Written by Arjit
Ok Fellow Milanisti ! Let’s Discuss Milan ! Let’s Talk Some Red & Black !
The 2019/20 Serie A campaign saw AC Milan finish in 6th place with 66 points. Anyone who follows the team closely would know that this the best we could have hoped for considering how it all started. The Rossoneri had won only 3 of their first 7 games under Giampaolo, which ultimately led to his departure. Stefano Pioli was then appointed as the new manager in October on an initial short term deal until the end of the season. The team fared better under him but results did not arrive immediately. The humiliating loss against Lombardy neighbors Atalanta put a damper on things even further. But as we would all find out later, that humbling would serve Milan well for the remaining season.
Milan welcomed Zlatan and Kjaer in January 2020, a masterstroke by Maldini and Co. in hindsight. The duo added leadership and personality to the squad. Pioli’s switch to a 4-2-3-1 came at the perfect time and the team did not look back from there. It seemed as if the shackles came off as every player in the squad made an important leap in quality. Milan played some amazing football characterized by its high press, sharp passing, and lightning quick transitions. The players deserve great credit for the impeccable execution of Pioli’s vision on the pitch. Milan rounded off the 2019/20 campaign in dazzling form, going unbeaten post lockdown with tons of positives to take on for the next season.
Let’s take a ‘quick recap and assess’ the eventful 2019/20 season for AC Milan.
MILAN 4-2 JUVENTUS. No doubt the best moment of the season for Milan. The date was 7th July 2020. Milan faced a familiar foe in Juve at the San Siro. The stakes were high as Juve were chasing a ninth straight Scudetto whereas Milan was embroiled in a tight race for Europa League qualification. The team was in good form coming into the fixture but beating the reigning champions was always going to be a tough ask. The first half ended 0-0 with both teams feeling each other out. The game sprung into life in the second half with two quickfire strikes from Rabiot and Ronaldo. Milan 0-2 Juve. Suddenly the hosts were up against it as the daunting task became even more difficult. However, the Rossoneri would respond in the most spectacular fashion with goals from Zlatan, Kessie, Leao and Rebic. A stunning 18 minute comeback. Milan would win 4-2 in what was truly an unforgettable night for all the Rossoneri faithful.
INTER 4-2 MILAN. Undoubtedly the worst moment of the season for Milan. The date was 9th February 2020. The great old pre pandemic days. The stage was all set at a full capacity San Siro for the glorious ‘Derby della Madonnina’. There was great anticipation coming into the match as Zlatan was once again back in the red and black stripes. The first half couldn’t have gone any better. The Rossoneri dominated possession playing a fluid and high pressing game. Goals from Rebic and Zlatan meant Milan went into half time with a two goal cushion. Everything looked under control. What transpired in the second half was truly the stuff of nightmares. The Nerazzurri struck four times to win the contest 4-2 and claim the derby bragging rights. The red half of Milano would be stunned into absolute silence. Sure the 5-0 spanking by Atalanta was bad, but this defeat hurt more simply because Milan were in cruise control until the second half got underway. In the end, a night to forget for the Rossoneri.
ISMAEL BENNACER. The diminutive midfielder arrived at Milan on the back of an impressive 2018/19 season with Empoli. The Algerian international had made quite the name for himself in Serie A despite the Tuscan club suffering relegation at the end of the campaign. Bennacer’s exploits that season hadn’t gone unnoticed as he was linked with a high profile move to several big clubs across Europe. Moreover, he had also played a massive role in Algeria’s Africa Cup Of Nations victory and was deservedly named Player of the Tournament. This prompted Milan to shell out 16m euros for his signature. What a massive bargain in the end. After initially struggling to break into the starting XI under Giampaolo, he has swiftly cemented his place as a reference point in midfield of Pioli’s Milan. His energy, tenacity, and composure in the middle of the park is a sight to behold whilst his line breaking passes from deep to get Milan on the attack have been a breath of fresh air. The Algerian has no doubt become a vital cog in this Milan machine, and it’s reflected in his stats. In the 2019/20 Serie A campaign, Bennacer attempted 1.7 interceptions and 3.6 tackles per game. He also boasted a passing accuracy of 88.3% and the highest success rate (80.4%) amongst players with 30 or more dribble attempts. Pioli will be hoping that the former Empoli man can replicate similar sort of performances again this season as the team prepares to challenge for a place in the top 4.
LUCAS PAQUETA. The Brazilian arrived from Flamengo in January 2019 for a fee believed to be in the region of 35m euros. Paqueta had earned plaudits for his impressive 2018/19 campaign in Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A. Milan took notice and splashed the cash hoping Paqueta could continue compatriot Kaka’s legacy in the red and black colors. A tough act to follow for any player. The Brazilian started well under then manager Gennaro Gattuso as he wooed the San Siro crowd with his Samba flair and skills. But the honeymoon period was short lived. He seemed to struggle adapting to the Italian league’s tactics and intensity. There were flashes of brilliance but never any real consistency. The stats don’t help his case either as has only registered 1 goal and 3 assists in his time at the club. A year and a half after his arrival, he finds himself on the fringes now with the club desperate to move him on. Almost every player has managed to take a step up under Pioli with the exception of Paqueta. It just hasn’t worked out for him and its best he goes someplace else to develop further. Milan can only look back with regret considering the huge investment made on him. Lyon is touted as his next destination in a deal worth 25m. It’s sad but probably best for Milan to cut their losses and move on from Paqueta.
