Why Milan must focus on securing fourth place

 

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

AC Milan players applaud fans for their support.

Talking about AC Milan competing for any championship these days sounds odd to hear. The Rossoneri are years away from becoming the force that once conquered European club football. And on the domestic front, it’s difficult to imagine them breaking Juventus stranglehold of the league, at least, not in the nearest future.

After last Sunday the 1-1 draw against Cagliari, Milan Legend Paolo Maldini Summarized the current status of the team in a very reflective statement. “Being the anti-Juventus? Let’s be serious, we’re still a long way off being that. We’re aiming to reach the top four in the league and have a great run in the Europa League. Projects are important, but you can’t yet compare Milan to Juventus.”

One big take out from this comment is the admission by the former Iconic Milan Captain that, the Rossoneri will not win the Europa League. Sure, Milan are looking to have a great run in the competition, but how far can they go, quarter-final or Semi-final? And will that be a prudent use of their current strength or a focus discussion on securing fourth place in Serie A should be the way to go.

Despite the improvement in key areas this season, Milan’s performance last season suggest they need to choose between the Europa League and fourth place in Serie A. And for a club of Milan’s stature qualification for Champions league should be the Holy Grail.

Milan started very well in the qualification round of the Europa League last season, before witnessing some disappointing results and insipid display during the group stage. However, it became a platform for players such as Andre Silva  and Fabio Borini to make a case for a starting place in the team which did not quite materialised. The Portugal international, Silva, who is currently on loan at Sevilla could not translate his European form into domestic performance.

Gannaro Gattuso managed to take Milan to the round 16th of Europe’s second tier competition, but stumbled against English side Arsenal both at home and away grounds. Notwithstanding the Gunners ordeal during that time in their English Premier League, which read eight points behind fourth place, the chasm in quality, maturity and organisation was huge. Of course, Arsenal had a crop of players who had been together for quite a long time whiles the Rossoneri were going through what one will describe as a teething problem.

The Europa League could disrupt Milan’s domestic campaign, as it can put a strain on the squad. Compared to last season, Gattuso has got a bigger group of players must be tactful in how he rotates the lads whiles guarding against injuries. The inclusion of Samu Castilljo, Diego Laxalt, Tiémoué Bakayoko and Alen Halilović could provide the Diavolo cover in crucial moments. The team still awaits the return of right back Andrea Conti from rehabilitation after a long spell in the treatment room.

Milan kick start their campaign against Dudelange in Group F which also has the likes Real Betis and Olympiacos. They will qualify and possibly lead the group, but do they have the quality to compete against some of the big dogs who may fall from the Champions league. How would Milan fair against teams like Chelsea, Arsenal, Sevilla or even Olympiacos and Real Betis in the group stage.

From an administrative perspective participation in the Europa league is a great call because it comes with some financial incentives, whiles from a supporter’s point of view, this an opportunity to witness European football at the San Siro, especially, when their rivals from the blue side of the City, Inter Milan, are involved in the bigger one, the Champion League.

It’s early days yet but, Milan’s domestic form isn’t that great and Maldini had some few words on how the team can develop “What to improve? We have to try to accelerate the growth of experience, we have an opportunity and the results of the other teams show it. The team is not yet aware of how strong it is, many guys have not realized how much they can give. Dialogue with us directors could be important for them”.

Certainly, having a discussion with the squad could do a lot for their confidence and provide them with a sense of self believe, but the bigger problem is, there are a few reliable players in this group.

Milan must choose between spending their energies in finishing fourth in Seire A or risk being derailed by their participation in the Europa League as they do not have the quality to compete against the big guns in the competition.

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Serie A must continue purchase of World Class players to enhance image

Seven years ago, one French Club, Paris Saint Germain invaded Serie A and plundered the league’s top stars from its top teams. Jérémy Ménez, Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti, Thiago Sliva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Later, Marquinhos and Edison Cavani joined the fray. PSG’s incursion was propelled by current owners, Qatar Sports Investments, spearheaded by Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

It wasn’t just the ability of the oil rich investors to price away the best talents from other clubs as was the case with Neymar last season, but it exposed how vulnerable and financially weak clubs in Italy were at that particular period. Let’s look at it from this perspective, the strength of a league is predicated on the strength of its clubs. Thus, Serie A became weak in the eyes of its opposing leagues.

