By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Nobody expected miracles, but neither did they think it would be this bad. AC Milan’s season to dread started horrendously against Sampdoria on Sunday as they were beaten 1-0 at San Siro, and the humiliatingly poor performance has immediately cast a spotlight on the club’s final five days of business in the summer transfer window.
Even before Andrea Costa netted the only goal of the game just before the hour mark, Milanisti were already making their feelings known, and it would only get worse as they had to rely on a header from centre-back Mario Yepes and a deflected long-range pot shot from Kevin-Prince Boateng for their best hopes of a goal, with the woodwork denying them on both occasions.
But how can it get any better? Sure, this wasn’t their first-choice side, with Philippe Mexes, Alexandre Pato, Ignazio Abate, Massimo Ambrosini and Sulley Muntari all missing from the 21-man squad, but the Rossoneri’s issues go so deep that they need more than just the return of that quintet. Milan fans held up a banner at one point proclaiming: "We will wait with trust until August 31", but some of that faith and patience may well have seeped away as the game developed.
Somehow, in the space of just five days, they need to fill in the huge gaps that were evident at San Siro with what we are told are very limited resources. But how is that even possible? They were a calamity at the back, had absolutely no width, were overrun in midfield by a competent but unspectacular Samp trio, and had no goal threat up top.
Cristian Zapata should arguably have started, with Yepes and particularly Daniele Bonera looking very unsteady defensively. Still, even with the former Udinese man and Mexes brought in, reinforcements are necessary. Francesco Acerbi has done little during his career to suggest he will be anything more than a Yepes-like stop-gap when called upon, meaning they could do with extra resources at centre-back, with Montpellier’s Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa a target, but there are more important areas to strengthen.
The left-back spot is one which has proven a problem position for a number of years, with nobody truly excelling over a period of time since the days of Paolo Maldini. Luca Antonini has never been the answer, and he is no more what they need today than he has ever been. He very rarely got forward to stretch Sampdoria on Sunday, and the one time he got into a great crossing position with the ball at his feet, he cut in onto his favoured right and was squeezed out. Here, they could look to somebody like Lazio’s Stefan Radu or even Juventus’ Reto Ziegler for a reasonably low cost fee as a short-term option to add the width and defensive stature they are currently missing.
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"Without Cassano, Milan must find a player who can link midfield to attack, and Kaka remains that dream player for the Rossoneri.The club are concentrated on the return of the golden boy, but Adriano Galliani still has a job on to convince Florentino Perez to part with him on a free loan, while the player himself would need to agree to a substantial pay cut.
Milan also need to replace Mark van Bommel still, and the objective in this area is Lassana Diarra. He could well arrive to give the substance and quality needed in front of the defence.
Left-back is the real problem though, and with the Djamel Mesbah experiment having failed, there is only Luca Antonini to call on during Didac Villa's injury absence. Real consideration was being given to Royston Drenthe, with the Dutchman considered to have just the right level of flair and experience that the Rossoneri are looking for. But now he has signed for Besiktas, Milan are left with a gap to fill."Gaia Brunelli is Goal.com Italy's Milan expert
Moving up into the midfield, there was not one player who excelled in the new-look central trio. Mathieu Flamini worked hard, but looked like the same man that has been overlooked for much of his four years in Italy (albeit one of them wiped out by injury), and while Antonio Nocerino last year appeared to be a fabulous addition to a well-structured setup, he did not ever look comfortable doing a 75-minute performance in which he was suddenly looked upon to be the main driving force in the middle.
Between those two, Riccardo Montolivo had a ridiculously unflattering debut. While the match stats would tell you that he completed more passes than any other Rossonero, he also lost possession in key areas at least three times, gave away so many silly fouls even Milan fans were wondering how he’d not been booked, played countless straight balls in the channel without a single one causing any trouble, and generally looked like a square peg in a round hole. The Italy international may have got away with the odd sparkling performance when wearing a Fiorentina shirt, but at Milan you need to be at a whole new level, and the early signs are not positive.
What the Diavolo appear to need in the centre of the park is a more robust kind of midfielder who can aid the transition between defence and attack, as too often they were left completely bypassing the central axis in a bid to get at Sampdoria. Somebody in the shape of Lassana Diarra could well fit that role, with the club likely to be able to afford him at a stretch should they wish to add somebody of his quality.
Up top, there was absolutely nothing on show. Without Zlatan Ibrahimovic there was no focal point, even after the introduction of Giampaolo Pazzini in the second half, but still there was an occasional tendency to look long for the now departed big man. Pazzini likes to live off a complementary second striker, which Kevin-Prince Boateng really is not, and the player who has best provided what he needs during his career is the same man the Rossoneri sent across the city in exchange for him. Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy are both creative types rather than poachers, and so Massimiliano Allegri either needs a better version of Pazzini, or somebody to go alongside him ... or a 100 per cent fit Pato.
While the hierarchy at Via Turati seem to have their sights set on the likes of Kaka and Caen's M'Baye Niang, perhaps somebody such as the currently injured Giuseppe Rossi would be of more use in their present position. With Villarreal not being in a position to barter this could be Milan’s time to get him relatively cheap - or at least cheaper than Kaka would be.
With such signings, the new season may not turn out to be quite the disaster it is so far shaping up to be, and they could even reach the Champions League. That third spot, in all truth, is the very best Milanisti could have hoped for before Sunday, and is a million miles away from reality this morning.
- Inter got their Scudetto challenge off to the perfect start with a 3-0 win at newly promoted Pescara, displaying exactly the kind of professionalism and penetration they struggled to find at any point last season. Two goals in two minutes from Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito put them in the box seat, before a second-half strike from substitute Philippe Coutinho finished off the scoring. But it was the performances of new boys Antonio Cassano and Walter Gargano that stole the show, with both slotting in as though they were made for Andrea Stramaccioni’s side.
- Zeman football is back at the Stadio Olimpico, with Zdenek’s first game back in the hotseat at Roma providing quite the spectacle as the Giallorossi drew 2-2 with Catania. Sloppy defending contributed to the home side twice falling behind to goals from Giovanni Marchese and Alejandro Lopez, but a magnificent bicycle-kick effort from Pablo Daniel Osvaldo and a sumptuous injury-time strike by debutant Nicolas Lopez ensured that the Czech coach had something to show for his return to Serie A. It's next stop Inter for the Zeman fun bus.
- Many have questioned how Napoli will be able to challenge without former star man Ezequiel Lavezzi, but the Partenopei got off to a flyer in Sicily against Palermo. Facing a side who are generally one of the toughest to beat on their own turf, Walter Mazzarri’s men picked off their hosts with ease late on after grabbing the lead on the stroke of half-time when Christian Maggio sent in Marek Hamsik. The Slovakian returned the favour, and then Eduardo Vargas teed up Edinson Cavani as Napoli recorded a 3-0 victory that will make many re-evaluate what the Azzurri can achieve this season.