Written by Arjit
Ok Fellow Milanisti ! Let’s Discuss Milan ! Let’s Talk Some Red & Black !
SAME OLD SCRIPT
To say this past season has been quite a brutal rollercoaster ride for Milanisti around the world would the understatement of the year. But the funny thing amongst all this is that none of us actually surprised anymore, or at least we shouldn’t be. It seems we as Milan fans are living through some kind of weird Groundhog Day where the same things happen over and over. But that’s just the sad reality that the club finds itself in these days, constant chaos coupled with a feeling of regret at the end of each season. It’s always the same script where the first part of the season is a horror show making the second half a mere matter of salvation. The manager gets the customary sack and we start over again. This ‘Year Zero’ tradition we have at Milan is not particularly new. It has been a recurring theme ever since the club’s last Scudetto under Allegri back in 2012. Since then, it has been an unfortunate tale of endless change.
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
This past season was no different. It started with a managerial change which was later followed by a sacking midway thru the season. For context, Gattuso was replaced by ex Sampdoria boss Marco Giampaolo in the summer of 2019 who would then later be dismissed himself after a horrible start. Stefano Pioli would be the next to come through the door in early October with the mission of salvaging whatever was left of the season. A typical Milan campaign, some would think. Not the case as it turns out. In fact, it could not have been more different from any of the previous ones in recent memory. There is newfound hope and confidence among the Rossoneri faithful heading into the 2020-21 Serie A campaign which is now almost upon us. This is in large part down to the team’s impressive showing post lockdown where they produced excellent performances with great consistency. The players seem to have found a new lease of life under Pioli’s leadership and can look forward to the new Serie A season with real belief of doing well. This season turned out to be more than just a salvation job in the end, and the players deserve credit for that.
MASTERMIND MISTER PIOLI
One more name springs to mind when it comes to giving credit, Stefano Pioli. His appointment was not particularly exciting but his perseverance ultimately paid off. He earned the player’s trust and found the right system for them to express their best football. Almost all the players have kicked on a level since he took over. The results and performances gradually improved and here we are in Sept 2020 with Pioli still at the helm looking to continue his good work.
LET’S TALK NUMBERS
AC Milan had a brilliant post lockdown run in which they went undefeated in Serie A for 12 straight games, winning 9 and drawing 3. A simply remarkable turnaround if compared to the early part of the season, which was a disaster. This form saw the team rack up some vital points and made them one of the main protagonists across Europe’s top 5 leagues in the post lockdown period.
Let’s take a look at some ‘key stats’ behind Milan’s fantastic run of form.
AC Milan in 2020
- Milan had the youngest squad in Serie A at 25 years and 84 days.
- Milan picked up 45 points in 2020 only behind Atalanta’s tally of 47.
- Ante Rebic scored each of his 12 goals for the club in the year of 2020.
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic became the oldest player to score 10 or more goals in a single Serie A season at 38 years and 302 days.
- Hakan Calhanoglu became the first Milan player since Kaka (2008) to contribute a goal or an assist in 5 successive Serie A matches.
AC Milan Post Lockdown
- Milan was the only team unbeaten in Serie A since restart.
- Milan was the best scoring side in Europe’s top 5 leagues with 35 goals.
- Milan had 12 different goal scorers in the 12 games since the resumption of play.
- Milan won more points than any other Serie A side with 30, averaging 2.5 points per game, only Bayern (3) and Madrid (2.8) boosted a better record across Europe’s ‘top 5’.
- Hakan Calhanoglu had a direct hand in 14 goals, only Messi (15) did better in that regard across Europe’s ‘top 5’. Hakan’s 3.2 chances created per 90 also ranked amongst the best.
- Gigio Donnarumma, Theo Hernandez and Ismael Bennacer all featured in WhoScored’s U21 Team of the Season. Kudos to the youth for really coming of age in an excellent campaign.
LET’S TALK REASONS
AC Milan had a catastrophe of a season up until 2020. Many fans and pundits had already written it off and with good reason. The players had looked weak and devoid of any kind of confidence. The performances were really dreadful. The crippling lack of mentality and leadership in the squad often meant when the going got tough, the team just disappeared. The Rossoneri faithful could hardly see any signs of recovery. But things were about to take an interesting turn for the Diavolo. It is fair to say that Milan’s fortunes improved ever since the arrival of Pioli. But the team went up a gear when Zlatan returned to the club in January. His charisma and personality was just what the team needed at the time. The results were quick to follow and Milan finished the campaign with only 2 losses in 2020. Besides Zlatan, Pioli made a few smart tweaks to the squad that led to such an excellent run of form, especially post lockdown.
Let’s take a look at some ‘key factors’ behind Milan’s fantastic run of form.
