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AC Milan

Rebuilding I Rossoneri

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The back end of the season is upon us with just a few games to go before the Serie A draws to a close. For AC Milan though, the season ended a long time ago with the (former) heavyweights of Italian football suffering their worst season in many years. The Milan outfit find themselves in a lowly 11th place in the league (at the time of writing) and with only seven games to go their hopes of playing in either of next seasons European competitions have all but disappeared.

The appointment of new manager, and former player, Clarence Seedorf hasn’t really sparked the team to life as was expected but, after the failings of Massimiliano Allegri before him, the focus was always going to be on counting losses and building for next season. With financial restraints and a lack of Champions League football, though, such rebuilding is going to be easier said than done – but not impossible.

The first, and most important step that Seedorf and the powers above him need to take is to clear out all of the deadwood in the club. To be frank, the current crop at Milan consist of a mix players who have either seen their best years pass them by or who, even in their best years, quite simply aren’t good enough to wear the famous jersey. The reality of it is that almost half of the squad shouldn’t be at the club and if AC are to move forward, the axe needs to be uncompromisingly wielded.

First and foremost, the older guard need to be (respectfully) shown the door. The likes of Christian Abbiati, Marco Amelia, Phillipe Mexes, Cristian Zaccardo, Giampaolo Pazzini and Robinho have all done the club a good service but are no longer at the level required of an AC Milan player, and on top of that, are eating at the club’s resources with their high wages that could be better spent investing in younger players. Not all of the oldies should leave, though. Players like Nigel de Jong, Riccardo Montolivo and the legendary Kaka are all still important players at the club and will play a vital role in the rebuilding process.

Secondly, those who are not good enough also need to be sold off. The likes of Kevin Constant, Sulley-Ali Muntari and Urby Emmanuelson, along with the understudies to Abbiati’s goal, are all players that fall under this category. I say this with all due respect, but when you compare these players to the squads of not too long ago you realise that they are not fit to wear the jerseys worn by the greats before them.

A natural consequence of getting rid of all these players (I have mentioned 11 in total) is that they all need to be replaced, and replaced with the right players. Signing the ‘bigger’ players will be tougher than in the past because of the lack of Champions League but I firmly believe that the name of the club alone should be enough to attract the right kinds of players.

The key is to focus on young, Italian players who understand just what it means to play for AC Milan. Italy is blessed with a number of talented youngsters, many of whom grew up dreaming of one day donning the famous red and black strip. Many of these youngsters are closer to home than most realise. The likes of Bryan Crsitante, Mattia de Sciglio, and Andrea Petagna (amongst others) are all local players who will have a big influence on the future of the club. Externally, it would be wise for the club to look at players like goalkeeper Mattia Perrin of Genoa and Alessio Cerci of Torino who have been in great form this season.

Pushing the combination of these signed/promoted players into regular game time alongside the likes of Mario Balotelli, Stephen el Shaarawy and skipper Riccardo Montolivo is vital requirement for progress as it builds a core of (talented) Italian players within the club. To see the benefits of this Italian core, one just needs to look back a few years at the squad built around the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso and Flippo Inzaghi and the successes which they achieved.

This isn’t to say that the club shouldn’t invest their money elsewhere, though, but when doing so an extra degree of caution and care should be taken. Given financial concerns, the key in this regard is to get the right quality for the right price. Two players that would certainly fall into this category are Rafael van der Vaart and Jeremy Menez. The former is the current skipper of Hamburg, but given their imminent relegation it is more than likely that the dynamic Dutch international will be on the move. The latter is currently on the fringes of money-rich PSG with game time something of rarity for him. The icing on the cake though is that the Frenchman’s contract is running out at the end of the season and a move back to Serie A could well be on the cards for the former Roma star. I’ve given a lot of attention to potential attacking signings but a defensive player that stands out is Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao. Signing him would be a bit of a reach but he would certainly stand out with the quality he possesses. The Portugese international has fallen down the pecking order at Madrid and is said to be very keen to move on.  It might also be wise to scout out one or two more signings in the mould of Keisuke Honda, Adil Rami and Adel Taarabt who have all added something to the club at very little cost

Of course, the players that Milan actually sign is another story but for the purposes of this article the names I have mentioned serve as the perfect examples of the blend of age and experience coupled with the quality required to take AC Milan forward. Such progression will not happen over night either. In fact, next season could be just as bad. Replacing the majority of the senior players in a squad with a mix of new and young players means that time will be needed to get them to gel but once they do, the difference will be noticeable.

Changes in the backroom staff could also beneficial to the club. Clarence Seedorf’s appointment as manager served to bring back part of the identity to the club that had gone missing. Bringing in a few more former players into coaching roles could well provide that bit of passion that has been lacking in the current side. The club needs fighters and if the people at the top are fighting for the club the players on the field will do the same.