Most Improved Player
HAKAN CALHANOGLU. Special shout out goes to Franck ‘The Tank’ Kessie. But the Turk takes it away simply because of his excellent productivity at the back end of last season. Hakan was directly involved in 14 goals for the team since the restart, a statistic bettered only by Leo Messi amongst Europe’s top 5. Quite an accomplishment by the Turk. It would be a huge understatement to say that Hakan has been fairly underwhelming ever since his arrival at the club in 2017. There have been some really good moments but he hasn’t been able to take the next step. He is no doubt a quality player on his day but the lack of consistency is what frustrates the Rossoneri faithful. He simply hasn’t been able to exploit his full potential at the club. But the appointment of Pioli has seemingly changed things for the better. The Turk has found a new lease of life playing in his natural ‘no.10’ role and it’s safe to say he has really come into his own in that position. He has now become Milan’s creator in chief and his linkup with Zlatan has been an absolute joy to watch. It might have taken him some time, but Hakan finally looks ready to shine in the Rossoneri colors.
Most Disappointing Player
RAFAEL LEAO. The young Portuguese forward arrived from the French club Lille in a deal worth 35m euros. The signing was met with a lot of enthusiasm from the Rossoneri fans and with good reason. Leao had a breakout 2018/19 Ligue 1 campaign that put him on the radar of most top clubs around Europe. Milan swooped in early and won the race for his signature. His start to life in Milan was understandably slow since Serie A is quite different from its French counterpart. After a little adjusting period, he had gradually started to display his obvious talents on the pitch. He had a decent showing in the derby, giving Godin a torrid time on the left wing. He also scored a superb solo goal against Fiorentina dribbling past several players before calmly slotting in the back of the net. Many expected him to kick on and cement a starting spot in the side moving forward. But unfortunately that didn’t happen. The arrival of ‘mentor’ Zlatan was supposed to revive him but that didn’t materialize either. The pair did start off relatively well until the youngster’s inconsistencies crept in again. The Portugal U21 has had to make do with a bit part role from the bench for the most part. Although he did show some signs of recovery after the restart. Leao embraced the role of ‘super sub’ and score some important goals during Milan’s post lockdown unbeaten run. He showed more maturity and intensity, qualities very much appreciated by Pioli. Leao possesses all the skills required to become a bonafide superstar, i.e. electric pace, dynamism, excellent close control, and dribbling ability. He has not been able to fully express himself on the pitch in his first full season at the club. But the expectations will be higher for next season, it’s now upto Leao to perform and prove his doubters wrong.
ANTE REBIC. Hands down the surprise package of the season. The Croatian was completely anonymous until Christmas 2019 but then suddenly burst on to the scene in 2020. He just kept scoring and finished the 2019/20 campaign as the club’s top marksman with 12 goals in all competitions. His resurgence under Pioli has been quite remarkable to witness as a Rossoneri fan. It wasn’t that long ago when Rebic was linked with a return to Eintracht in the January transfer window. But in the end, he stayed put in Milan. Pioli finally gave him a chance and it’s safe to say he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Rebic is now an undisputed starter after having signed on a permanent basis.
ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC. The Swede’s arrival was definitely a turning point in Milan’s season. Prior to his return, the team had been struggling for results and consistency. The dressing room lacked confidence and was clearly crying out for a strong character like Zlatan to help them get out of their slump. It’s common knowledge that Zlatan is a born leader and a winner. That’s exactly why Maldini decided to bring him back to Milano. He provided the squad with much needed experience and leadership. His mere presence lifted the spirits of everyone around him in the locker room and the younger players now had a wiser head that they could call upon in difficult moments. The mood around the club had suddenly changed. ‘The Lion’ Zlatan’s arrival also brought about a wave of optimism and excitement amongst the fans once again. The results were almost immediate as the team only lost twice in 2020. The performance levels improved and the team started to play with a swagger. Zlatan served as a reference point in the attack helping Milan score goals for fun. Many players including Rebic and Calhanoglu improved drastically with Zlatan beside them. Milan looked a totally different beast with Zlatan, which makes for an exciting 2020/21 season. ‘IZBack’ and that’s great news for the Rossoneri supporters.
Bravo Pioli & Gigio
STEFANO PIOLI. The 54 year old took over as Milan boss at a difficult time. Yet he kept working and consequently managed to transform the team. Milan now have an identity and consistency about their play. Pioli has implemented a progressive brand of football which involves high pressing. This has worked wonders for the team as evident by recent results. He has been able to revive many players which says a lot about his man management. The club is finally on the upward trajectory thanks to Pioli, and hopefully there’s more to come.
GIGIO DONNARUMMA. The 21 year old phenom was instrumental in Milan finishing the season strongly. Gigio is a fan favorite since he’s Milan born and bred. He’s now regarded as one of the best goalkeepers around Europe. He’s a symbol of the ‘new’ Milan and always delivers when called upon, as evident by his 13 clean sheets last season. He’s really a special talent who has a long career ahead of him, hopefully in the Rossoneri colors. His contract extension should be the management’s no.1 priority as we can ill afford to lose him. It is fair to say with Gigio between the sticks, Milan will always be in safe hands.
JACK BONAVENTURA. Probably the most consistent player for Milan in the last decade. The club, as we all know, has been struggling to replicate former glory days ever since the last Scudetto in 2012. But Jack was the ever reliable presence in the team during those difficult years. Giacomo ‘Jack of all Trades’ Bonaventura, as he’s known amongst fans for his brilliant versatility, was the only constant during all the chaos and changes around the club. He was loyal and professional throughout his time at the club, lasting nearly half a decade. He always gave his all on the pitch and that’s why all the fans adore him. He departs the club with 35 goals and 30 assists in 183 competitive matches for Milan. The 7m euros paid to Atalanta in 2014 will go down as one of the best pieces of business in the club’s history. Jack has signed with Fiorentina on a two year deal. Thanks for the memories, and we all wish him luck in Florence.