By Nicholas D’Urbano and Adriano Del Monte
Many would correlate a Europa League expulsion and another season without European football as being a club in complete shambles.
However, for Milan this is a chance at starting from scratch once again.
With a new direction, a new board, a new coach and a new playing squad – the last six years of mediocrity may finally take off after many seasons of false starts.
The focus has been different this off-season.
Get the books sorted, intelligent business and start a brand-new project.
After missing the Champions League by a singular point last season and the remnants of the ‘triple-handshake era’ under Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone slowly petering out – the need for a brand-new squad couldn’t be more apparent.
Marco Giampaolo, the new manager, was given the task to totally revamp the squad – building on a solid core of players who lacked the polish to take Milan back to the promised land.
Over the past few months, the former Sampdoria manager has begun to paint his picture.
A high pressing attacking side who play with fluidity and speed which will make the Rossoneri one of Serie A’s most exciting sides this season.
From what we have seen so far this season has been major teething problems from a side struggling with finding the right balance.
Integral players in the Giampaolo system are only just coming to full-fitness after a strenuous summer on international duty and for some coming off long injury lay-offs.
However, this past weekend, the promise of ‘Giampaolo-ball’ was finally starting to blossom.
With the inclusions of Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie into the starting XI – Milan were finally able to show their strength in the middle of the park.
The former in particular, has continued his blistering form after winning the Best Player of the AFCON in the off-season and showcased the hype which surrounded his signing from Empoli.
Bennacer has been the player Milan have been screaming out for in the midfield since their glory days of the late 00’s.
The Algerian’s positive movements and ability to take control of the game helps compliment the box-to-box efforts of Kessie and attacking tempo which Lucas Paqueta and Hakan Calhanoglu usually bring on the other side of the trident.
However, seeing Milan return to a front three saw the likes of Suso and Paqueta begin to show their brilliance playing in roles just in behind the centre-forward.
The latter, who came on for Calhanoglu late in the game showed the world why he is so highly rated among pundits.
Immediately, the Brazilian looked to take players on and showcased flair in which the man he replaced and Samu Castillejo had not shown throughout the contest.
His impending return to the starting XI could not be more important at the conclusion of the upcoming international break as he looks to take the next step in his football development.
Whether he is in the midfield trident or in the front three – Paqueta must continue to be apart of the side from the get-go if Milan are to make a return to Champions League football this season.
Another player who must return to the starting line-up is Krzysztof Piatek who was benched in favour of the outgoing Andre Silva on the weekend.
The Polish striker who has hit a cold-streak in front of goal once again showcased his nose for goal – putting himself in attacking positions throughout the game and was inches away from opening up his account this season.
The Pole’s physicality and sheer skill set makes it awkward for defenders coming up against him and even without hitting the score-sheet has showcased how integral he is to the way Milan are structured.
His need for service, is another story, as Suso’s hard work down one channel is often not reciprocated on the other wing – a position Milan has been unable to fill due to the inconsistencies of Samu Castillejo and Calhanoglu.
However, the inclusion of Ante Rebic, who looks set to sign for the club may change that.
The hard-working forward has the ability not just to provide but to also hit the score-sheet and very well may prove to be an underrated signing by Giampaolo.
Although all the aforementioned players are integral in the Milan system which may lead to brilliant attacking play – the inclusions down back of Leo Duarte and Theo Hernandez as the season rolls on could be just as important.
In particular, the latter whose blistering pace caught the eyes of fans during the pre-season and looks to be an upgrade from Ricardo Rodriguez who has been extremely inconsistent during his time at Milan.
Upon his return from injury, the Frenchman fills the need of a hard-working attacking full-back in the Giampaolo system and at only 21 has room to grow.
In all, this Milan team is bearing fruit and even after only a win and a loss from their opening two games – the room for growth and has never been so promising.
The years gone by has seen numerous false-starts and many poor investments but the feeling around the business done by Milan this off-season carries a different sense of promise.
The promise of youth and development from players who are looking to compliment an already talented core of competitors may be the antidote for years of poor form.
Coupled by the addition of an experienced manager who provides a significantly more exciting project than the majority of coaches who have come and gone – with most lacking the tactical mindset which the former Sampdoria manager has at his utilisation.
Will Milan make the top four this season? It remains to be seen – but I for one are more than confident that this season could very well be the end of years in the wilderness.