In essence, the key for Milan is to be shrewd in the market, signing a balance of young players who will be part of the long-term future of the club along with a few experienced heads who add something extra to the dynamic of the side – all the while considering the financial implications of each deal. A patient approach is also vital as this won’t be a quick fix. The club needs to show faith in Seedorf and his crew even if things don’t look like they’re improving. Stability breeds success. And, on top of all of this, and possibly most importantly, the right mentality needs to be instilled into the players. No player is bigger than the club. Playing for AC Milan is a privilege, not an option.

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AC Milan

Victory in Milan, but is this another false dawn for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger?

Arsenal were triumphant in Milan despite their recent miserable form.

Jake Jackman

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Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal ended their losing run of four matches with an excellent performance away to AC Milan in the Europa League. This competition has the potential to save the Gunners season and the commitment from every player suggested that they want to go all the way.

They were coming up against a team full of confidence under Gennaro Gattuso. Milan hadn’t lost a match since the end of December. The Serie A club hadn’t conceded a goal in six and had won five of those inside ninety minutes.

These sides came into this fixture in remarkably different form, but football is played on grass and not on paper.

Despite Milan having more attempts, it was Arsenal who created the better chances. They had a couple of half-chances early on before the opening goal.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has had a hot and cold start to life in a Gunners’ shirt, but he was one of the best players on the pitch in Italy. His goal was emphatically taken as he drove the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma.

It is important to capitalise when you are on top, especially away from home in European competitions and Arsenal did just that. As the first-half progressed, they continued to create the better opportunities. Both Danny Welbeck and Mkhitaryan had good chances to double the visitors’ lead, but they were squandered.

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

In stoppage-time of half-time, Arsenal scored a second to give them a commanding lead in the tie. It was a great move from the team and Mesut Ozil found Aaron Ramsey who coolly rounded Donnarumma before putting the ball into the net.

The first-half performance from Arsenal was one of the best that supporters have seen this season. They were better all over the pitch and showed the work rate that they had lacked in previous weeks. Milan pushed in the second half, but they couldn’t penetrate the Gunners’ defence.

Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi were both excellent. Arsene Wenger will be hoping that both are returning to their best after some uncharacteristic errors in previous matches. The centre-back pairing made eight ball recoveries and were always in the right position on Thursday.

Patrick Cutrone is a teenager with a big future, but the young striker had no luck out of the Arsenal defence and that will encourage the manager.

Another player to emerge with credit is Danny Welbeck. The ineligibility of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the injury of Alexandre Lacazette means that the Englishman started the game up front for Arsenal. It was a huge opportunity for him after being pushed down the pecking order at the club and he took it with both hands.

The Englishman worked tirelessly and caused problems with his movement.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Although his final product wasn’t great, he was a constant threat and led the defensive effort from the front. Welbeck will never be a leading Premier League striker, but he is effective in matches such as this one. He deserves more opportunities during the run-in.

It would be too soon to get carried away for Arsenal fans. There are still questions regarding Arsene Wenger and the work rate of the players, but this was an excellent performance that finally provides the club with positive momentum. They have had a miserable few weeks and the supporters can get excited about their team once again.

When the draw was made, a lot of supporters checked their expectations when it came to the Europa League. Milan were the overwhelming favourites, but Arsenal have taken a dominant position in the tie and should be able to finish the job in London.

If they can do that, they will move into the quarter-final stage. Although it will be difficult to win it, they will have as good a chance as any.

There have been many false dawns for Arsenal in recent years and this could be another one. That said, it takes enormous character to go away to a huge stadium like the San Siro after a poor run of form and win comfortably.

Considering the criticism that they have had for their lack of desire, few would have thought the Gunners to be capable of a result like this.

It is now up to Wenger to prove that he can get this level of effort and performance out of his players on a regular basis. The Frenchman remains in a difficult position with no margin for error. If he is going to keep his job, he needs to finish the season strongly and win the Europa League.

It won’t be an easy challenge, but this performance and result will give him hope that he can upset the odds to claim his first European trophy.

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Patience required at AC Milan after a slow start to the season

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AC Milan’s new board will have to exercise some patience early in their reign. The Italian outfit have four wins and four losses so far in the Serie A, leaving them in tenth position with minus one goal differential. It is certainly not the start that was hoped for but it was not out of the realm of possibility.

The transfer activity during the summer, sparked by a change in ownership, led to plenty of excitement and intrigue around the Rossoneri. AC brought in 10 new first-team players during the summer and a majority of those regularly start.

The lack of cohesion has been clear in the biggest games of the season so far, all of which have been losses. Sampdoria, Lazio, Roma and Inter have beaten Milan. The one positive from that is that only one of those games, against Roma, was at home.

We mentioned during the summer that Vincenzo Montella would be the most under-pressure manager in Europe. The pressure on the hot seat has definitely been turned up to 100 after the late defeat in the Milan Derby.

