What a summer it has been.
Fassone and Mirabelli have quickly put their names in the history books for Il Diavolo by spending in excess of €175 million this summer. Signings include: Mateo Musacchio, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva, Fabio Borini Hakan Calhanoglu, Andrea Conti, Leonardo Bonucci, and Lucas Biglia. The team’s revitalization has been the spark behind the 1000% increase in season ticket sales this year. With one more elite striker likely to join the ranks, Milan seem to have the pieces they need going forward to make a deep run in the Europa League, Coppa Italia, and the Serie A alike. Milan is poised for one of its biggest and most pivotal seasons yet, and anything short of Champions League football qualification will likely prove to be a disappointment to the fans as well as the players.
The red and blacks will start their season today on July 27th, visiting 3rd place Romanian side CS Craiova at 19:00 BST in the third round of UEFA Europa League qualifying. The Serie A campaign will start with Milan visiting Crotone on the 21st of August, and Milan will kick off their home opener when Cagliari comes to visit the following week on August 27th. The first true test of Milan’s squad will come in the form of an away game against Lazio in the third week of the season. We will see our first Derby della Madonnina October 15th and our first matchup with Juventus will take place October 29th. It’s only right with the new campaign that we make some predictions ahead of the season.
X-Factor: Franck Kessie
While he wasn’t the Leonardo Bonucci or Andre Silva-esque signing that grabbed headlines left and right, if you paid attention to the Ivorian’s previous season or his preseason games thus far you’d understand the driving force behind this decision. Franck Kessie was a dominant presence in the games against Dortmund and Bayern, even grabbing a goal against the Bavarians in a 4-0 thrashing. The 20 year old was put into an unfamiliar regista role against Borussia Dortmund and filled the role well, making a few key stops against Aubameyang and company while providing great service as well. Against Bayern the youngster really was allowed to shine as he was put in his more creative box to box role and his efforts were rewarded with a well taken finish that went right under the foot of Bayern’s Bernat. We’ll likely see Kessie continue this role as Biglia is slated to fill the regista role in the future. In 25 starts with Atalanta last season, Kessie netted 6 goals and bagged 2 assists as well with an average match rating of 6.89 (average of 6.91 as a central midfielder). Kessie’s production faltered following the African Cup of Nations though his preseason games with Milan have been indicative of a re-emergence of that form with the Rossoneri. In his first real season in top flight football, Kessie had an 84.4% average pass rating with 0.7 aerial duels won per game. Not bad considering it was only his maiden season in the Serie A. Kessie’s biggest caveat is his discipline, racking up 5 yellows and 2 reds last season, and this is something Montella and Abbiati are likely to work with him on. With the mass amount of talent he’ll have around him with Milan’s revitalized squad, it’ll be exciting to see how Kessie performs this season, and we expect him to really be the unsung hero by the end of the year. His stats may not always show it, but the lad works tirelessly to win the ball and is excellent with the ball at his feet.
Youngsters to watch: Manuel Locatelli and Patrick Cutrone
The former burst on to the scene of the Serie A with magnificent goals against Sassuolo and Juventus, both in critical moments of the respective games. Locatelli is poised to continue his development with a significant increase in the talent around him, and Fassone/Mirabelli made it very clear the 19 year old is here to stay. Although he’ll have to sit behind Biglia and potentially Montolivo, the young Italian regista is likely to get plenty of play time as Montolivo hasn’t put a string of successful performances together in quite awhile, and with the club hierarchy looking towards the future, Locatelli is certain to get his fair share of time. Cutrone is a player who many Milanisti have been waiting for awhile, as he’s been busting up the score sheet for the Primavera and different Italy teams alike, notably scoring 11 goals in 18 games with Italy’s U17 and 6 in 18 with Italy’s U19. The bullish forward stole the show with 2 goals against Bayern Munich and while he played well against Dortmund, he was just shy of a goal being denied by Dortmund’s young shot stopper twice. His maturity has been exemplified in the press after responding very professionally and appropriately after the Bayern game. With Silva and a new striker coming plus the likelihood of Bacca being sold, Cutrone may get more time than expected, which the footballing world will love to see (though opposing Serie A sides may not).
