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Milan Forward Depth: The Elephant in the Room

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Early Season Injuries Expose Lack of Striker Quality

On the heels of celebrating the coup that is the signing of midfielder Lucas Paqueta from Flamengo for a reported value less than his release clause, we must raise another question: what is management thinking when it comes to reinforcing our striker group?

Everything looks great from afar (read: when everyone is healthy and in form), but we got a sample size of the chaos that we must endure in the event of injuries to both Higuain and Patrick Cutrone - and let’s just say, we shouldn’t be buying that.

When healthy, that duo is one of the premier pairs in Serie A - and dare I say continental Europe. On one side of the coin, we have Higuain who has consistently proven across many leagues, that he is a true big game performer - with 6 goals in 7 matches, he is capable of what seems to be the ability to score at will. Finally a true striker, and the first since maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Much has been said of this here, on twitter, and in the general ether that is the internet.

On the other side of the coin, we have Cutrone, who albeit is still very young at only 20 years of age, has already netted 3 times in 6 games - including 2 in a come from behind Europa League victory against Olympiakos - adding to his 18 in 46 appearances as a 19 year old last season. I mean technically 3 in 6 games is great for anyone, let alone a 20 year old kid, but let’s contextualize this by understanding that he plays as second option to the aforementioned Higuain, and has only played 99 minutes. This means, this season he has averaged a goal every 25 minutes. Actually, in fact, he’s averaged 0.4 goals per match to date which is staggering, especially when looking at this chart below which puts that information into context:

Average Goals by Age 20

Damn, Pato was a treasure that we just wasted. But I digress.

After these two strikers? Dry as the desert.

During U-21 Italy training on September 12th, Cutrone suffered a distortion to his ankle, which I think is over-fluffing a sprain. He missed three games, including two very winnable games that ended as draws against Cagliari, and Atalanta, before being rushed on to the pitch to try to provide a spark in yet another draw against Empoli.

On or about September 25th, Higuain went down with a training ground injury reported as muscular problems for approximately six days, which cost him and the team two matches, including the above referenced draw against Empoli as well.

And it should be noted, that AC Milan did not draw by virtue of playing mediocre football - they simply could not finish. They were lacking someone with the ability to put the ball in net. Full Stop.

With options dwindling, Gattuso first tried to utilize the industrious (but that’s about it) Fabio Borini, which was an unmitigated disaster as you could see he was as frustrated playing up top almost as much as the Curva was with his lack of finishing ability, in what would be a draw with Empoli. Gattuso would then roll the dice, and alter his 4-3-3 by inserting Samu Castillejo in the central forward position, putting more pressure on wingers Suso and Calhanoglu to create offense. This time the dice came up lucky, and Milan thrashed Sassuolo, with all three of the aforementioned players scoring, including a brace for Suso. But is this a reliable strategy? The answer would be no, playing a combination of midfielders or wingers in a center forward position will not be viable long-term.

So what are the attacking options? Sevilla is already expressing interest in making the Andre Silva loan a permanent deal in the first few weeks of the season, which does not bode well for a potential reunion. With Leonardo signing Paqueta in October, you can see that he has eye to the transfer market - will he strike now, or wait until the summer to capitalize on a Bosman, such as Olivier Giroud or even the return of Mario Balotelli. The latest rumblings are that Milan have reached out to the (aging, but still insanely fit) god himself, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to return to San Siro on loan in January, much like David Beckham did when he was also plying his trade in Los Angeles. With FFP limiting the spending, we can fully expect management to get creative, young, or both.

And with Milan already consistently dropping points left and right against bottom-half-of-the-table teams, action must be taken (and probably in January).

What are your thoughts? Who should Milan target?