Pole Position: How Krzysztof Piątek Has Landed In The Driver’s Seat of Milan’s Mercato Plans

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Nearly six months removed from plying his trade in Poland with first division Ekstraklasa outfit Cracovia, Krzysztof Piątek has taken to Italian soil and calcio like a duck to water by virtue of an all-out goalscoring outburst with Genoa.

An absolute bargain at €4m with 13 Serie A goals (19 goals bagged in 21 total appearances for the Rossoblu since his under-the-radar transfer to the Marassi), Piątek trails only extraterrestrial superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo for the capocannoniere.

From Kraków to Genoa, in a matter of months, all eyes have become fixated on what the 23-year old is accomplishing on a weekly basis in Italy’s top flight, thus causing quite the stir amongst European powers in search of his striking talents; Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and AC Milan are among the many suitors to have been linked with the Pole as early as October.

Last summer, Argentina star Gonzalo Higuain was sacrificed by the Bianconeri to make room for Ronaldo, paving the way for the ex-Napoli bomber to the San Siro as Milan’s solution to their crisis up front. But, in a matter of weeks, with the visibly disgruntled number nine’s status turned sour, the Juventus loanee appears closer to Chelsea with one foot out the door towards a reunion tour with Maurizio Sarri. As a result, the Rossoneri braintrust have turned to familiar business partner, Genoa president Enrico Preziosi, for Higuain’s replacement in the white-hot Piątek.

Make no mistakes about it, Piątek‘s first six months couldn’t have gone smoother as the trending attacker sits in Pole position of the UCL hopefuls mercato plans. But, the questions on everyone‘s mind as his move begins to materialize are: is Milan jumping the gun on the pistol-shooting forward, and is he ready for the famous red and black shirt?

By the looks of the rumor mill, Preziosi has slapped an approximate price tag of €40-45m on his Polish asset. Considering the slim market for strikers, this is hardly a surprising request when accounting for Piątek’s current value, remarkable goal output, the domestic suitor’s need and age.

Emphasizing more on age, it is worth mentioning that Piątek seems to fall in line with Milan’s adopted strategy under new CEO Ivan Gazidis of bringing in younger talent with future market upside. And if you want to go the hypothetical route here, Milan hold an option to purchase Higuain this summer for around €36m, which they’d obviously bypass if he joins Chelsea. In addition to this, Sevilla have an option of their own to buy André Silva for €39m as confirmed by the Spanish club last month. Under the assumption Higuain departs, and Silva’s agent Jorge Mendes irons out a deal to keep his client in Seville past this campaign, by my estimation, Milan make out well on the financial side of a potential Piątek deal. Additionally, the idea exists of Milan acquiring Piątek on the basis of paying his fee over multiple installments, which in itself benefits the books.

Genoa hold leverage here against Milan as they know Higuain seeks refuge in England and Gennaro Gattuso needs to fill the void instantly by having just one striker in Cutrone at his disposal. Unfortunately for Milan, and many others around Europe facing the same problem up front, it’s a matter of supply and demand – and demand is limited. Then again, the details of a potential transaction are by no means established, so it is speculation at this point of the negotiations.

Shifting towards the subject player, because opinions on him certainly vary and there is a ton to unpack, Piątek’s profile is that of a pure striker.

Evident with his exploits in Liguria, the coveted attacker provides a clinical finishing touch within distance of goal, and against popular belief, is more well-rounded than people may give him credit for.

Piątek isn’t of the burner mould. Instead, a forward who perhaps plays larger than his 1,83 m frame with a reliance on movement, proper positioning, asserting himself, and engaging in, encounters with defenders to see enough of the ball in the final third to bury his chances.

Aerially, Piątek is a threat with his physicality and ability to get on the end of balls played in from the flanks and on set pieces. To call him an opportunist would almost mean that he is a poacher, but that is not the case. Rather, he is a striker who demands the ball and strives to makes the most of his goal sense and understanding of the penalty area, while also demonstrating the desire to aid in the transition from the defending to attacking phase.