Biggest Question Mark: M’Baye Niang
The Frenchman, who Milanisti have repeatedly grown tired of, saw an average loan spell with Watford culminate in a return to the San Siro outfit. Niang then rejected a move from Everton waiting for Arsenal to offer a deal, though they never came knocking. Although he’s been a pain in the arse from time to time, he had quite the display against Bayern Munich as he consistently gave the right back a tough time with his speed and dribbling. One can make the argument that one preseason game doesn’t justify keeping a player who’s sparked more headaches than Juve, and while there’s plenty who’d make that argument, it shows he’s willing to work and the fruits of his labor are evident here and there. With Milan lacking a true left-winger (Bonaventura and Calhanoglu prefer midfield spots) Niang may see his chance to leave his mark before his contract expires in 2019. He certainly has the quality around him to perform, but it remains to be seen If Niang will be just another young player who didn’t live up to his expectations or a true staple with the Milan first team.
Milan to allow 2nd least goals:
Milan have struggled defensively for quite awhile, consistently being saved by their goalkeeper (Abbiati and Donnarumma). Had it not been for the latter, Milan would likely not be competing in the Europa League this year. You’d have to go back to the 2011/2012 season to find the last time Milan was amongst the top 2 in least amount of goals conceded (finished 2nd that year). With their revitalized defense and Donnarumma between the sticks, we may finally see the Milan that concedes less than 40 goals for the first time in what feels like forever.
Milan win the Coppa Italia:
The draw was all too generous for Milan. Not only do they avoid Juventus, Roma, and Napoli, but they get the chance to play Inter in the quarterfinals if they advance accordingly. Milan surely contains more quality players than Inter as of now, but you never really know with rivalries. The game could go either way really, but the new players will surely be looking to leave their mark in what could be the biggest matchup between the two sides since the Supercoppa back in 2011 (which Milan won 2-1). After Inter, Biglia could get a chance to face his former side in a semifinal cup tie. Milan have the road they want, the question is if they’ll run out of gas with their increased competition in Europe.
Predicted Milan TOTS Players: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci, Ricardo Rodriguez, Hakan Calhanoglu, Suso
Donnarumma and Bonucci need no explanation as the latter is a regular on the list and the former is becoming so. Rodriguez is one of the premier left backs in Serie A now with a world of first team experience under him, which includes Serie A experience. Alex Sandro and Emerson have emerged as Serie A’s top two left backs, and many people may write off Rodriguez because of his poor form last season, though that was everyone on Wolfsburg barring a select few. Prior to that, he had been named to the Bundesliga TOTS twice as a 21 year old and 22 year old. The Swiss left back is only 24 and is excellent from set pieces (though that will be Calhanoglu) and knows how to make those slicing runs to provide aid to the left side. He’s been excellent at providing support in both preseason games, though he does need to fine tune a few more defensive attributes ahead of the campaign. Calhanoglu comes in as one of the most exciting playmaking prospects Milan has had in awhile. Capable of striking a dead ball accurately from 40 yards out, possessing a range of 35 yards in the run of play, and the ability to create space while blowing by defenders is a massive part of why he’s so highly touted. Expect close to a double digit goal and assist tally from the Turkish ace, barring any injuries or bizarre suspensions of course. Suso comes in as one of the more experienced squad players with about a year and a half of Milanese experience. Suso knows the culture and has found his niche operating on his favored right side, and he was in blistering form before he was injured towards the beinning of the winter break last season. With a world cup spot on the line, Suso is going to look to give it his all this campaign, and we have a feeling it’s going to be quite a season for the Spaniard.
Predicted Finish: 3rd
Milan have loads of quality ahead of the year, but the main concern will be the cohesion and chemistry. While they looked cohesive against Bayern, providing runs off each other and acting more as a unit, they’re far from a finished product. Milan will have an interesting yet exciting first season, and a champions league finish almost seems certainly on the cards for the San Siro side. We expect either Roma or Napoli to be leap frogged for that third place spot, and while it won’t be easy, it should go without saying that Milan is fueled by their urge to reach a feet not seen since 2012, and the pressure is surely on for them to perform.