5 Players AC Milan Could Sign in January to Save Their Serie A Title Bid
As David Moyes of Manchester United can attest, poor results early on in the season can lead to a wave of media-induced pressure.
Over in Italy, Massimiliano Allegri and his AC Milan side are currently experiencing a similar epiphany: After nine games, they find themselves 16 points behind the early leaders, the unbeaten and imperious pace-setters Roma.
Despite finishing last season in strong fashion—losing just once between the turn of the year and the culmination in May—the Rossoneri have been underwhelming. Having lost four games and drawn twice, they have dropped more points this season than they have won.
In addition, able to boast a phalanx of attacking talent and perennially known as one of the league's prolific teams, they have been unusually profligate: 16 goals scored and 16 goals conceded—more than 17th place Catania have leaked—is not title-winning form.
Their statistics pale in comparison to those of Roma: They have lower pass success (84 percent to 86), they have completed fewer interceptions (16 to 13) and they find themselves restricted to long-range shots (50 percent compared to Roma's 46).
Whilst there are still 29 games still to play, it is unlikely that Milan can end a three-year wait and bring the Scudetto back to San Siro. Even if Roma (as well as Napoli and Juventus) were not in such scintillating form, Milan have just looked far too mediocre.
With this in mind, it is optimum time for the club to have announced impending new signings. Spiky-haired flair player Keisuke Honda will arrive on a free transfer in January, whilst Valencia's Adil Rami will partner his French compatriot Philippe Mexes in defence after signing on loan (with both transfers reported here by Simone Bargellini at Sky Sports).
Let's now take a look at five players who are either rumoured to be unsettled or could be within Milan's price range and all of whom could provide the catalyst for a major comeback.
If you were to offer Juan Mata to teams around Europe, the fans' reaction would be the same: An abrupt dust cloud as they drive to the airport to collect the magisterial matador personally.
Such is the gravitas of Mata, such is his understated value to a side, that any team around Europe, regardless of their financial clout, would be augmented by the addition of the Spaniard.
With his name roughly translating into English as "Johnny Kills"—a moniker he has adopted as he settled into life in west London—the former Valencia man has been an assassin in the English Premier League: With 34 assists and 17 goals in two seasons, the two-time Chelsea Player of the Year is a ruthless sharp-shooter.
However, for reasons unknown, he now finds himself on the fringes of a Chelsea first-team where previously his name was the first to be etched down.
On deadline day of this summer's transfer window, Paris Saint-Germain purportedly came close to purchasing the left-footed playmaker, as reported here by the Daily Mail's John Drayton. As Jason Burt explores this week in The Telegraph, it is thought the Parisians will test the Blues' resolve.
Figures had never been discussed but the fact that Chelsea allowed him to enter negotiations hints to the fact he could leave, should the price be right.
This is where Milan could swoop. Mata would most likely cost around £35 million, more than what they spent on Mario Balotelli last January but would still represent great value for money.
The only caveat being that should AC Milan still be live Champions League competitors by January, Mata would not be cup-tied, having already featured for Chelsea. If Milan were to have dropped into the Europa League, he would however be eligible to play.
When Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Manchester United in their recent Champions League group game, a number of players stood out.
Simon Rolfes curled an impressive goal beyond the hapless David De Gea, Lars Bender harried and hassled in midfield whilst Stefan Kiessling showed why he's being monitored by a number of big teams.
It was Sidney Sam who could prove to be Bayer's diamond in the rough: Aged just 25, he has been a constant threat in Sami Hyppia's team and has already scored seven goals in nine league appearances thus far.
Preferring to operate on the right side of an attacking trident (alongside Kiessling and Son Heung-Min), he has been one of the driving factors as Leverkusen look to break up the Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund Bundesliga duopoly.
With only four caps to his name, the German international will look to continue this fine vein of form as to ensure he is on the Brazil-bound aeroplane for next summer's World Cup.
It is for this reason why a transfer to a footballing luminary like AC Milan could be seen as preferential.
With Leverkusen currently second in their Champions League group, behind Manchester United, they will attempt to stave off Real Sociedad and Shakhtar Donetsk to navigate to the knockout stage. If they fail though, Milan could pounce.