Similarly to Dawid Kownacki, Piątek was prematurely dubbed by some as ‘the new Robert Lewandowski’; a low-hanging, convenient nickname for reasons centered around position and country of origin. Bestowing such expectations on him can be dangerous, but seeing as he moved on the cheap, the pressure to meet that unrealistic standard was a non-factor. However, transferring to Milan as a talent now thrusted into the limelight as an expensive replacement for Higuain comes with heaps of responsbility and expectations. There is a standard to meet, and a very high one at that, when wearing the famous red and black as a striker for Milan.

Undoubtedly, the Rossoneri shirt is a heavy one, with a prestigious crest and long line of legends to toss it on their shoulders. And to most, six months of top-flight success does not warrant a large fee, nor a Milan shirt in such a pivotal period for the club seeking a return to European football’s main stage.

There are many loyal Milanisti who prefer to christen ‘predestinato’ Cutrone as the main man over splashing on Piątek, and instead, allocate those funds towards a dynamic winger capable of supporting the 21-year old with gamechanging ability. Doubts wlll continue to be raised about whether Cutrone and Piatek are compatible for a side that often deals with dry spells of service to the forwards who have dependence on it. Then again, how many can effectively fend for themselves? But while the jury is still out on Piątek and his qualifications to help ignite the attack, it would be remiss to doubt sporting director Leonardo and Paolo Maldini in selecting Higuain’s replacement.

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Cutrone deserves to start; Gattuso refuses to rule out Higuain departure

AC Milan advanced to the quarter-finals of Coppa Italia after beating Sampdoria by two goals to nil away from home. However, the road there wasn’t exactly convincing, as the Rossoneri just about managed to hold on until extra-time, when Cutrone changed it all. 

Ahead of the Supercup final on Wednesday, Milan fans would’ve been hoping for a convincing display this evening, or at least a better one than what we got. For a majority of the game, Sampdoria seemingly dominated Gattuso’s side, only failing to beat a brilliant Reina in goal. Although Milan also had chances, one of which was very dangerous, it seemed after 90 minutes of play that perhaps Sampdoria deserved to go through. Continue reading

Three things we learned from AC Milan’s hard-fought win against SPAL

After four games of misery, AC Milan finally managed to get the win, taking on SPAL at the San Siro. With that said, Gattuso will feel a bit more relieved heading into the new year, with his job (probably) intact.

The Rossoneri hadn’t scored for an incredible four games ahead of tonight’s clash: a spell which they, fortunately, managed to break. However, it didn’t start in the best way possible, as a Petagna effort took a wicked deflection off Romagnoli, putting it out of reach for Donnarumma in goal. The home crowd was certainly stunned as they away side ran away in celebration. Continue reading

Gattuso hopes consistency will help AC Milan against SPAL

After a disastrous spell in the league, during which they haven’t won in four games, AC Milan are gearing up to face SPAL on Saturday evening. This will be the decisive test for Gattuso, who’s currently on the brink. 

Not only have the Rossoneri failed to win in these games, but they’ve also failed to score. In fact, Gattuso’s men have failed to find the back of the net in their last four successive Serie A games, which is their joint-worst run since 1930 (six games). In other words, you could certainly say that the team is experiencing a crisis, as the top four is slowly slipping away.

Luckily for Milan, though, their rivals haven’t done too good either as of late, which certainly helps limit the consequences of their poor run. The Rossoneri are just three points off the fourth spot, although the draw against Frosinone saw them move down to sixth place. Therefore, at the moment, it’s not just a race between Milan and Lazio, but also with Sampdoria. Since the latter will face Juventus away from home on Saturday, the order could be restored, that is if Milan get their first win in four games.

