From Key Signing In Scudetto Win To Weak Link - AC Milan Need To Replace Mark Van Bommel, And Quickly

The Dutchman's arrival was widely accepted as one of the major reasons why the Rossoneri excelled in the second half of last season, but this term has been very different so far
By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor

AC Milan were already leading the way in Serie A by January of 2011, but they knew they needed that little something extra. Dipping into the market, they pulled out a real gem. Mark van Bommel arrived on a six-month contract from Bayern Munich and settled in from day one, helping to provide the solidity off the ball that would see the Rossoneri over the line with two games to spare.

Fast-forward 10 months and things are not quite as positive. In fact, that is an understatement. Van Bommel’s malaise at the beginning of 2011-12 is becoming a serious concern for the club as they look to defend their Serie A crown, and his latest poor performance against Barcelona in midweek has cast doubts over the board’s plan not to spend any money in the winter transfer window.

His lack of mobility and increasing dearth of energy have left the Milan back four more and more exposed, which becomes a bigger issue when you consider that half of that quartet have a combined age of 70. A defence which conceded just seven times in 19 games at the end of last term has conceded twice as many in only 11 matches so far this time around, as well as another six in Europe.

Sampdoria (a) (CI)
Inter (SI) 6.5
Catania (a)
Lazio (h)
6.5 Genoa (a)
Barcelona (a) (CL)
Parma (h)
Napoli (a) 5.5
Chievo (a)
Udinese (h)
Napoli (h)
Cesena (h)
Juventus (a)
Viktoria Plzen (h) (CL)
Bari (h)
Juventus (a)
Palermo (a)
Palermo (h)
Inter (h)
BATE Borisov (h) (CL)
7.5  Fiorentina (a)
 Lecce (a)
6.5  Sampdoria (h)
 Roma (a)
6.5  Brescia (a)
 Barcelona (h) (CL)
7.0  Roma (a)
Palermo (a) (CI)
Udinese (a)

And Van Bommel’s drop in performance levels is well-reflected in his ratings. In 11 of his 16 appearances in the second half of 2010-11 he achieved a rating above the 6.0 mark given for an average performance, but so far this term he has cleared that threshold only three times in 13 games.

Clearly missing the presence of Gennaro Gattuso alongside him, he has struggled. But even with the busy Antonio Nocerino beginning to prove himself as an excellent signing, the Dutchman has continued to underperform, and now is the time for the club to start looking for realistic alternatives.

They certainly need somebody of his ilk: a player who can use his tactical brain to cut down the number of times the Milan defence is tested, breaking up the play and regenerating attacks. The reason he was brought to San Siro is that there are few of his type available at a decent price and with years still in the tank, but the Rossoneri clearly have to bite the bullet one year on.

Riccardo Montolivo has been widely linked with a potential transfer to Milanello, but with his Fiorentina contract running out in the summer, the club may well decide to wait until he becomes a free agent before making their move. Despite having been used as a trequartista by Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, it has been as a holding midfielder that he has contributed most to the Tuscan club in recent seasons, but he would likely be more suited to one of the two wider roles in the centre of midfield.

Montolivo Nainggolan Paulinho

There are many other names with which Milan have been presumed to be flirting, including the likes of Sami Khedira, Sandro and Casemiro, but there are two potentials that really stick out. A player of the mould of Cagliari’s Radja Nainggolan or Paulinho of Corinthians would be very much in keeping with what the Rossoneri need in the pivot role, and both have been linked with the club in recent times.

Nainggolan has finally started to get some of the more widespread attention his performances have deserved since the summer of 2008 when he first became a regular for Piacenza. He has fast become one of the Isolani’s most important and effective players, with his all-action style off the ball complementing a great ability on it and, at just 23, he also has plenty of time to improve.

Paulinho is the same age, and has great dynamism in his play. Tough in the tackle and with a knack for adding goals, he may well be considered a better all-round option for the second half of the campaign than Van Bommel is currently able to provide. Crucially, too, recent reports have suggested that Milan could well look to bring in the Brazilian on a loan deal, which would be in keeping with their miserly plans for January.

But even if a short-term deal cannot be agreed, the club need to make their move. Whereas at the beginning of the year a Van Bommel was just what they needed, they now require an upgrade. And if they don’t get one, it could be costly in their bid to earn back-to-back Scudetti, let alone their hope of going deep in Europe.

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