Montella’s side came from behind twice to equalise, yet another mistake cost them what would have been a well-earned point. Part of the problem is that the Italian head coach is yet to settle on his best team and formation.

Injuries and lack of form have played a part in that but the manager has not helped his players. The key player, where form and leadership is concerned, is Leonardo Bonucci. It was considered a huge coup for Milan when they stole arguably the best defender in the league from the champions, Juventus. However, the new captain has disappointed so far.

While a period of acclimatisation is expected for any player, Bonucci’s quality suggested an immediate upgrade would be on hand for Milan’s defense. Nonetheless, taking on the mantle of leader, without the likes of Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini beside him, has proven tough so far. He also hasn’t been helped by Montella’s formation tinkering and having to line-up with different defensive partners.

For Montella, a settled side, with or without a plethora of newcomers, would perform better in the long run. Milan have a number of options in defense and midfield but it is in attack where the focus will be, come January.

Carlos Bacca is on loan and seemingly on his way out as he does not fit Montella’s style of play. A quality forward needs to be brought in to replace him as newcomers Andre Silva and Niko Kalinic have shared the load so far this season, but the duo only have two goals between them in the Serie A.

Silva is one for the future and a solid enough option but he is playing his first season in arguably the toughest competition for attackers in Europe. If Milan want to meet their goals they need consistent quality leading the line.

According to AC’s sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli, who spoke to Radio Rossonera, Torino’s Andrea Belotti is still being considered as a target.

While the start to the season has been lukewarm it is not time for the new owners to panic. If Milan continue to win the games they have both domestically and on the continent then the season should be a good one.

The Rossoneri are undefeated so far in the Europa League and should continue that trend to make into the knockout rounds. How far they progress from there is dependent on Montella working out all the kinks.

If Milan continue to win the games they have domestically that should keep them within touching distance of the minimum goal, a return to the Champions League. One would expect that the quality of the likes of Bonucci and Lucas Biglia will help propel the club in the big games still to come.

Milan are now seven points away from a Champions League spot but that does not mean the axe should fall. Montella was given a vast upgrade in quality but, as with any other team in this situation, the new players will take some time to gel.

The board will be watching the team’s progress carefully and will be especially keen on the result of the next big game which is a home visit from Juventus.

At least Milan fans can be assured of one thing, if patience is not a concept for the new board then old favourite Carlo Ancelotti is available. Over to you Montella.

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Could AC Milan be set to make a move for Chelsea’s Diego Costa?

Jake Jackman

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Diego Costa

Diego Costa doesn’t seem to have a future at Chelsea, but he has yet to leave Stamford Bridge this summer and time is running out for the striker to find a new club.

AC Milan have been one of the busiest clubs in this transfer window and they have been linked to the Spanish international in recent days.

Chairman Marco Fassone has told Sky Sports that he has spoken with Jorge Mendes about his client:

“We went to see Jorge Mendes; there is a lot you can talk to him about. Costa is a great player but he is of Chelsea. That’s all.”

Antonio Conte will want to see the striker leave the club this summer, as he caused problems last season and didn’t show the commitment that is demanded by the Chelsea boss.

Alvaro Morata has moved to West London, while Michy Batshuayi is showing good form in pre-season.

There is no longer a place for Costa and it would be in everyone’s best interests if he did depart before September.

Would he be a good signing for AC Milan?

The Italian giants are trying to once again compete at the top end of the European game. It won’t be a quick rebuilding process, but they have big finances behind them and their recruitment this summer has been superb.

They have managed to sign several great players, including arguably the best defender in the world, Leonardo Bonucci. There will be a desire to add one more quality player and Costa could be that man.

There are few better strikers in world football when Costa is in the mood. Last season, he was superb for the majority of the campaign as he played a significant role in Chelsea regaining the Premier League title.

He is an intelligent mover and his aggressive style means that defenders don’t get a moment to rest when he is on the pitch.

The 28-year-old is a great finisher with either foot and capable of scoring with his head. Milan will want to add another goal threat to their attack and Costa would be a great signing for them in their current state.

How likely is a transfer?

Chelsea will be keen to sell him this summer in order to bring in funds and get him off the books.

There is no longer a place for him at Stamford Bridge and he could become a huge problem if he were to stay past this transfer window, as he isn’t the type of character to react well to being sidelined.

The club will be pressing for a departure and if AC Milan do have a serious interest, they will have a good chance of signing him.

It would be another significant transfer for Milan and they would improve their Serie A title chances considerably if they were to add Costa to their striking ranks.

He showed last season that he can play a major role in a title-winning side and Milan would benefit from that.

For the striker, himself, it would give him a new challenge and an opportunity to lead the revival of a huge European club. Everyone would be a winner if this did go through.

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