It looks like Gattuso will rely on consistency against SPAL, as it could be the first time that he fields the same starting eleven twice in a row since the third round, when they played Roma and Cagliari. However, there is one question mark. Suso was originally ruled out for the game, but appeared on the squad list earlier today. It’s not expected that he will be risked, although it shouldn’t be ruled out either.

AC Milan (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Musacchio, Romagnoli, Rodriguez; Kessiè, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Castillejo, Higuain, Cutrone.

Andrea Conti made his comeback against Fiorentina last weekend and also played 16 minutes against Frosinone on Wednesday. Despite a bright impact, he’s not quite ready to start, as was revealed by Gattuso during today’s press conference. As said, though, he looked to be in good shape, offering something else to the Rossoneri attack.

“I want to see 23 determined players tomorrow, how we win does not matter to me, what matters is the final result,” Gattuso stated during today’s press conference.

After reports suggested that the 40-year-old would need a convincing display in order to keep his job, this certainly hints at the opposite. Perhaps, Maldini and Leonardo have decided that Gattuso is the right man for the job, although there were moments it seemed sacking was the only option.

In any case, Milan will need to put an end to their goal drought, as three points are absolutely crucial in order to stay within the top four teams. Should the Rossoneri not make top four this season, then that will have many consequences ahead of next season. Leonardo revealed that the redemptions of Bakayoko and Higuain are dependant on Champions League qualification, which means that the players really need to step up.

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Three things we learned from AC Milan’s 0-0 draw at Frosinone

After yet another 0-0 draw, AC Milan now haven’t scored in four consecutive league games for the first time since 1984. Statistics which highlight the current crisis that Gattuso’s squad is experiencing. 

The Rossoneri were quite sluggish throughout, though they came close to taking the lead through Castillejo. However, the Spaniard hit the post, and then the goalkeeper got lucky as the ball bounced off his back. Against Torino, Bologna and Fiorentina, Milan struggled to create chances and so was the case today. In other words, it was a very frustrating game to watch from a Milan perspective, and down below are three things we learned from the game.  Continue reading

Struggling AC Milan to do without Suso in must-win game against Frosinone

AC Milan are in desperate need of three points, having not won in three games. With that said, the pressure is on the squad to deliver against Frosinone on Wednesday morning, or else Gattuso could be on the brink. 

The game against Fiorentina last weekend, which the Rossoneri lost by one goal, confirmed what many hadn’t dared to say: Milan are in a crisis. In fact, they’ve failed to score in three consecutive Serie A games for the first time since November 2001 – the last time they reached four was in 1984. Moreover, it says a lot that these three games were against Torino, Bologna and Fiorentina, none of which are in the top six. Continue reading

All the angles in potential Higuain-Morata deal

While most fans often look at a potential transfer almost exclusively from their favorite clubs’ perspective, I always like to point out that we have to ponder things from the perspective of three parties- the player involved and the two teams negotiating. But when news broke of Chelsea’s interest in Gonzalo Higuain with Alvaro Morata potentially heading to Milan as part of the deal, we have the rare case of a deal involving five parties.

If you are surprised that the total is five rather than four, it’s because of in addition to Higuain, Morata, Milan and Chelsea there’s also another team involved since Juventus still own the rights to Gonzalo Higuain after this season. While this potential deal is still in the beginning stages and there’s no guarantee it will happen, to try to make sense of it all let’s look at all the parties’ priorities.

This deal is particularly fascinating because of the fact that all of the parties involved have history with each other so looking at in a vacuum (Higuain for Morata) is flawed, we need to look at in the context of other deals

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Milan

 

Last summer the rossoneri thought they had ended the curse of the number 9 (Matri, Andre Silva, Torres, Luis Adriano were all flops after Ibrahimovic left) when they acquired Higuain, who on paper was someone who could guarantee them 15 goals a season- the main thing they were lacking compared to the teams that finished ahead of them in the standings last season. 

