It’s July 2019, AC Milan have just had their first action of the 19-20 season (Tuesday night against Bayern Munich in the International Champions Cup), and the team was made of mostly fringe players so you know what this means - it’s time to wildly jump to conclusions with little to no basis in reality. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Last night, Daniel Maldini made his debut for AC Milan. Three generations of Maldini's have now come through just ONE club.— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) July 24, 2019
Passing of the torch ⚫️ pic.twitter.com/zahdRXCtem
Daniel Maldini should make the squad.
Looking at the team sheet and seeing the name “Maldini” almost brought me to tears if I’m being honest with you.
Daniel is neither his father nor his grandfather - reflecting the changing ethos of modern football, the third-generation Maldini is an attacking midfielder rather than a defender. He saw his debut with the first team in this game, playing the 10 role at the tip of Giampaolo’s diamond midfield.
As mentioned, this is the first time Daniel’s seen first team action, which isn’t exactly surprising for a 17 year old. Rarely do players that young see any real time with the first team, nor should they (remember Hachim Mastour [RIP]?). That said, Giampalo’s system puts a ton of emphasis on the midfield - without wide attacking players, the ball needs to be constantly moving between the strikers, advanced midfielders, and the wide fullbacks in order to create necessary space in the attacking third.
This type of possession-based system, should it all go according to plan, could put a large burden onto trequartista-type players, of which Milan currently have checks notes Suso, at best. This being the New Milan, with an added emphasis on developing young talent to grow with the team, I’d like to see Maldini make a few appearance with the first team in competitive action this year.
Theo Hernandez will be a Top 3 left back by the end of the season.
Hernandez went down with an ankle injury at the end of the first half of the game with initial tests showing no structural damage, which appears to be promising. But before the injury, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Theo was the best Milan player on the pitch.
Giampaolo’s system is one that places a ton of emphasis on its fullbacks - with a narrow midfield and two strikers, the fullbacks are the only wide players available, so it’s on them to both provide attacking width and to defend the outside areas in their own third. Throughout the first half, if Milan were making attacking moves, odds are that Theo was involved - between providing service from the left and cutting inside to confuse defenders, he showed that the rumors of attacking potential aren’t unwarranted.
While the other end of the pitch was a touch more worrying, it wasn’t exactly an issue - Bayern were very much able to attack the right side space but even when the ball came into the middle, Theo’s defensive positioning more or less ensured that the ball was not as dangerous as it could be.
Early returns seem to point toward Milan’s risky bet on The Other Hernandez paying off.
Milan will be the next team not named Juventus to win Serie A.
Okay just hear me out here.
Much ado has been made this summer of the New Milan - no more spending on players in the back half of their prime, hoping to squeeze the last top-tier football out of them. Instead, led by Ivan Gazidis and Paolo Maldini, the focus is on young players with massive upside that will grow with the team, and once again installing an overarching tactical philosophy at the club through manager Marco Giampaolo.
It may not be this year, but sticking to this philosophy and continuing the work done by Rino (making these young players care about the badge), it’s hard not to feel confident about the future of the club. We’ve been burned before, but should things continue the way they have this short summer, the future appears a touch brighter than last year’s.