Similar in type to Milan's current players Robinho and Stephan El Shaarawy, he could also play with the attacking verve of recently-departed (and heavily-missed) Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Sam is lively, fearless and not afraid to try the spectacular, as proven with his recent winning goal against Hoffenheim.
Now is a good time to be Icelandic. Having finished runners-up in their World Cup qualifying group (ahead of Norway and Slovenia, previous qualifiers), they have a play-off tie against Croatia to look forward to next month in an encounter where they may emerge victorious.
Central to this success is 24-year-old Alfred Finnbogason. With 11 goals in nine league appearances, it is his ruthless nature in front of goal which has helped keep his club SC Heerenveen clear of the relegation zone.
As well as scoring in practically every league game—last Friday's defeat against NEC was the only one where he didn't find the net—he can score in vital games. His brace against Ajax in August helped salvage a 3-3 draw (he also scored the equalising goal in a 1-1 draw last campaign) as well as scoring in the defeat of Feyenoord last season.
The Netherlands has a good track-record of providing an optimum environment for players to cultivate their raw ability: To name but a few, Ronaldo (the "original"), Romario, Henrik Larsson, Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nwankwo Kanu all passed through the low country before going on to achieve stardom.
Whilst his career is still in its infancy, Finnbogason could follow suit. In addition, Heerenveen have a good record of producing prolific hitmen in recent years: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Ruud van Nistelrooy cut their teeth here and achieved careers at Europe's biggest teams. Brazilian flop Afonso Alves doesn't generate such plaudits.
According to reports, he is available at the right price. Having generated interest from the English Premier League—Alan Nixon of The Mirror believes West Ham and Newcastle United to be vying for his £5 million signature—Milan would have to act quickly.
Whilst it would be a gamble, the fact he is not cup-tied for European competition is an attractive trait.
Sporting a shock of blonde hair, the diminutive attacking midfielder will arrive on a free transfer in January. Just imagine how quickly he could assimilate into Italian life if he was to have his compatriot Shinji Kagawa there with him as a team-mate.
Having arrived from the resurgent and aesthetically-pleasing Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2012, Kagawa has endured a difficult time at Manchester United: Often played out of position, he has made only 31 appearances.
With the endless videos available on YouTube that exhibit his potential, fans have become frustrated that he hasn't been allowed to flourish.
Rumoured to be fatigued from an exhausting summer where he travelled the Far East with his club before joining up with his national team for more exertions, the 24-year-old didn't feature for United until the end of September.
A 2-1 home defeat against West Brom did not provide the stage where he could demonstrate his worth to new boss David Moyes who, similarly to Jose Mourinho and Juan Mata at Chelsea, seems underwhelmed with his player.
Predominantly utilised on the left of United's attack, in an ambiguous role where he doesn't operate as a winger nor does he operate as a tertiary striker, it is well-known he thrives behind the striker. Allegri has deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation, which could accommodate Kagawa as Robinho.
Similarly to Mata and Sam, Kagawa would be ruled out of the continental competition having already featured for the Old Trafford side.
In a market dominated by foreign signings, AC Milan stay loyal to an Italian contingent: Their captain, after all, Riccardo Montolivo, is an established international for the Azzurri.
With a penchant for signing Serie A's finest prodigious home-grown talent, there are worst places for a native to develop his career than under the tutelage of a proven manager, in the company of a multitude of internationals and with the support of the world-famous MilanLab at the club's Milanello training ground.
It is these attractions that has persuaded Montolivo, Andrea Poli, Mario Balotelli, Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia De Sciglio, Danela Bonera and others have defected to Milan.
In such an optimum environment, Giacoma Bonaventura could really progress his career and also help the Rossoneri's ailing title bid.
Currently the focal point of an Atalanta side who are two place and two points better off than Milan—albeit having played a game extra—in eighth place, the 24-year-old has a big reputation. Capped once at senior level, he is versatile having played on the left of midfield, behind the striker and as a right winger.
It is his passing vision which could really augment a new team. With a pass success rate of 80 percent, he averages 24 passes a game and, in buchaneerng fasion, covers a lot of ground.
In the mould of former Milan great Massimo Ambrosini, he would lift the fans and would also dodge the non-EU quota rule in place in Italy.