But between a significant lack of service stemming from the fact Milan are the least talented team that Higuain has been on since 2006 (and that was even before Biglia and Bonaventura got hurt) and back issues, the Argentine striker is in the midst of his longest scoring draught since he arrived in Italy. Because of their issues with Financial Fair Play, Milan could only acquire Higuain on loan with option to buy last summer- they spent 18 million for a one year long with a 36 million option to buy next summer.

But between his lack of goals and a new ruling from UEFA on Milan’s financial fair play parameters moving forward, investing so much money on a player with no resale value at a time that the rossoneri have to balance their budget within 3 years seems quite risky. If Milan decide to move on from Higuain, they would still have to find an adequate replacement since they can’t count on Cutrone to be the main striker to take them back to the Champions League.

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Juventus

 

While to Milan there’s a feeling that Higuain could end up being a sunk cost in January, to Juventus the Argentine striker is a significant future liability. After acquiring Ronaldo, Cancelo and redeeming the rights to Douglas Costa, the Serie A champions could simply not afford to have Higuain’s gross wages and remaining amortized value on their books without getting into significant trouble with Financial Fair Play.

While they have received a boost from the recent new deal with Adidas, bringing back Higuain (who wanted to leave Turin anyway) doesn’t make sense financially on top of the fact there would be no room for him in an attack that already features Dybala, Ronaldo and a resurgent Mandzukic. Juventus have to make sure Higuain is on another team next season so they don’t carry his substantial cost on their books- they ideally need to find someone to pay the 36 million option Milan has since that is the remaining amortized value of Higuain’s deal.

But there could be another solution that Juventus benefitted from themselves in recent years. Chelsea were desperate to unload Juan Cuadrado a few years ago after he struggled in the Premier League, but they could not find anyone to pay his amortized value. Juventus offered to take him on loan for a season, before later acquiring him on a previously unheard of three year loan deal with obligation to buy.

The deal was structured this way to keep Cuadrado’s wages off Chelsea’s books and ensured the Blues didn’t take a loss on the Colombian winger’s amortized value- my guess is if the Higuain-Morata deal happens, the deal is structured in a similar fashion (again this is a guess and not inside information).

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Chelsea

 

There’s no way around it, after a strong start Alvaro Morata has been a significant bust in London. Chelsea could certainly use an upgrade at the striker position, and while they are usually reticent to sign players in their 30s, Higuain had his best seasons playing for Maurizio Sarri at Napoli after the two developed a father-son like relationship- together they broke a 60 year old season scoring record in Serie A.

While Higuain has struggled at Milan and he’s had his worst moments on big stages with Argentina, it’s important to note that the only reason he’s still not currently the starting number 9 on Juventus, one of the elite teams in the world right now, is because Cristiano Ronaldo arrived- Higuain is far from a journyman.

While Chelsea have history with Juventus thanks to the Cuadrado deal, they also have some interesting ties to Milan which could make a Higuain-Morata swap more interesting. Milan have a 40 million option to buy Bakayoko, who after a very slow start, has arguably been the rossoneri’s best player of past two months.

Milan are also interested in another Chelsea player for the January window in Cesc Fabregas, so it’s certainly possible the clubs work out a deal involving a few of these players in a way that is advantageous financially for all involved (Morata perhaps going to Milan on a two year with a guarantee they redeem Bakayoko and get Fabregas at a better rate, something along those lines).

 

Higuain/Morata

 

Last summer Higuain mentioned that he would like to play in the Premier League someday and after struggling at Milan and seeing his favorite coach Sarri at Chelsea maybe that desire has only increased. Higuain would find himself surrounded by a lot more talent at Stamford Bridge and he would play in a system he’s very accustomed to.

Morata had his best seasons in Italy, and while in the past he has been reticent to join a Serie A club other than Juventus out of allegiance to the bianconeri, he seems even more motivated to leave England especially now that he’s married to an Italian.

While there are many financial hurdles, where there’s a will there’s a way and all parties involved have good reasons to want to explore this potential deal further. 