It’s worth to note that, during those trial moments, Juventus were putting in place the right structures, both administratively and infrastructure (The Allianz Stadium). They managed to sign the likes of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City, Arturo Vidal from Bayer Leverkusen, got Andrea Pirlo on a Bossman and a world class potential in Paul Pobga. The results are six scudetti on the bounce and two Champions League finals in the last five years. They continue to attract some of the best talents in Douglas Costa, Blaise Matuidi and Emre Can.

This season,the backdrop to Juventus campaign is the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo. Portuguese Captain is a symbol of perseverance, whiles his great achievements and showy personality drags the media to his orbit. A report this year from D’Marie Analytics, a social media research firm estimates that a post by Ronaldo across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is worth a cumulative $728,973.35, making him both the most valuable soccer player and athlete overall.

And of course, commercially, there are all sorts of financial spin offs when you sign Cristiano Ronaldo, from merchandise to image rights.

According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Ronaldo’s debut match against Chievo attracted 2,330,234 unique viewers, with an audience share of 11.9 percent. That’s a 68 percent increase in viewers on Juve’s first match of last season, when they faced Cagliari at home. It is also the fourth-highest total since the Italian branch of Sky launched, surpassed only by the Derby d’Italia in 2013 and 2016, and Roma-Juventus in August 2015. Another Broadcast giant ESPN signed a multi-year deal to broadcast Serie A in the United States It’s difficult to quantify how much of this attention is contributed by the competitiveness of the league after Napoli gave Juventus a hard fought for the scudetto last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s entrance has brought the sheen that Serie A needs.

It is however important for the other top teams Inter Milan, Napoli, AC Milan and AS Roma to leverage on the current attraction to lure elite players to their abode.

The two San Siro outfits, AC Milan and Inter are beginning to recover their financial muscle after the change of ownerships from Italian families to foreign Investors, as well as Roma. Things are beginning to look up for AC Milan under the current owners Elliot Hudge Fund Management who have brought back Leonardo in the position of Sporting director, alongside Paolo Maldini as sporting strategy and development director.

AC Milan’s transfer activities have not triggered the kind of excitement that greeted the appointment of their former heroes. Paolo Maldini’s name seems to have overshadowed their purchases in the summer and rightly so because names likes, Tiémoué Bakayoko, Alen Halilovic, Samu Castillejo and Diego Laxalt do not generate euphoria. But the Rossoneri take consolation in the signature of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara.

Inter Milan managed to sign Radja Nainggolan from AS Roma and Kwadwo Asamoah from Inter whiles keeping Ivan Peresic and their priciest asset, Captain Maruo Icardi. The reports about Luka Modric wanting to join the Nerazzurri drew a lot of enthusiasm around the club and showed further proof of the kind of players that Serie A are missing. Though the player decided otherwise, it was a sign of ambition on the part of the Nerazzurri.

Despite the acquisition of Javier Pastori and Steven Nzonzi by AS Roma this summer, the Giallorossi have lost world class goalkeeper Alison Becker to Liverpool and Kevin Strootman to Marseille. Whiles Mauricio Sarri and Jorginho have joined Chelsea from Napoli. Last year, three players from Serie A mounted the FIFPro World XI podium. Two of them, Dani Alves and Gialuigi Buffon are currently PSG players. Cristiano Ronaldo may be on the podium in the next FIFA Mens Best Player Award Event but it will be based on his performance at Real Madrid.

Serie A need a continue purchase of world class players to continue enjoying the attention it’s currently attracting.

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Gennaro Gattuso has got a huge job on hands

Money does not always correlate with success, and that was the story of AC Milan last season when they went on a spending spree adding nine new players to instigate a revolution. The headliner, was the signing of Leonardo Bonucci from rivals Juventus. However, after a year with the Rossoneri as captain, Bonucci is back with the Old Lady while Milan received promising defender Mattia Caldara in exchange. 

