bakayoko is French for "liability"

Missing our midfield players has been something that has been anticipated since the tournament was rescheduled from last summer due to COVID-19. Bennacer was not only part of the Algerian side that won the 2019 edition of AFCON, he was named Player of the Tournament. Kessié and his Côte d'Ivoire side reached the quarterfinals of that tournament and were knocked out by Algeria on penalties. They are both key players for their national teams as well as for Milan.

Kessié has been much criticized this season for being unwilling to sign a contract extension with the club. After having played almost every match for 14 months straight for club and country and finally being out injured at the beginning of this season, he definitely had a dip in form. However, his brace and overall performance vs. Empoli demonstrated how essential he has been for Milan for the past four and a half years, and how dominant he can be when in form. Bennacer contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of the season and has not quite been the same player since, but was finally coming into his own again as well. 

Can Krunić play deeper?

Gratefully, Tonali erupted as a force of nature and has played in every single match this season, so we have one guaranteed starter who is in form. Our options from there are limited. Krunić is the most likely to play next to him, but Pioli has used him as an attacking midfielder this season, so it may take him a couple of games to settle in. Bakayoko has been a complete nightmare, proving to be a liability every time he has taken the pitch. We would probably be better off playing on ten men than playing him, but it is clear that Pioli intends to use him by the way he has been giving him a few more minutes here and there.

Beyond that, Calabria was used in the midfield as an emergency and did well. But he is just recovering from injury, and we still need him on the right. If he plays in midfield, we do have Florenzi for the right as well as Kalulu. But Kalulu's versatility is needed right now more than ever, as we still need coverage for Kjaer, and with Ballo-Touré gone as well, if Theo Hernández is injured or suspended, he would be needed there. The bottom line is that Milan's midfield is already going to be handicapped without Kessié and Bennacer for the next match, and our options are so few, any injury or suspension could cause our entire system to collapse.

15 points, 5 league and 1 cup match without them... will we survive?

While our players are gone, we will play six matches, five in the league and one Coppa Italia match. For the five Serie A matches, there are 15 points available. Nine of those are being contested with Roma, Juventus, and Inter. Currently, only eight points separate first through fourth place on the table. We literally cannot afford to lose this month in order to stay in the race for a Champions League spot. 

There is great news in that Ibrahimović, Rebić, Leão, and Calabria have returned to training and are expected to be available for our match vs. Roma on Thursday. If our players stay healthy, we maintain possession and play attacking football, we stand a chance. But we have seen already this season how many times costly mistakes were made in the midfield that have led to goals conceded. With Kjaer out for the season and a replacement not yet made for him, our defense cannot afford these kinds of mistakes in the midfield. There is so much at stake as we face three of the other top six teams in these five league games. Our opponents must be salivating at the opportunity to face us with our midfield exposed.

This post inspired by the music of Garbage's "I Think I'm Paranoid"

Our next match is
Serie A Week 20
Milan vs. Roma
Thursday, January 6 • 18:30 CET (12:30pm EST)

Midfield Exposed Midfield Exposed Reviewed by Elaine on 3:30 AM Rating: 5
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