For the first time in what feels like forever, Milan has been one of the more active teams in the summer transfer window. The flurry of activity has been a dramatic change from the last few summers, because for one, they're actually spending, and two, they're making moves early in the window. Milan's attack has been bolstered, and to an extent, its midfield has been as well. In order for Milan to take the next step, however, its midfield must be rounded out. The missing ingredient in Milan's midfield is an athletic midfielder with pace who can dart up and down the field and use his physicality to impose himself in all three thirds.
Nigel de Jong is an expert tackler and an important piece in this particular puzzle, but he is not quick or skilled enough to be the anchor of Milan's midfield. Andrea Bertolacci and Giacomo Bonaventura are two hardworking and creative players who are effective in all three thirds, but neither rely on raw athleticism and power to dominate a match. Riccardo Montolivo might be the most technically gifted midfielder in the squad, but his lack of pace and tackling prowess make him an auxiliary piece rather than the centrepiece Milan requires.
The intriguing name who has the potential to check all of these boxes is new signing Jose Mauri - an industrious but skilled midfield player who's pacey and built like a brick house. Mauri looks like the kind of piece that Milan can build around, but at 19 years old and with only one season of Serie A experience under his belt, he cannot be relied upon to marshall the centre of the pitch.
The type of midfield player that Milan lacks is hard to find and even harder to acquire. Players such as Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Ramires, Radja Nainggolan, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Sergio Busquets, and yes, Axel Witsel are players that could walk right onto Milan's roster and go a long way towards solving Milan's midfield woes. Another trait that those players share is (sadly) that they won't be showing up for training at Milanello in the forseeable future. The one exception might be Axel Witsel. Witsel looks set to leave Zenit this summer, and the Rossoneri are rumoured to be at the front of the line to try and lure him to the San Siro. Adding Witsel would instantly provide Milan with the midfield anchor they so desperately need. Standing at 6'1 feet tall, the Belgian would instantly add a degree of athleticism, physicality and defensive range to Milan's midfield trio. Moreover, despite his physical attributes being his biggest strengths, he is an all-around midfielder capable of playing with and without the ball. Witsel would finally give Milan a true athlete in midfield to chase down opposing players and close down space. Witsel's arrival would also have a positive impact on his would-be partners in midfield and allow them to focus on what they do best. Nigel de Jong currently sees too much of the ball during the course of the match. Reducing his touches per game would allow him to focus on being the defensive force that he is. Montolivo is constantly criticized for being a ghost when Milan do not have possession, but if he were to be dispatched alongside de Jong and Witsel, he would carry less responsibility defensively and could focus the entirety of his attention on creating. These potential outcomes would make Milan a more complete and dangerous squad as a whole.
With the addition of a powerhouse in midfield, the defence would also be much improved. Milan's defence is far from stellar, and the lack of any real pace and defensive range in the midfield this season left them exposed. Far too often there was a glaring lack of back pressure applied to opposing attackers darting forward with the ball. Opposing players are given far too much time with the ball when venturing forward. This is a consequence of fielding multiple slow, lethargic midfielders at once. The addition of a strong midfielder with defensive range will go a long way to rectifying this recurring issue. A mediocre midfield can make a good defence look bad and a bad defence look terrible. Milan's back line aren't Beckenbauers, and they're barely enough for a team with any ambition, but improving the midfield would help them tremendously and help hide some of their flaws. Behind a midfield including Bertolacci/Bonaventura, de Jong, and a player such as Witsel, these defenders would look infinitely better.
Milan remain a team under construction, and one far from completion. There are other needs this team has that must be addressed before the ball is touched over the halfway line, but if there is one need most pressing, it is that for an athletic and rangy powerhouse in midfield. In order to compete at the top end of the table with teams like Juve, Roma, Napoli, and Inter, the midfield must be fixed. Such players are difficult to find and even more difficult to acquire, but with Witsel set to leave Zenit, Milan have been given a golden ticket, now they just have to cash it.