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Five Important Takeaways From Milan’s Preseason

How Milan’s preseason can inform their actual Serie A season.

Marco Giampaolo, head coach of AC Milan, smiles prior to the...
AC Milan tactician Marco Giampaolo at the International Champions Cup
Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Its been a week since AC Milan played their final preseason friendly against newly promoted Serie C club Cesena F.C. The game was the last of 6 preseason games AC Milan played, including a 1-1 draw against Novara, 1-0 losses to both Bayern Munich and Benfica, a 2-2 draw against Manchester United and a 2-0 victory over Kosovan club Feronikeli.

Yes, preseason results have been excruciatingly underwhelming as evidenced by Milan results in the ICC. No, these results do not adequately represent how the squad have performed and rarely if ever do preseason results act as a credible indicator of how clubs will perform in their upcoming seasons. Let’s take a look at five of the most poignant takeaways from preseason that may help predict how Milan would look and play during the upcoming season.

ADAPTING TO GIAMPAOLO’S SYSTEM

AC Milan were much further behind in preparations than their opponents, contributing to their slow start at the International Champions Cup. In their first match of the tournament, while Milan looked somewhat steady in the first 45 minutes, their play dropped in the second half as tired legs prevailed. Coach Giampaolo was complimentary of his players however, praising them for attempting to replicate the concepts practiced in training. The coach’s ideas would be fully fleshed out in the upcoming games however, as Milan dominated proceedings against the likes of Benfica, Manchester United and Feronikeli.

Evidence of Giampaolo’s aggressive pressing style and fluid passing were on display, with players seemingly adapting quicker than expected to the coach’s system, which bodes well for the team heading into the start of the Serie A season.

LEFT BACK SITUATION SOLVED

This is not a typo, nor is it hyperbole. The most decrepit, most dysfunctional position at Milan for a decade looks to finally be a position of strength. Taye Taiwo, Didac Vila, Luca Antonini and Leonel Vangioni are just a few of the names that have consistently frustrated fans at the Left Back position since the retirement of Milan Legend, Paolo Maldini in 2009, while Ricardo Rodriguez proves to be a polarizing figure with his conservative yet uninspiring approach to the position. Theo Hernandez in his 1 and a half games before unfortunately succumbing to an ankle injury against Bayern Munich, showed everything Milan fans had been wanting to see and more. Slaloming runs, accurate crosses and powerful shots all constituted his time on the pitch for Milan and fans were thrilled with his performances.

His presence would provide great balance to the team going forward as no longer would our attacks only be coming from the right side of the pitch, but now would be split between left and right side creating a more unpredictable attack. Get well soon Theo.

SUSO PROVING HIS WORTH

Those who know me personally, know that I’ve advocated for the sale of Suso, for 2 years running. His game became predictable and his disappearing act after December-January has come to be expected. What Suso has done during preseason however has been nothing short of impressive. He’s arguably been the team’s best player during the preseason, creating chance after chance for his teammates and scoring sublime goals along the way.

Although this has not been the Spaniard’s first foray into the world of the trequartista (was deployed under Montella for a few games), he’s never looked as good as he has now, albeit in preseason. Suso’s ability to provide a link between the midfield and attack has been very impressive, as has been his awareness of his teammates and his opponents when he’s picked up the ball. This position will also prove useful in preserving Suso’s legs as it requires less full on sprinting as the winger position did. Whether due to the improved system or coach’s ability to better convey the principles of role, Suso looks a new, less predictable version of himself which must scare all other 19 teams in the peninsula's top flight.

Manchester United v AC Milan - 2019 International Champions Cup
Suso celebrating goal against De Gea in the ICC tournament
Photo by Alex Morton/International Champions Cup/International Champions Cup via Getty Images

MIDFIELD DEPTH

In addition to Milan starting their preseason preparations late another reason that could be attributed to their poor results could be absentees from their midfield. Despite this however Milan held their own and even dominated for stretches against better prepared teams, with a midfield trio of Calhanoglu-Biglia-Borini. A strong argument could be made that those 3 would not be regular starters during the season, as Paqueta, Bennacer and Kessie reclaim what should rightfully be theirs, not to mention the return of fan favorite, Giacomo Bonaventura.

This leaves one logical conclusion, Milan’s midfield should be covered for the entirety of the season barring a catastrophic injury crisis. No longer would the likes of Bertolacci, Jose Mauri and Montolivo be our reinforcements, but Giampaolo now has capable, if unspectacular replacements should he require them during the season. It also helps that Milan would be playing in one less tournament this year due to the voluntary omission from the Europa League. No the Rossoneri don’t have the deepest or the most talented midfield in Serie A, but what they do have is a strong core of 7-8 midfield players, whereby Milan doesn’t experience a major drop off when one is subbed for the other.

NEW ROLES FOR NEW PLAYERS.

During the preseason, we’ve seen two players play in positions that neither the fans nor they have been familiar with to varying levels of success. Castillejo was deployed as a Second Striker next to Piatek, while Calhanoglu spelled time for Biglia in the regista position in both the Manchester United and Cesena matches. While its difficult to see Castillejo as a long term solution - despite claims made by his agent to the contrary - Calhanoglu in this new position may be something we get to experience more as the season continues.

Reports recently emerged that Calhanoglu could be tested in this position as early as the opening game of the season against the Friuli, as Bennacer works to return to game fitness. Hakan’s passing range and mobility should act as an improvement over his Argentine counterpart, even if they both don’t quite match the dynamism of the diminutive Algerian.

HONORABLE MENTION

Honorable mention of course, has to go to the return of Bonaventura. His performance during the second half of the match against Feronikeli evoked thoughts of vintage Jack among Milan fans. However, it remains to be seen whether that performance was a function of the opponent or whether Jack is close to being the player we all hope he can be once again.

As the season fast approaches, we wait with bated breath to see how best the team could translate preseason performance into real life results. This season promises to be one of the most exciting in recent memory. FORZA MILAN!!!!!