According to Football Italia (h/t Gazzetta dello Sport), Milan is exploring the possibility of sending Italian international Ignazio Abate to Zenit St. Petersburg in exchange for fellow Italian international Domenico Criscito.
Abate split time with Mattia De Sciglio at right back last season, and while the duo are two of the best full-backs on the peninsula, neither player is particularly comfortable on the left.
With the club loath to spend in the transfer window, a player swap seems to be the only way new talent can be brought in, and even though it would cost the club Abate, signing Criscito would alleviate Milan's left-back concerns.
Last season, Kevin Constant and Urby Emanuelson combined for 37 league starts at left back, and after Constant's poor showing and Emanuelson's move to Roma, the Rossoneri need to address the position.
There was hope De Sciglio could play on the left as he's featured there in the past for Cesare Prandelli's Italy, but last season saw the 21-year-old make just one start at left back. A right-footed player, deploying De Sciglio on the left means hindering his crossing ability as getting to the byline and delivering an accurate ball into the box is decidedly more difficult using one's weaker foot.
If you ascribe to the notion that De Sciglio needs to be starting, you have to be in favor of this move. It's sad to say but as long as Abate remains at the San Siro, he'll continue to take away chances from De Sciglio or force him to be played out of position.
Taking into consideration that, at 21, De Sciglio is already established on the national team and has shown the tools it takes to become a defensive leader, Milan has to put him in the best possible situation.
Sending Abate to Zenit would leave De Sciglio as the undisputed starter at right back, giving him the best opportunity to cultivate his talent, as well as bring in Criscito, who would immediately become the team's first-choice left back.
Here's a look at how the former Genoa standout stacks up:
|Criscito vs. Milan Full-Backs: 2013-14 Statistical Comparison (stats courtesy of Whoscored)|
|Player||Tackles/game||Interceptions/game||Fouls/game||Assists||Aerial Duels Won||Was Dribbled|
Criscito ranks first or tied for first in four of the above categories including was dribbled, a stat which measures the amount of times a player was dribbled past per game.
He's solid in the air and possesses sound positional sense. Armed with expansive passing range, once Criscito intercepts a pass, he looks to play a long diagonal and start the attack.
His biggest weakness is a propensity for committing too many fouls. It's led to him picking up a number of yellow cards—he found himself in the referee's book six times in just 18 matches last year.
Extrapolate that over a full season and Criscito would receive roughly 12 bookings, more than Milan's entire full-back contingent accumulated last campaign.
Massimiliano Allegri was overly reliant on Stephan El Shaarawy providing cover for whichever sub-par left back was trotted out, and the result of inundating the winger with defensive responsibility led to him being extremely fatigued at the end of that 2012-13 season.
Signing the defensively astute Criscito would limit il Faraone's defensive workload, and that shouldn't be overlooked. Keeping El Shaarawy fit for an entire season is key for the Milan offense and installing Criscito behind him will allow the 21-year-old forward to focus on attacking.
Even with Criscito's elevated foul numbers, he'd be Milan's best option at left back. Abate can't be considered because he's never played left back, Didac Vila hasn't done much of anything in the past two years, Constant was a sieve last season and we've already seen that De Sciglio is at his best on the right.
Zenit captain Aleksandr Anyukov, the team's starting right back, was limited to just 14 league matches last term and he'll turn 32 in January. Bringing in Abate would shore up the position, and though it would cost them a starter in Criscito, Zenit has Russian Premier League veteran Cristian Ansaldi waiting to step in at left back.
With Milan out of Europe next season, the club doesn't need to be as concerned with stockpiling valuable back-ups in hopes of resting the starters for more important matches. Bolstering the starting eleven to give the team the best chance at winning each match has to rank as the bigger priority.
At this point, Abate should be De Sciglio's back-up and when you can swap a rotation player for a starter of equal quality, you have to do it.
The deal would help Milan because even though it'd mean selling Abate and sacrificing elite depth at one full-back position, it'd recoup a proven left back, one who could immediately step in and make an area that was previously a weakness, a strength.
Statistics courtesy of Whoscored unless otherwise noted.