5 Bold Predictions for AC Milan in 2016
2016 is likely to prove a definitive year for AC Milan. After several years of underperformance in Serie A, a lack of continental football and a high turnover in both the playing and coaching staff, the club will be aiming to claw back credibility as one of Europe’s top clubs.
Intense pressure rests on the shoulders of Sinisa Mihajlovic and his players, with Milan residing sixth in the league table. While this position offers up hope that further improvement can push the club closer to where they feel they belong, it is also extremely tenuous.
The Rossoneri are a couple of good results away from a possible top-four spot. However, they are at the same time a couple of bad ones away from the morass of mid-table. Over the coming months, their 2015/16 season will be given further definition.
Beyond that, some key questions lie ahead in need of answers. Will Milan remain inconsistent both in direction and performance? Will they return to major European competition? Will Mihajlovic still be in charge come 2017?
Here Bleacher Report answers these questions while making five bold predictions about what the next 12 months might hold for Milan.
Milan Will Find Their True Tactical Identity
Since arriving as Milan coach last summer, Mihajlovic has nurtured his growing reputation as a tinkering tactician.
He brought with him from Sampdoria a proclivity for using a 4-3-1-2 formation, something that led to mixed results. While it was refreshing to see Milan operating with a strike partnership instead of a lone centre-forward, the lack of width became an issue.
Without wingers, the full-backs were asked to get forward down each flank, though this exposed Milan’s defensive vulnerabilities.
Another issue brought about by the 4-3-1-2 system was a lack of balance in midfield. Often, Mihajlovic chose to play Giacomo Bonaventura in a more withdrawn central role, reducing the Italian’s chances of getting into dangerous areas and maximising his great creative capacity.
A stunning 4-0 home defeat to Napoli prompted a rethink, and Mihajlovic swiftly abandoned his system of preference, switching to a 4-3-3. This change brought about greater stability initially, though eventually led to a paucity of attacking cut and thrust.
After failing to score in two consecutive games—a 1-0 loss to Juventus and a 0-0 draw with Atalanta—Mihajlovic implemented the 4-4-2 in late November. This meant that within the first half of the season, Milan had already used three entirely different systems.
The chopping and changing has not been a sequence of pragmatic weekly alterations. Instead, it has been intermittent but wholesale shifts in the team’s setup.
As a consequence of the constant tactical uncertainty, Milan have been riddled by inconsistency on the pitch, with the team unable to put together a consecutive run of good results.
It is important Mihajlovic sticks by his latest formation for a longer period to allow his players to jell within the new framework. Indeed, this looks likely to be the case as the 4-4-2 has been in the offing for quite some time.
Back in October 2015, according to Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia), Mihajlovic mentioned the formation, saying “Will we use the 4-4-2? We’ll see.”
It seems as if the current system is one Milan have been working on for a long period, and thus it stands to reason they will stick by it and, finally, find their long-awaited tactical identity in 2016.
Milan Will Pick Up Silverware
For fans of most football clubs, picking up silverware is a luxury, a brief step out from reality into the realms of sporting fantasy. This is not the case for Milanisti. For them, trophy-winning has historically been a frequent experience.
With this in mind, the four-year period since Milan last won a trophy has been too long. This is especially the case when given the resources, both financial and otherwise, at the Rossoneri’s disposal.
However, a lot has changed in that time. Of the team that defeated city rivals Inter to lift the 2011 Supercoppa Italia, only Ignazio Abate and Christian Abbiati remain, although Reuters (h/t the Guardian) reports Kevin-Prince Boateng will soon rejoin the club.
The rest of that side has since shuffled off into retirement—such has been the case for Alessandro Nesta, Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso, Mark van Bommel and Clarence Seedorf—or moved on to other teams.
Milan are not involved in continental competition this season, courtesy of their desperately poor 10th-place finish last term. Additionally, with their current league position, it is illogical to suggest they can challenge for the Scudetto. However, the Coppa Italia does offer them a realistic opportunity of silverware.
The cup has been full of shocks this season, and thanks to Milan’s placing in the draw, Mihajlovic and his men have a clear route to the final. If they get past Serie A minnows Carpi, which they should do, they will play Lega Pro outfit Alessandria or Serie B side Spezia in a two-legged semi-final.
Essentially, Milan are three very achievable wins away from a cup final, but then of course they would have one more, much tougher match—probably against Juventus, Inter or Napoli—to seal success.
However, it is more than feasible that with confidence built from their cup progress and a more consistent team selection and tactical setup, Milan could beat any of those teams in a one-off encounter to end their trophy drought.
Milan Will Return to Continental Competition
Winning the Coppa Italia would guarantee Milan a place in the Europa League for next season, but it is more than possible they could achieve such a feat without cup success.
They have been relatively underwhelming so far in this campaign, yet they still entered 2016 in sixth with just eight points separating them from table-toppers Inter.
While it is unlikely a title challenge is on the cards, Milan undoubtedly have more to bring out of their players. If Mihajlovic finds the right system and his players achieve consistency, Milan could safeguard the top-six spot necessary to seal a return to continental competition.
Milan Will Finish 2016 Above Inter
Inter entered 2016 at the summit of Serie A, though they did so on the back of a shock home defeat to Lazio. That result opened the Scudetto race right back up, prompting further questions about the ability of Roberto Mancini’s squad to maintain their lofty status.
Mancini’s Inter have been effective predominantly because of the coach’s flexibility and defensive nous. The central-defensive pairing of Miranda and Jeison Murillo has formed a solid core in front of esteemed shot-stopper Samir Handanovic, making Inter difficult to break down.
However, the Nerazzurri have been far from scintillating and, while efficient, the likelihood of their improvement being a long-term resurgence remains in doubt.
Mathematically, Milan are only eight points behind their neighbours, and when considering how poor the Rossoneri have been at times this season, it’s quite amazing to realise so little separates them from the top of Serie A.
Inter will probably finish ahead of Milan this season, but come the following campaign, Milan will be in a better position to compete. In contrast, with key players such as Miranda and Felipe Melo ageing and star striker Mauro Icardi linked with a move away, per Sky Sport Italia (h/t Daily Express), Inter may go backward.
As such, it’s not so far-fetched to suggest Milan could finish 2016 above Inter in Serie A.
Sinisa Mihajlovic Will See out the Year as Milan Coach
While Mihajlovic has endured intense pressure for his inability as yet to guide Milan back to the top of Italian football, he made it to 2016 unscathed. And the likelihood is he will still be Milan coach come the end of this season.
As Paddy Agnew wrote for World Soccer, “Sacking a coach in mid-season is hardly [Silvio Berlusconi’s] style. ... In [his 29 years as owner of the club], he has sacked only five coaches during the season.”
Assuming Mihajlovic sees out his first campaign, improving Milan’s league position and returning them to Europe should be enough to ensure he remains coach going into the 2016/17 campaign.
By that point, he will theoretically have had more than enough time to assemble his players into a strong, organised collective ready to move onto the next level and challenge for the Scudetto. If he can do that, he will see out 2016 as Milan coach.