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In the excitement of the new season, supporters are often guilty of creating over-the-top expectations and ending up disappointed when the clubs fail to meet those objectives. Often all we need is a bit of perspective from experts to maintain rational thought; our Q&A mini-series going into the 2014/15 season serves this purpose.
Meytar Zeevi, Founder of Rossoneri Blog, is the expert for this AC Milan Q&A. Follow him on Twitter @RossoneriBlog
Sentimentally, this is an incredible appointment, but given the period AC Milan are going through, surely the appointment of another inexperienced ex-player as manager is a big risk. Thoughts?
Filippo Inzaghi is not entirely inexperienced. He retired from playing in 2012 (with that amazingly emotional goal against Novara) and was immediately given a coaching role at Milan with the Allievi Nazionali and after one season was promoted to the Primavera. Pippo did well with the U-19 squad and won the Viareggio Cup. He does have more experience than Clarence Seedorf had when he took over in January, despite never managing a top-flight team. The risk is always there, but it’s important that he has the total backing of the leadership and his relationship with Adriano Galliani goes beyond football. The players seem to like him as well (some key men in the squad were not very fond of Seedorf) and they appear to be convinced that he can lead them to success this season. “His enthusiasm is contagious” is something that has been said more the once since he started working, by Galliani and by players in the team. The risk exists but I believe that Inzaghi is a good bet and he might be able to squeeze good results out of this fairly average group of players. His job is anything but easy, though.
If Inzaghi does employ a 4-3-3, what does it mean for Keisuke Honda, whose signing seemed like he was meant to play the #10 role, and thrive in it?
Inzaghi used this formation in pre-season and Honda played on the right side of the attack. When Seedorf employed 4-2-3-1 last term, Honda was played in a similar role, as a right attacking midfielder and it never really worked for him. However, last Saturday at the Trofeo TIM, the Japanese international played on the right wing against Juventus and Sassuolo and he had two very good matches. Honda scored the winner against Juve and assisted Stephan El Shaarawy’s goal against Sassuolo and so he won the Player of the Tournament Award. Honda said more than once that his favourite role is behind the strikers, the typical #10 position and his former Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni agrees but thinks Keisuke can also be effective on the wing: “He’s more decisive behind the strikers, [however] if the side pushes up high he can play wide on the right. If Milan play a 4-3-3 that seeks to win possession back in the middle of the pitch, then that would be perfect for Honda.” Inzaghi claimed Honda is ‘underrated’ and it remains to be seen how often he will use him with the likes of Jeremy Menez and M’Baye Niang also fighting for a starting role on the right side. Many fans would like to see Honda in the midfield trio but he wasn’t tried out there in pre-season so that’s rather unlikely. He can thrive in a 4-3-3 formation but will have to step up his game and do a lot better than he did last year.
Even though a replacement may be in for the departing Mario Balotelli, are you concerned by the options up front? Besides the potential new man, Pazzini with his inconsistent form and Niang who is yet to hit form in Italy, don’t inspire much confidence.
Fernando Torres is joining to lead the front line of Milan. Everyone would love to see the devastating Torres we knew during his time at Atletico and Liverpool but only time will tell if El Nino is able to rediscover his old form. Torres does not have a lot of experience with the 4-3-3 formation but he’ll definitely be the first choice. Giampaolo Pazzini is liked by Inzaghi but he’s not a guy you can trust to score consistently while M’Baye Niang is seen as more of a winger than a prima punta and if you followed his games for Milan you can understand why – the Frenchman struggles in front of goal. Stephan El Shaarawy is the man most of the eyes are on and there’s belief that he can return to the form that made him famous two seasons ago, while Jeremy Menez will definitely also give a hand, capable of playing on both wings and also as a ‘false 9’, which is another solution Inzaghi has been considering. The attack is good enough but I think the problem lies in midfield: they don’t create enough opportunities for the attack.
Speaking of Balotelli, the club seem to be getting rid of him at a fairly nominal value. His abilities are certainly impressive, but is his sale really a good move as many officials within the club seem to suggest?
