With Hakan Calhanoglu’s high-profile free transfer to Inter Milan, AC Milan’s priority this summer has undoubtedly been the attacking midfield. Paolo Maldini and the rest of the front office have taken their time in finding a replacement, but, with only a few weeks left before the transfer deadline, they appear to be zeroing in on a few potential targets.
Hakim Ziyech, Nikola Vlasic and James Rodriguez have all been connected to the club in recent weeks, and all would require a sizable transfer fee and wage. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and whomever Milan eventually selects will obviously have a massive impact on the Rossoneri’s upcoming season.
Hakim Ziyech, Chelsea FC
Reportedly Milan’s preferred target, Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech is an intriguing option. After several years in the Eredivisie recording high assist numbers, the Moroccan international struggled last season at Chelsea, but is reportedly well-liked by Thomas Tuchel. Milan would have to pay the English giants around €40 million to acquire the midfielder.
Ziyech is incredibly intelligent and has good situational awareness. A pass-first attacking midfielder, he is capable of playing long balls to the wings or passing into space through the defense; he could likely play deeper in the midfield if needed.
He compliments his passing ability with a quality touch and ball retention. The Moroccan is rarely dispossessed and helps his side retain the ball during build-up play. Ziyech is a fantastic asset for teams that possess the ball and do not rely heavily on counter attacks.
Buying Ziyech would forfeit creativity in favor of distribution. The 28-year-old is not a particularly inspiring dribbler or especially fast. Stefano Pioli and the front office must ensure that Ziyech can adapt to Milan’s unique 4-2-3-1.
Nikola Vlasic, CSKA Moscow
One of Ante Rebic’s fellow Croatian internationals, Nikola Vlasic is an elite attacking midfielder who has taken the Russian league by storm the last three seasons. The 23-year-old has registered 28 goals and 15 assists over 82 matches with his side, and is valued somewhere in the region of €35 million.
His most notable attribute is his intense work rate. Vlasic is a fast, physical forward that leads Moscow’s ferocious press, often playing very high when the opposition has the ball.
The Croatian plays similarly to Rebic. He is capable of playing high against the opposing backline, floating deeper into the midfield, or drifting wide to the wing. This versatility would be a stark contrast to Calhanoglu’s more traditional attacking midfield skillset, but Vlasic’s impressive goalscoring output is difficult to ignore.
He also displays impressive off-the-ball awareness and is adept at playing creative passes and finding space inside the box. Also armed with a powerful and accurate shot, Vlasic is a threat to score from anywhere in the attacking third.
Milan has been connected to the Croatian for several months now, and the Rossoneri would have to shell out an estimated €30 million for his services, down from the previously rumored €40 million. Vlasic would be no small investment and lacks sufficient experience at a big club, but he would be a solid signing that would inject needed pace and attacking prowess into Milan’s offense.
James Rodriguez, Everton
Emerging as an option in the last week, James Rodriguez would be a shock signing for the Rossoneri. Once considered one of the best young players in the world, Rodriguez failed to lock down a permanent starting position at both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich over a period of six years. No longer in Everton’s plans, the injury-ridden Colombian reportedly views Italy, specifically Milan, as an ideal destination.
At 29 and struggling with injuries, Rodriguez would be a risky signing, but has potential to be the best attacking midfielder on this list. The Colombian is a classic number ten, combining a high level of skill with elite distribution.
Rodriguez is a threat every time he touches the ball and recorded a ninetieth percentile 0.66 goal-creating actions per 90 minutes last season. When on the ball, he draws defenders to him and opens space for teammates to exploit in the attacking third.
If he truly wants to sign with Milan, Rodriguez would have to take a significant wage cut in addition to a reduced transfer fee, somewhere between €20 and €30 million. If the 29-year-old can stay on the pitch, Milan would be signing the ideal replacement for Calhanoglu, not to mention a world-class talent, for a discount.
James Rodriguez:— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) August 6, 2021
“Agüero went to Barcelona, and now Messi is leaving. Those are the things that football has. The same thing happened to me. I go to Everton, practically because Ancelotti was there and look, now Carlo is gone."
[El Espanol] pic.twitter.com/wffg0lutLx
Vlasic presents the greatest upside
As the beginning of the season and the transfer deadline draw ever closer, the pressure is building on Milan to make a move and bring in a quality attacking midfielder. All three are suitable choices, but Vlasic is particularly tantalizing.
The Croatian is significantly younger than either Ziyech or Rodriguez and will see his value rise in the future. The Moroccan and the Colombian had disappointing seasons in the Premier League last year, and when comparing the price tag of all three, Vlasic seems to be the obvious choice.
Additional targets may emerge in the coming weeks, but it seems clear that Milan will have to spend big to find an impact attacking midfielder.