AC Milan’s first real test in the midst of their summer spending spree ended in disappointment as they were thoroughly outplayed by Borussia Dortmund in Guangzhou.
The Rossoneri, whose long, protracted takeover by Yonghong Lee’s Chinese-led consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux was completed in April, have been the talk of the transfer window.
They have been the biggest spenders in Europe, splashing out over €200 million on 10 players, including the shock capture of Leonardo Bonucci from rivals Juventus last week for €42m.
Immediately, fans began dreaming of winning the Scudetto this coming season but Tuesday’s 3-1 defeat to Dortmund at Guangzhou’s University Town Sports Stadium showed that it will take time for the revolution to bear fruit.
Although only three of the new arrivals started the game - Fabio Borini, Ricardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie – and two more came on as half-time substitutes in Hakan Calhanoglu and Matteo Musacchio, Milan need to be given time to gel as a team.
The awakened Italian giants had a sloppy opening to the game, giving the ball away far too easily. Dortmund were comfortably the better of the two teams as, every time they moved forward in attack, they were able to carve open the Milan back-line. Not only were the full-backs exposed by the pace of Ousmane Dembele and Christian Pulisic, but the centre-backs struggled as well, with Gabriel Paletta conceding a spot-kick.
Before the game, Montella had said, “Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a very excellent forward player. He has a vast array of shots. He also has a very good technique and speed. He will threaten our back-line today. But our defence will be prepared for him.”
However, the former Milan youth product harried the centre-backs at will and was allowed far too much space to manoeuvre. The Rossoneri looked to play from the back unwisely and time and again committed errors, with the team in yellow pressing high up the field. The 28-year-old made sure Milan were punished by scoring from the spot and then added another with a fantastic right-footed finish just after the hour mark.
Milan CEO Marco Fassone confirmed a few days ago that the Gabon international was one of the three shortlisted strikers on their radar, alongside Alvaro Morata and Andrea Belotti. Going by this performance, it certainly looked like Aubameyang is exactly what Milan’s revolution is missing, although Dortmund insisted after this game that they now consider their transfer market closed.
Milan laboured in attack and they couldn’t hold the ball for extended periods. Chances were at a premium and even the goal scored by Carlos Bacca, who otherwise was anonymous, was due to individual brilliance more than anything else.
Borini failed to make any impact whatsoever and his only moment of note was a stamp on Marc Bartra. The former Liverpool striker ran up and down the field but without making any contribution. The one chance which came his way saw a poor left-footed shot from inside the box which went wide.
Kessie, who played in Atalanta’s 3-5-2 system last season, will need to improve his passing at Milan as he gave the ball away too often in Montella’s 4-3-3.
After the break, the introduction of Calhanoglu and Musacchio improved Milan, but Aubameyang’s second goal ended any chances of a comeback. Dembele made a mockery of the Italian rearguard as he took on as many as four players and still managed to keep the ball.
Milan defensive legends Franco Baresi and Filippo Galli, watching the game from the stands, will be hoping that Bonucci is the man to stabilise a shaky defence. It must be noted, though, that only Rodriguez will be expected to be a regular from the defenders who played against Dortmund.
Before the end of the first half, the Chinese fans who had travelled a long way to get to the stadium located on the outskirts of the city, made their disappointment evident by chanting: “Yonghong Li, please continue to sign new players!"
The future looks bright for Milan once again under their new rich Chinese owners, but one thing we can’t expect is instant success… even if convincing Dortmund to sell Aubameyang would certainly speed up the process.