Despite a less than a year experience as a coach in Serie A, there is residual believe that Gattuso can restore the Diavolo back to its past glory days. And with Leonardo Araújo and Paulo Maldini play key roles at management level, the Gattuso can only be confident that his job is safe for now.

Last Saturday’s 3-2 defeat to Napoli at the San Paolo was evidence of how far the Rossoneri were behind last season’s top four teams. It revealed a team with startling defensive flaws, lack authority in midfield and devoid of character. The very qualities that, Napoli showed to come from behind to score three goals.

The Diavolo addressed a key position of need in the transfer window by signing Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus as the team struggled for goals last season with Nicola Kalinic as their top marksman. Higuain is a proven goal scorer with not less than 15 goals in each of the four season he has spent in serie A .However, his efficiency will largely depend on the understanding he develops with the likes of Hakan Çalhanoğlu , Jack Bonaventura and Suso. Most significantly the quality of services from his supporting cast.

One thing is apparent in this Milan side, there are some rough edges that, individually, Gattuso needs to smooth out, particularly the young players. The decision making of Davide Calabria, Franck Kessié wayward shots, Suso’s crosses, Donnarumma’s lack of confidence playing from the back, Bonaventura’s hesitations in key moments in games, Mateo Musacchio’s reading of the game, Ricardo Rodriquez’s poor offensive participation and Lucas Biglia’s lack of ball progression. The lack of leadership and personalities in this team is very glare. Likewise the issue of immaturity and mental toughness.

The season is still embryonic though, but it’s hard to deny that the negatives seem to outweigh the positives. Having said that, there is still cause to be optimistic as the season wears on.

In defense, the return of Andrea Conti  should solve the problem at right back as the former Atalanta defender shows better judgement in his passes and attacks the flanks with more purpose and precision. This could free Suso to provide more support to Higuain in attack and supplementary interplay from the right channel. Then there is the issue of the center back pairing. Gattuso opted for a partnership between Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio in their first Serie A game, but it’s difficult to envisage this coupling in a long term.

It is the vision of many Milanisti to see a partnership of Caldara and Romagnoli, based on the idea that these two could lead the Azzurris defence in the not too distant future. The departure of Leonardo Bonucci means there is a vacuum of leadership at the back, as both Caldara and Romagnoli lack a bit in stature and experience. However Pepe Reina’s know-how and leadership qualities could be key in the dressing room whiles mentoring Donnarumma.

One key area that Milan have been suffering from in the past couple of years is the midfield. For a club that had the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf, Massimo Ambrosini, Kaka, Rui Costa and the warrior, Genaro Gattuso, it’s a big disappointment watching the current crop. Milan lack presence and expertise in midfield. Lucas Biglia should be more imaginative with his passes and tactful on the ball. Kessie is a burst of energy and athleticism, but very limited technical wise. His energy can be more useful if he stays close to Biglia to break down opponents’ attacks rather than waste opportunities in support of the attack.

Milan inability to stock their midfield with A list players could bite them for the second time in a roll as Tiémoué Bakayoko, Andrea Bertolacci, Riccardo Montolivo may not offer much. Milan, just don’t have enough quality to play themselves out of situations when they are under pressure.

This Friday, Hakan Çalhanoğlu returns to action against AS Roma. And the Gialorrosi will be looking to exact revenge after the Rossoneri inflicted a two nil defeat on them at the stadio Olimpico last season.  The Turkish international’s creativity alongside Bonaventura should give Milan confidence in attack.

Genaro Gatusso has got a huge job on his hands as his team needs to massively improve if they have any aspirations of making the top four. It’s not enough for him to be taking the blame for the poor performance of his players, there must be evidence of progress on the pitch.

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Can Ancelotti Bring Success to Napoli?

There are so many question marks over Napoli this season after surrendering the league title to Juventus during the latter weeks of the previous campaign. The chief concern is, does Carlo Ancelotti have the necessary tools to bring success to the fans at San Paolo?

Whichever way, Carlo Ancelotti will look to continue Maurizio Sarri’s legacy of bringing exciting attacking football to the people of Naples whiles making them a genuine force again in the league. The Partenopei still boast a chunk of the key components of the squad that almost secured the Serie A title. Notably Senegal center back Kalidu Koulibaly, Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Captain Marek Hamsik. These are players of vital importance.