Inzaghi came out and said Balotelli’s sale will give Milan something extra in team spirit so it’s clear there’s something behind the scenes there, maybe something about Balotelli’s behaviour or attitude at training center Milanello. But let’s take a look at the deal: €20 million is a bad price. There’s no way around it. Liverpool have gotten a great deal financially and many can’t actually believe Milan sold for this price. Balotelli did well while wearing the red and black shirt with 30 goals in 54 appearances. The last season was his individual best so it’s a mystery how Milan accepted such bid when worse players move for more money. What’s even more puzzling is that they sold Balotelli, probably their best player, and had absolutely no replacement lined up. The search for a replacement started after Balo bid his goodbye and talks with Chelsea over Fernando Torres only began after Liverpool announced Mario. They didn’t plan for the day after Balotelli even though they obviously knew he might go (Mino Raiola said the deal had been in the works for weeks). “The biggest master stroke in the history of Milan”? I have to disagree with Vieri since Balotelli is worth more than €20m. However, if Inzaghi can now make this about the group, instead of the individuals, Milan can absolutely gain. Then again, the same was said when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sold and the Rossoneri just became reliant on another player – Stephan El Shaarawy – who for some reason stopped scoring when Balotelli arrived in 2013. So again, Milan can get something from Balo’s exit, but financially they got a poor deal.
We track the progress and performances of youngsters with our Talent Radar feature. There are a few who we could focus on here, but undoubtedly the most intriguing one is Hachim Mastour. Will he be given any real opportunity? What can we expect from him?
Mastour has officially been promoted to the first team but he didn’t get as many minutes in pre-season as the fans would’ve liked. Hachim is only 16 but he already trains with the first team and he might get some minutes here and there but it’s a lot likelier that he’ll be playing under Cristian Brocchi for the Primavera. There is obviously huge hype around this guy, he has unbelievable ball skills and he’s already quite famous around the world doing Red Bull campaigns with Neymar. Inzaghi worked with him last year as Mastour played some games with the Primavera and he knows what he’s worth. But it’ll be up to the teenager to prove that he is the real deal and I believe that only in the 2015/16 season we’ll be able to see more of Mastour in first-team action. In terms of Serie A’s physicality, he is, naturally, still not quite there.
This is arguably the worst period of Milan’s history in recent memory, supporters need to be patient but what are expectations for the season among the faithful?
The fans are far from optimistic and that includes the Italy fanbase. Milan sold just north of 16k season tickets – the worst number in the Silvio Berlusconi era. You can expect to see San Siro empty for most of the games this season and that certainly won’t help the team that performs better when the fans fill the stadium. Realistically speaking and I’ve said it more than once, Milan can finish in places 5-8. There are better teams than the Rossoneri in Serie A this term and if they’re in a place above 5 after Matchday 38 I’d be very surprised. The signing of Diego Lopez will definitely help stabilize the defense, which was Milan’s Achilles heel last season but there is no denying that this midfield is weak (there may be another addition but that remains to be seen). From what the players tell the press, they have faith in Inzaghi but I believe that even the most optimistic fan knows this Milan doesn’t possess the quality to win the Scudetto.
No European competition can spur Milan on with positive league form, but for a club of Milan’s stature, Europe is a necessity. Where does another season without Europe (or even Champions League) leave the club?
It’d be terrible for Milan, especially from the financial point of view. It’s believed that Balotelli was sold to cover for the money that won’t be entering from the Champions League this season (it’s rather clear that the Rossoneri have no intention of reinvesting €20m in the market). If Milan miss out on European football again they might have to again sell one of the key players next summer and the names of Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio of course come to mind. The fact that Milan will be playing just once a week can be an advantage for them as they’ll be able to focus on Serie A (and Coppa Italia) but they would definitely trade this advantage for a place in the Champions League or hell, the Europa League. The reality at Milan has changed. President Silvio Berlusconi’s net-worth has risen (according to Forbes) but he is still reluctant to invest, so the money from European competitions is like a breath of fresh air for Milan, who’d be in an even worse state should they miss out for a second consecutive season.
A title challenge is certainly far-fetched, but with only three spots for the Champions League, chances are limited. Who do you see as the weak link among the current contenders whose place Milan can take?
Personally, I don’t believe Milan can get a place in the Top 3. At the moment I see Roma, Juventus and Napoli in the top spots with Fiorentina also in the fight. After these four, there’s Inter and Milan. I honestly don’t see Milan in the Champions League in the 2015/16 season and that’s a pity because the final will probably be held at San Siro. Inzaghi has a realistic and probably healthy view about this situation as well: he has admitted that Juve, Roma and Napoli are probably still a step ahead of Milan but he hopes that his Rossoneri will be ‘a surprise’.
Questions answered by Meytar Zeevi.