A look at AC Milan’s early summer recruitment

Recruitment Analysis
David Selini

David Selini

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Since the end of the season AC Milan, under new Chinese owners, have completed signing after signing to boost their squad ahead of next season. While a return to Europe in the Europa League next campaign meant the squad needed to be strengthened, and the new owners promised huge investment in the squad, few could have envisaged the spree Milan have gone on.

Impressively, new sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli and new CEO Marco Fassone have hit the ground running in their new roles after replacing the legendary Adriano Galliani having secured six completed signings at the time of writing with further additions expected shortly.

The new recruits

They kickstarted their spree by securing Atalanta’s breakout star Franck Kessie who shone for the Bergamo side throughout the season. The Ivorian midfielder brings a complete skillset as a combative ball winner as well as an adept passer and capable goalscorer. In a Milan midfield that severely lacked quality after the long term injury sustained by Giacomo Bonaventura last season, Kessie can prove vital with his technique and calm in possession. He also provides powerful runs into the box from midfield which will help Milan’s attacking players who prefer passes to feet rather than in behind.

The second man in was the accomplished Argentine defender Mateo Musacchio from Villarreal. Musacchio has had some injury problems in the past which has prevented him from moving to a big club as there has been interest from clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Musacchio is a clever defender with excellent positional sense but also with impressive physical attributes such as his speed and strength. His quality on the ball shouldn’t be underestimated and he will fit perfectly alongside the superb Alessio Romagnoli. Musacchio also has experience of European competition in an otherwise very inexperienced squad which will be of great benefit to coach Vincenzo Montella.

Mirabelli and Fassone followed the Musacchio signing with another defender, Ricardo Rodriguez from Wolfsburg. The attacking left back has been highly coveted in the last few years and was set on a move to Inter last year only for the deal to fall through at the last minute. His arrival on the other side of Milano will prompt delight among Milan fans as he replaces the probably departing Mattia De Sciglio. Rodriguez superb delivery in the final third will be the main reason behind the purchase. He also adds European experience and will become an important part of a new look defence.

The most exciting arrival so far is without a doubt the most expensive – the Portuguese forward André Silva who joins from FC Porto. Silva impressed this season with 21 goals and 12 assists for Porto and has established himself for the Portuguese national team as well. Silva is not an out and out striker, but rather a second striker who shines when he can drop off to create goals as well as score. It remains to be seen how Montella will utilise Silva, but he’s an excellent addition who immediately makes Milan attack more potent.

Silva’s arrival was shortly followed by Fabio Borini’s signature on a Milan contract. Borini might seem an underwhelming signing compared to the others (and those to come) but despite his poor form in England in the last couple of seasons he can prove a useful player for Milan with his direct running in behind the opposition’s defence. Borini will by no means be a starter for Milan, but will certainly be a good option from the bench when they need a goal.

The signing of the Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu from Bayer Leverkusen is also intriguing. Calhanoglu is a superb attacking midfielder capable of appearing as a number 10, a central midfielder or in a wider role in midfield. His creativity and passing ability fits perfectly with Montella’s philosophy, and his versatility and work-rate will be very appreciated by his coach. Whichever way he will be used in, it will be intriguing to follow the creator’s future in Italian football.

Atalanta wing-back Andrea Conti became the latest arrival after he joined the club as this piece was being written. Conti was superb last season with eight goals and five assists from his position as the right wing-back of Atalanta’s 3-4-3. His attacking instincts have seen him stake a claim for a place in the national team and with time on his side will provide stern competition for Milan stalwart Ignazio Abate before eventually replacing him.

Montella also craves a regista to mentor the young Manuel Locatelli and Milan are expected to wrap up the signing of Lucas Biglia from Lazio in the next few weeks. Biglia would bring excellent passing ability and creativity at the base of midfield as well as a strong defensive shield in front of the defence. There are also rumours that Milan chases Fiorentina striker Nikola Kalinic, Lazio’s Baldé Keita and Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It’s safe to say Mirabelli and Fassone aren’t finished in the market just yet.

The big question mark surrounding last season’s squad is the young goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma who’s stalling on a new contract. The latest reports suggest he will sign an extension which would go a long way in giving Milan the continuity they need in a key position amid a summer revolution in basically every other position.

How will Montella line them up on the pitch?

Montella favoured a 4-3-3 formation last year with the creative Suso on the right and a more direct winger like Gerard Deulofeu (departed to Barcelona), Mbaye Niang or Lucas Ocampos on the left. With Calhanoglu signing, he will likely replace Deulofeu in this position, but will definitely play narrower than Deulofeu did. This will in return open up space down the left which Ricardo Rodriguez will be quick to exploit, just like Conti or Abate will exploit the space in wide areas which will be left by Suso’s inverted movement. André Silva will definitely start as the central striker as Carlos Bacca is certain to leave, with Borini as an option from the bench together with Ocampos. The front three with Calhanoglu, Silva and Suso will then be extremely creative, but Silva will also be tasked with providing penetrative runs in behind to get on the end of the, probably, low crosses Rodriguez and Conti will provide.

Kessie should be used in the right-sided central midfield position from where he can provide the powerful runs Suso and Calhanoglu will feed with incisive passes. Bonaventura should adopt the left-sided position in midfield and will relish the possibility to link up with fellow creators. Between them is where Montella craves a playmaker with defensive nous, hence the pursuit of the experienced Biglia. If he signs, Milan’s starting eleven looks sublime as the probable back four of Conti/Abate, Musacchio, Romagnoli and Rodriguez should develop in to a solid unit in front of Donnarumma.

The formation would rather look like a 4-3-2-1 with Calhanoglu and Suso tucked in behind Silva which changes to 4-5-1 defensively with the aforementioned attacking midfielders dropping in to make a midfield five.

There is still a lot of “if’s” in regards to Milan’s squad next season but the summer has started in remarkable fashion and the ambition shown is refreshing. Montella will have some work cut out to mould this new look squad into a competitive side on the pitch but he will surely relish that challenge when compared to last season’s squad which was rather deprived of the quality he craved. The future seems bright at Milanello and it will be exciting to see how the rest of the summer plays out and then how Milan approaches their ambition of returning to the Champions League with a largely new side filled with young and talented players.

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