Milan registered a historically poor defensive record last season, so earlier this summer the club signed veteran centre-back Alex in hopes that he would improve what was the team's worst unit in recent memory.
Alex spent last season in France with Paris Saint-Germain, partnering former Milan star Thiago Silva in Ligue 1's best defense in terms of goals conceded. After Mamadou Sakho left the Parc des Princes to sign with Liverpool, Alex made the spot alongside Silva his own and started 30 matches in PSG's Ligue 1-winning campaign.
A wall at the back, the 32-year-old has championship pedigree in top European leagues including the Premier League, Ligue 1 and Eredivisie. The former Chelsea man also has an absolute rocket for a right foot and would even be a threat on set pieces if Mario Balotelli uncharacteristically decides to defer to a teammate.
He'll join a Milan team in flux, so before projecting Alex's impact in his first year at the San Siro we'll need to establish the role the former Brazilian international will play at Milan.
Last season, Massimiliano Allegri and Clarence Seedorf were left to contend with an unspectacular central-defensive contingent of Daniele Bonera, Philippe Mexes and Cristian Zapata before Adil Rami was brought in on loan in January.
It was an area in which Milan were always going to struggle, but few would've predicted what became their worst defensive performance of the past 15 years, per WhoScored.com.
Next season, Filippo Inzaghi will retain all of the aforementioned players, including the now permanently signed Rami, and one of the biggest decisions Pippo will be faced with in his managerial debut is determining his first-choice centre-half pairing.
|Alex vs. 2013-14 Milan Centre-Backs: A Statistical Comparison|
|Player||Goals||Tackles/game||Interceptions/game||Fouls/game||Pass Completion||Blocked shots/game||Aerials Won/game|
(Stats via WhoScored)
Looking at the numbers, we see that Alex is a more accurate tackler and passer than any of Milan's current central-defensive options whilst boasting middling numbers in the other defensive categories.
Bearing in mind that Milan won't have European football to contend with, there will be considerably less matches to play, which spells less opportunities for the team's glut of central defenders. Subsequently, whichever starting pairing Inzaghi touts will predominate in terms of first-team chances.
Rami was Milan's best centre-back since joining in January and will be tipped for a starting role.
With an open competition for the right to partner the towering French international, each player's best will be brought out, as all will be trying to curry favor under the new management.
Yesterday, Milan faced Olympiacos in a preseason warm-up, and Inzaghi opted for Rami and Bonera. The Greek giants scored two goals against the duo, which doesn't bode well for that pairing going forward. Nevertheless, Bonera remains a valuable rotation player with loads of experience and will likely be a cup player, with some spot starts sprinkled in throughout the season.
Mexes was excellent when deployed alongside Rami, as the two Frenchmen were outstanding in a five-game stretch that saw the Rossoneri concede just two goals and take 13 of a potenital 15 points.
Who should Milan's starting centre-backs be next season?
In that aforementioned limited sample size, a Mexes-Rami pairing was Milan's best last term, but Mexes is still wildly inconsistent and prone to positional and concentration lapses. He'll need to prove he's reliable for more than just a five-match span.
Zapata is probably the most intriguing option, because if he can pick up where he left off in Brazil, he'll be in great form. However, should he falter he could just as easily be supplanted, as he didn't do enough last season to make him an unequivocal starter.
If Alex is unable to pip Milan's other centre-halves it'll be difficult for him to make a difference, as there simply won't be as many games to play as in years past.
The Brazilian will benefit from how poor Milan's defense was last season, and he's the biggest new face in a unit that requires a massive overhaul. He figures to be fielded if for nothing more than to show supporters that the team isn't content with sticking with a struggling back line.
The signing has the potential to be the Rossoneri's best of the summer as it's largely without risk—he arrived on a Bosman transfer—and adds quality to an area sorely needing it.
It'd be unreasonable to view Alex as the defensive savior Milan has been searching for, but he's a proven veteran with the opportunity to excel in yet another top domestic competition for a club in dire need of fortification at the back.