Milan had been playing the dreaded 4-3-3 for a long time even though it had never paid any dividends. The play was embarrassingly slow and predictable. The team did not have any flair or speed either when it came to hitting teams on the counter. The best gift that Pioli gave to the supporters was to abandon the 4-3-3. Instead, he introduced the 4-2-3-1 which he had extensively used in his previous jobs. And it worked as a charm. The system suited the players perfectly as they immediately looked more confident and comfortable in their new roles on the field. Players like Suso and Piatek who did not fit the system were offloaded to make way for Castillejo and Ibrahimovic respectively. Each member of the squad appeared revitalized after the change in formation and results swiftly followed. Milan finished the season in a spectacular fashion on the back of some splendid performances, thanks in part to the new 4-2-3-1.
HIGH INTENSE PRESS
An eye catching aspect of Pioli’s Milan was the high press. Most teams around Europe regularly press high up the pitch to take advantage of quick turnovers and score. Pioli is really the first manager in a while to fully embrace the idea of a high press. During the course of 2019/20, Milan attempted 51 shots that directly resulted from a turnover high up the pitch. An excellent stat and also an indication of why the team did so brilliantly in the latter part of the season.
QUick Passing Style
Milan undoubtedly played the best football this season that we have seen in a really long time. It was fast, proactive and progressive. The fans have been yearning for such beautiful football ever since the club’s last Scudetto in 2012 and the team finally answered their call. We saw the team play some glorious football, taking initiative from the start and scoring plenty of goals. One thing that stood out in all of this was the strong resilience within the group to fight and overcome adversity. Stefano Pioli deserves big credit for this as the team had looked extremely fragile prior to his arrival. His calming personality is an underrated asset that has helped players regain their mojo. The team played quick and slick football after the restart with intelligent use of vertical passes. The way the team transitioned from defense to attack was a delight to watch. Another fascinating facet of Pioli’s Milan was the players forming triangles all over the field. This gave the team a numerical advantage in the buildup since there would almost always be a spare man available for a pass. The excellent movement off the ball was key to this working so well and credit to the squad for stepping up their game just at the right time. Playing good football is often the key to success and that’s exactly what the Rossoneri did in 2020.
Milan was the youngest Serie A side for the 2019/20 campaign. The club has decided to embrace the youth and while that’s well and good, there are times when the team could really use the experience to get over the line. The Milan management eventually addressed this issue in the January transfer window. Simon Kjaer was brought on loan from Atalanta to partner Alessio Romagnoli in the heart of defense. Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally returned to the club at the ripe old age of 38, a dream move for all Milanisti around the world. The ‘Lion’ was back in the red and black stripes. Both players were recruited to provide the team with much needed experience and leadership. And that’s what they did. Zlatan in particular had a huge influence on the players around him, just look at the resurgence of Rebic and Calhanoglu. Milan won 61% of its games with Ibra in the side, an average of 2.1 points per game. Before Ibra’s arrival, the team had recorded an average of just 1.4 points per game. The Denmark international Kjaer had also formed a formidable partnership with Romagnoli. A smart intervention by Maldini and Co., which later proved decisive.
PLAYER Growth & Double Pivot
Pioli came in at a difficult time for the club. The teams was losing and players were low on confidence as a result. Those same players have looked superbly confident and rejuvenated since Pioli took over the reins. The transformation has been extraordinary. It’s almost like having two separate teams. The team that finished the season in dazzling form is the one that we want to see again next season. Every single player has improved under the tutelage of Stefano Pioli, and both deserve massive credit for that. You don’t have to look further than the duo of Rebic and Calhanoglu, who look like world beaters right now. Both the players had struggled big time in the pre Pioli era. The situation has changed completely now that both are one of the pillars of the team. Another crucial piece of Pioli’s Milan was the double pivot of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer. The duo were a revelation since the shift to a 4-2-3-1. The former was exceptional at breaking up opposition’s play while the latter had a critical role in the buildup from deep. The dynamic African duo provided a solid base in midfield, a big reason for the team’s strong end to the season.
The 2019/20 campaign was different. It was much more than mere salvation. In the end, it was about laying the foundations for future success. Milan fans can look forward to the 2020/21 season with fresh optimism and enthusiasm. The onus now lies with Pioli and Co. to pick up from where they left off, and deliver performances that make the fans proud. The vibes around Casa Milan are positive. The ownership hasn’t changed. Paolo Maldini is still around. The manager has remained and the players appear ready. Things are finally starting to look up. It’s no doubt been a bumpy ride for the Rossoneri faithful, but after years of patience, the long awaited Champions League action might just be around the corner after all for Milan at the ‘La Scala del Calcio’ San Siro.