Roma and Lazio drop points, AC Milan with a golden opportunity

Tomorrow evening, AC Milan will take on Torino at the San Siro, following an important win against Parma last weekend. Despite the long injury list, Gattuso’s men will look to continue their positive run, as a win would put them closer to their city rivals Inter. 

Last weekend, the Rossoneri put in a good performance against Parma, eventually grabbing the win after going down early in the second half. Considering the number of injuries on important players, Gattuso has certainly proved that his team is mentally strong, being able to focus on one game at a time. Not only was the win important for the team’s self-esteem, but it also saw them jump to 4th place, as Lazio failed to beat Chievo away from home.

However, even though Parma have started their season well, it’s expected that the clash with Torino will be slightly tougher. Il Toro have lost only one of their last nine league matches: four wins and four draws. In addition to this, they are one of the two sides (alongside Juventus) to have lost none of their away games in Serie A this season. Milan, on the other hand, are unbeaten at the San Siro against Torino in Serie A since 1985: 15 wins and seven draws since then. In other words, tomorrow’s encounter will be interesting.

According to La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Gattuso will only make one change to the line-up. Calabria and Rodriguez will start as the full-backs, while Abate and Zapata will pair up once again in front of Donnarumma in goal. In the middle, Bakayoko and Kessie will start once again, getting the support of Suso and Calhanoglu on the flanks.

Up front, however, is where the change will be. As Higuain has served his two-game ban, Gattuso will revert back to two strikers, also fielding the youngster Patrick Cutrone, who scored one of the two goals last weekend.

Likely AC Milan XI (4-4-2): Donnarumma; Calabria, Abate, Zapata, Rodriguez; Suso, Kessie, Bakayoko, Calhanoglu; Higuain, Cutrone.

More importantly, Milan need to take advantage of the situation. Lazio and Roma, fifth and sixth respectively, both dropped points today. The former had the lead up until the 99th minute when former Milan man Saponara scored the equaliser, while Cagliari’s Sau scored in the 95th minute to tie it up against the Giallorossi. 

With that said, Gattuso’s men will have the chance to gain a three-point advantage on Lazio, as well as a seven-point advantage on Roma. In addition to this, a win would get them within one point of their city rivals Inter, who are currently on 29 points after their loss yesterday away at Juventus. In other words, the pressure will be on Milan to deliver tomorrow, although you could also argue that Roma and Lazio’s results might calm them down a little.

In any case, should the Rossoneri continue their fine form recently, then they should be able to beat Torino in front of their home crowd. However, as we all know with Milan these days, you can never take anything for granted.

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Why January will be decisive for AC Milan’s season

As the International break is up and running, some of the Milan players will be out on duty for their respective nations, while the others will get a week’s worth of rest at Milanello. However, even though the Rossoneri are sitting in fifth place, there are a lot of signs of worry. 

The injuries

Lately, Milan have been struggling with injuries on several key players, such as Biglia, Caldara and Bonaventura. This has forced Gattuso to make several changes to the original starting eleven, while also having to switch formation. Naturally, this hasn’t always been easy for the team, although the players have done surprisingly well.

However, the injury list just seems to be growing. In addition to Biglia, Bonaventura, Caldara and Musacchio, Romagnoli has also picked up an injury. The captain was forced to leave Italy’s training camp, although the extent of his injury is unknown. As if this wasn’t enough already, Calabria also left Italy’s training camp (U-21), though it’s believed to be a precaution.

Star striker Higuain has been handed a two-game ban for his conduct towards the referee in the game against Juventus, which Milan have appealed. In other words, Gattuso can’t catch a break, just as it seemed he had got the team back on track.

January reinforcements

As a result of all the injuries listed above, sporting director Leonardo has been called into action to bring in some new players in January. Thus far, he’s already initiated contacts for several players, while one midfielder has already been secured. 21-year-old Paqueta will arrive from Flamengo in early December, which will give him roughly a month to train with the team before officially completing the transfer.

