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The Steps Taken: An Early Review of AC Milan’s and FC Internazionale

The Rossoneri are going to look much different next season

AC Milan v Crvena Zvezda - UEFA Europa League Round Of 32 Leg Two Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

When the 2020-21 season concluded, both sides of Milan found themselves celebrating returns to the Champions League for the first time since the 2010-11 season. A decade of immense strife culminated in a first and second finish for the twin clubs at the most recent season’s end. Both clubs face a tumultuous offseason where one needs to prepare for the upcoming season after losing two influential players on free transfers. The other lost a coach, has a massive debt, and desperately needs to add funds while maintaining squad cohesion. Did the success in a Pandemic season leave both clubs behind the eight ball for the upcoming campaign, or will both return strong?

Importantly, this is written at the very beginning of the offseason, and everything in this article could change drastically next week, but both of these teams have been at the heart of the Serie A offseason. If both teams pivot correctly and hold onto most of their key contributors, then they will most likely reach similar heights as they did last season.

A Statistical Breakdown of 2020-21

FC Internazionale and AC Milan 2020-21 Chance Creation Profile

Team Standing NPxG For (Rank) NPxG Against(Rank) NPxG Differential per 90 NPxG +/- Actual Goals (Rank)
Team Standing NPxG For (Rank) NPxG Against(Rank) NPxG Differential per 90 NPxG +/- Actual Goals (Rank)
Inter Milan 1st 68.0(2nd) 33.0(2nd) +0.92(3rd) +8.0(3rd)
AC Milan 2nd 56.6(6th) 42.0(7th) +0.38(6th) +0.4(10th)
FBref and StatsBomb

This is far from glowing for AC Milan. Stefano Pioli’s side played at a Europa League level for most of the season but received favorable refereeing. The team attempted 20 penalties throughout the season and scored 15 of them. That is not a sustainable offense and something that is very concerning for the upcoming season. High penalty accumulation is difficult to repeat and something the entire Milan staff will need to account for when preparing for the forthcoming season. There is a caveat in this, though. Milan was excellent from the restart all the way to the loss against Juventus FC when the wheels began to fall off. Now, the team representing the Curva Sud in the San Siro needs to start replacing multiple vital members of their successful 2020-21 squad for the upcoming year.

For Inter Milan, their title-winning campaign was immediately cut short when Antonio Conte left the club because of a financial argument that boiled over. This contentious end to the ex-Italy and Juventus manager led the Nerazzurri to their first title since their Treble-winning campaign. Inter then signed revered SS Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi. An able leader, but certainly not to the level as Conte. Adding to the tumultuous beginning of their offseason, Inter needs to cut vast amounts of salary and generate tens of millions of euros to restart paying players wages again. Suppose the Inter management group moves players that upset the balance or fail to replace the players; they will inevitably unsettle the harmony that existed last season. In that case, the Nerazzurri could take a tumble in the standings. However, they maintained incredible expected statistics all season, competing with Atalanta BC and Juventus for the best statistical profile in the country. This high level led them down the path to the Scudetto; however, it may not be high enough to let them hold onto their recently bestowed crown.

Who They Lost, Might Lose, and Who They Swapped

Milan has obviously lost two key players from their last season already: Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Gianluigi Donnarumma. I believe these losses will affect Pioli’s planning much differently, with Hakan’s departure affecting tactical plans more than Donnarummas. In terms of statistical profiles, Mike Maignan had a better season by advanced numbers than Milan’s previous goalkeeper. Netminders are somewhat replaceable, and while there are certainly a handful that are not, Gigio was never the best goalie on the planet. Therefore, replacing him with someone close to the same age range, which is much cheaper and has a better statistical profile, is wise. However, this means Pioli needs to plan for life after Gigio, but that mainly means preparing a new way to communicate and utilize his goalie in possession. It is not much, but it matters.

Inter’s question is who will leave to make up the financial gap they need to cover. Selling Achraf Hakimi would not make up the team’s difference, but selling Alessandro Bastoni, Lautaro Martínez, and or Marcelo Brozović would get the team close to their massive deficit (obviously, Lautaro would do it the fastest). This is a precarious time for the Nerazzurri as their financial decisions could impact the club’s long-term success. It is doubtful that their next course of action will take them out of the Champions League spots next season, but it could easily knee-cap their title hopes.

Then a Bosman transfer happened between the city rivals. Çalhanoğlu swapped red for blue and now represents the Curva Nord of the San Siro. I am not sure how Inzaghi plans to use the Turkish midfielder, but he will quickly realize that his play is not similar to Luis Alberto’s. First, Hakan pushes play forward through his passing, not ball carrying and mainly generates offense from set pieces. Secondly, he struggles in a midfield role, performing better right behind a striker. I do not see how he fits into this Inter squad, but the Nerazzurri have better individual shot creators than Milan. It may work, but it is an expensive contract. I understand this moves from both sides.

What to Expect From The Remainder of the Summer

Inter will continue to cut salary and look for additional investment into the club. As a result, their starting eleven on matchday one of the 2021-22 season might look much different than their squad for the final game of the 2020-21 campaign. It is an unfortunate reality for Inter fans, but the financial hit of the pandemic has hurt everyone. Few clubs can add salary, and even fewer can add the salary that Inter is trying to offload. Therefore, I expect some sort of fine to be levied if they cannot move the requisite money.

Milan will continue to look at youth replacements for the players they lost this offseason. Fikayo Tomori and Brahim Díaz have either been permanently signed or are likely to return for at least one more season. A handful of decisions are still to be made, namely what to do about the Sandro Tonali transfer. If he stays, I expect his role to change slightly for the upcoming campaign. I believe a three-man midfield could take the team to the next level. Tonali would be a consistent starter in this new formation. There are more positives for Milan than Inter because of finances, but that is the reality of the past fifteen months.

Any Predictions?

Per FiveThirtyEight’s SPI ranking, Inter is ranked second, and Milan is ranked fifth in Serie A. However, I do not firmly believe this will be the case as SSC Napoli is managed by Luciano Spalleti, who I do not rate, and Atalanta BC are still tiptoeing towards aging themselves out of competing for silverware. Therefore, both Milan clubs should feel confident about their upcoming season but need to tinker appropriately for the remainder of the summer.

Regarding transfers, I believe that the Rossoneri make one or two more signings of high potential young players to round out the squad. I doubt any other massive signings occur, but bringing in younger teammates will set the team up for future success.

Inter is most likely done making any incoming transfers but needs to move out more money. Therefore, I expect the club to thin out large swaths of its squad and reinforce the team with more minor signings, maybe with some upside if need be. Inter is in a tough spot, and their future success is directly tied to this offseason. This could be one of the most influential offseasons in Italy, and if the Nerazzurri need to offload a third of their best players, then they may struggle to compete next season.

I think both teams finish in the top four in Italy but fail to win the scudetto. While that may not be the most intense prediction ever, I am unsure how difficult Serie A will be in the upcoming campaign. However, both teams will undergo sizable reshuffling and that will define the Champions League race in Italy.

One Final Topic

Christian Eriksen is recovering from a serious medical emergency after a cardiac arrest in his first match of the 2020 Euro Championships. I am glad to hear that he is on the road to recovery and was able to go home after his stay in the hospital. His health is vastly more important than any of the games and I hope he can start getting back to his daily routine soon. We are all with you Christian.