However, the aforementioned players come nowhere near to the players that have brought Ancelloti success in the past. Paulo Maldini, Alexandro Nesta, Segio Ramos, Tiago. Silva, Andrew Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andry Shevechenko, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Kaka, Dida, Iker Casillas and Philp Lahm just to mention a few. One won’t be wrong to say with the exception of Messi, Carlo Ancelotti has coached the best players in the game in the last two decades.

Carlo may possess the ability to lure a few top players to Napoli based on his reputation, but after a reprehensible end to his Bayern Munich reign, many who love and follow him fear coaching a team like Napoli, despite their upswing in performance in the last three years could further lower his status in the game. In terms of history, stature and experience, Napoli lack the cachet of previous clubs such as Milan, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid.

The Partenopei rise to prominence in Serie A in recent years, had nothing to do with the acquisition of world class talents, but propelled and earned through Mauriczio Sarri, whose meticulous work ethos enabled his players to show better quality on the ball, redefined their defensive identity while their offensive ratings skyrocketed.

The San Paolo outfit do not have the financial might of Carlo’s previous employers, and with Inter, AC Milan and Roma constantly upgrading owing to the ambitions of their new owners, it’s hard to envisage Napoli challenging for the Scudetto in the not too distant future. It’s no surprise that ahead of the opening fixtures of the season, newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport predicted that both Inter and Milan will leapfrog the Partenopei in the scrap for Champion League position. One wouldn’t be far from right to surmise that this bold call was made taking into account the performance of the teams in the transfer market.

The frustrations of Napoli fans about the club’s lack of ambition in the Mercator were echoed in a recent comment by club president Aurelio De Laurentiis  when he argued that “They want me to spend millions on buying new players, but then they are the ones who buy fake jerseys, make counterfeit merchandise and push through the turnstiles without paying. “So they challenge me too, and I’ll do the same with them.

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Carlo Ancelotti issuing out instructions

Despite the talent available to Carlo Ancelotti, Napoli lag behind the likes of Juventus, Inter and AS Roma in terms of depth, and it’s difficult to imagine Ancelotti win the Scuddeto with such a thin squad. The San Paolo fans will miss midfield orchestra Jorginho who has left to Chelsea but it’s also a great opportunity for Polish international Piotr Zieliński to fulfil his potential.

Notwithstanding the win against Lazio at the Olympic last Saturday in their opening Serie A fixture, the manner in which Ciro Immobile turned three Napoli defenders to score that perch of a goal was disappointing, and Ancelotti will hope that such misjudgments do not occur going forward. It was big performances and results like this that made them favorites for a lot of neutral in their last campaign.

For Napoli to pose a threat to Juventus, it’s imperative that Arkadiusz Milik remains fit this season as his height and strength would be crucial in the box against teams like Juventus and Inter. The Polish International could be key in how Ancelotti intends to unhinge his opponents alongside the likes of Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne.

One notable difference in this Napoli team is how Carlo Ancelotti intends to use Marek Hamšík. The skipper seems to have been assigned the role of a deep lying playmaker and despite his limited defensive capabilities the Slovakian distinguished himself against Lazio. But it remains to be seen if that is an ideal plan in the long term. It’s worthy to note that, just like former boss Mauricio Sarri, Carlo is another conservative who hardly rotates his squad. Carlo Ancelotti has got an impressive coaching record, but has he got the right materials to inspire success at San Paolo?

 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival will benefit all of Serie A

RonaldoJ7Custom

Juventus’ signing of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid for almost £100m has arguably been the biggest news in the football world this week. That is no mean feat of course, what with the little matter of the World Cup semi-finals going on over the course of these few days. The fact that this transfer deal has overshadowed the largest football tournament on the planet is no real surprise however. Ronaldo can lay genuine claim to being the best footballer in the world today, and constantly battles with Lionel Messi for that accolade in the media and in just about any conversation taking place on the subject. The fact that he has left Real Madrid is arguably as surprising as anything else – it has been one of those departures long rumoured but never implemented.

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