However, signing just one midfielder won’t be enough for the Rossoneri. It has been revealed that Bonaventura will be out for up to five months, as he’s opted to undergo a knee surgery. The reliable Gianluca Di Marzio has mentioned Torino’s Baselli as a possibility, while others have claimed that Sassuolo’s Sensi is on Leonardo’s radar. In any case, it’s likely that at least one midfielder will arrive (in addition to Paqueta).

In defence, Milan currently only have two centre-backs at their disposal; Zapata and Simic. The latter hasn’t played anything for Milan this season, and with that said a defender is needed in January. Negotiations have already started for Sao Paulo’s Rodrigo Caio, who could arrive for around €10m. Juventus duo Benatia and Rugani have also been mentioned, though the Bianconeri are not willing to sell unless a good offer arrives.

Gattuso is also in need of a third striker, as it’s likely that he will continue with two men up front. At the time being, a return of Ibrahimovic seems highly likely, since a proposal reportedly has been presented. All that’s missing is the Swede’s approval, which most likely will arrive.

Milan need to act

In short, the winter transfer market will be decisive for the remainder of this season. Thus far, Gattuso’s men have done well to be where they are, though it’s unlikely that they will be able to keep it up if no signings arrive. Therefore, despite the troubles with FFP, Leonardo will have to come up with a sustainable plan that can benefit the team, while working within the realms of the regulations. Not an easy task, for sure, but one that Milan desperately need to pull off.

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Three things we learned from AC Milan’s performance against Juventus

Despite putting in a good display, Milan ended up losing the big game against Juventus, as the latter managed to take advantage of the Rossoneri’s mistakes. 

In fact, the guests took the lead early on through Mandzukic, with Rodriguez failing to clear the danger at the back post. However, Milan seemingly found their way back into the game, and was awarded a penalty just before half-time. Up stepped Higuain, but the Argentinian failed to get it past Szczesny in goal.

As if this wasn’t enough for Gattuso’s men, Ronaldo doubled Juve’s lead in the second half, after a good spell from the home side. In other words, a disappointing end to what could’ve been a much better evening. Here are three things we learned from Milan’s performance.

1. The Rossoneri played well against a great opponent

Even though the game leaves us with a bitter taste, given how it finished, there are still a lot of positives to take from the game. Despite the many injuries, Gattuso’s men managed to put up a good fight, playing very well at times. On another night, they might have gotten away with a draw, though Juventus really showed their quality when needed, pouncing on two defensive mistakes.

Unlike the Inter game, no one can fault Gattuso for the approach. It was clear that the team tried to play their own game, attacking in their usual way and almost being able to make Juventus pay for it. In short, the game shouldn’t really be regarded as a disappointment, but rather a sign of improvement.

2. Bakayoko is getting better and better

It’s quite unbelievable, how Bakayoko has managed to turn things around, even after all the abuse he received in the beginning as well as during last season with Chelsea. Playing in a midfield duo with Kessie, he put in a good shift against Juventus, acting as the more defensive man.

On the ball, he seems much more composed and confident, even making a few good runs forward. However, this evening he really excelled defensively, winning the ball back several times, while also stopping Juventus from getting too much space in front of the defence. Gattuso will certainly be happy, given the Rossoneri’s injury struggles in the middle.

3. Higuain seriously needs to work on his attitude

At this point, it doesn’t really matter how many goals Higuain will bag for Milan this season: he needs to work on his attitude. Ever since arriving this summer, he’s had a habit of complaining about his teammates on the pitch, even though he himself has failed to turn up on most of these occasions.

Today was a perfect example of that. The Argentinian looked very slow on the ball and generally was quite easy to handle for the Juve defence. And when he was needed, he didn’t step up. You have to give credit to Szczesny for the save, but the feeling is that Higuain could’ve done much more from the spot. The red card in the dying minutes was just silly; under no circumstances can you behave like that in a Milan shirt. Hopefully, he’ll learn from his big mistake tonight.

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