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Milan's Menez Dilemma

Menez was Milan's top goal scorer last season. But does he even merit a spot in the starting XI right now?

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Jeremy Menez is one of Milan's most polarizing players.  In his inaugural season, Menez found the back of the net 16 times and carried the team's offence on most nights in a dismal season.  His numbers were very good, but the fact that he scored exactly half of his goals from penalties (most of which he won himself) and showed a reluctance to pass, when coupled with his lax work rate, have divided critics.  Despite being the club's top goal scorer last year and arguably their best player, Menez may not be guaranteed a spot in the starting formation this season and may find minutes hard to come by.

The chief reason for this is the 4-3-1-2 formation the Rossoneri are set to play with new manager Sinisa Mihajlovic at the helm.  Last year, in Inzaghi's 4-3-3, there were many more roles in which Menez could be deployed.  Over the course of the last season, Menez played in all three forward positions in the trident and showcased his versatility. This year, however, with the additions of Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano, it looks like the club has decided to go in a different direction with striker selections.

This development, coupled with the lack of wide players in a 4-3-1-2 configuration, severely limits the minutes that Menez could see this season.  It seems that Menez's best shot to play regularly would be to play as the trequartista, the centre attacking midfielder (CAM) who slots in behind the forwards. Despite the lack of an established "slam dunk" starter as of right now, the competition for minutes at CAM is fierce and the options are numerous.  Keisuke Honda will be looking to show his worth in his preferred position right behind the strikers after a season and a half in exile on the right wing.  Giacomo Bonaventura is another option for the position as he may be squeezed out of a spot in the midfield trio and has already featured behind the strikers in the preseason. The third option is Suso, who Mihajlovic seems to have taken a liking to, and has looked good during the preseason friendlies.  Menez, Honda, Bonaventura, and Suso could all be competing for one spot in the starting eleven.

The argument can be made that Honda, Bonaventura and Suso are all better suited to play behind the strikers than Menez.  Honda and Bonaventura are no doubt less skilled than the flashy Frenchman, but they also possess more drive and a better defensive work rate.  Calling Honda slow would be putting it lightly, but the effort he puts into tracking back and pressing opponents is admirable. The same is true for the industrious Bonaventura, and while Suso is an offensively-minded player, he has shown signs of defensive awareness.  Far too many times last season Menez would lose possession and appear utterly disinterested in trying to win possession back.  Mihajlovic has already said that his strikers will be held responsible defensively, and in that case one would think that the trequartista must be even more diligent in his defensive duties.  From a defensive standpoint there is no doubt that there are better options than Menez available.

A trequartista's chief responsibility is to provide his strikers with service.  For a club that just spent close to 40 million on two strikers who can be categorized as "poachers", service from the trequartista will be vital. The issue with Menez is that he is not known for his passing prowess; rather, it is one of his deficiencies.  Menez is an excellent dribbler, almost to a fault at times, as he can end up dribbling himself into trouble.  So often Menez neglects the simple pass in favour of attempts at the audacious.  Honda, Bonaventura, and Suso are are all able passers and can offer a better link between the midfielders and the strikers than Menez can.  As far as creating opportunities for the strikers,  Honda, Bonaventura, and Suso appear to be more apt.

Menez has a lot to offer and should not be disregarded.  Of all the of the potential players that Mihajlovic could slot in at CAM, he is the best dribbler, the best finisher, the paciest , and the most accomplished player.  In order for Menez to work as the CAM, however, he must adapt.  He must develop a "pass first" mentality and track back much more.  It remains to be seen whether or not Menez can succeed as the trequartista, in large part because he has been held out of preseason friendlies with injuries.  In order for Menez to be play a crucial role for Milan in the upcoming season he must adapt and make sacrifices for the team. If he can't his minutes may be slashed dramatically and he could become surplus to requirements.