Analysing the Reasons Behind AC Milan's Inconsistency This Season
The one consistent aspect of AC Milan’s 2015-16 season has been their inconsistency.
In 30 Serie A fixtures, they have put together consecutive victories on just three occasions. Their longest streak of wins is three, a run that lasted from late October to early November last year.
After losing the opening game of 2016 at home to Bologna, the Rossoneri went unbeaten for nine league matches, including impressive results such as their 2-0 home triumph over Fiorentina and success in the Derby della Madonnina against city rivals Inter Milan.
Essentially, even during times when Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side have been difficult to beat and confidence has begun to rise, the team has struggled to perform consistently well.
Here, Bleacher Report considers the primary reasons for Milan’s inconsistency this term.
2015-16 was always going to be a season of transition for Milan, and since the hiring of new head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic, the club has undertaken serious turnover in personnel.
Last summer, much was made of the amount of money the Rossoneri spent on new signings. The headline additions were Colombian goalscorer Carlos Bacca, elegant midfielder Andrea Bertolacci and promising 21-year-old centre-back Alessio Romagnoli. But the squad overhaul didn’t stop there.
Others to arrive at the time included Brazilian striker Luiz Adriano, midfield dynamos Juraj Kucka and Jose Mauri, and Mario Balotelli, who returned on loan from Liverpool.
In addition to the incoming transfers, many first-team players left, too. Adil Rami, Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Giampaolo Pazzini all said goodbye to Milan for good, while Gabriel Paletta and Stephan El Shaarawy went out on loan.
In January and February, the exits continued with Alessio Cerci and Suso moving to Genoa, while Nigel de Jong and Antonio Nocerino departed for Major League Soccer. Meanwhile, Kevin-Prince Boateng rejoined Milan after a stint in Schalke.
With such large-scale upheaval in the playing squad occurring within such a short time frame, Mihajlovic had his work cut out in forming a cohesive team. He has had to quickly assess the new arrivals and evaluate who should play where within his chosen formation.
In midfield and attack, where most of the transformation took place, the coach has had trouble settling on a specific lineup.
Without certainty over which players make up his best team, it’s no wonder Mihajlovic has been unable to achieve consistently good results.
While there was little Mihajlovic could have done to speed up the process of figuring out which players he preferred in certain positions, he certainly could have done a better job of establishing a tactical identity.
Milan have rattled from game to game, making constant stylistic changes along the way. For some matches, they have opted for a deep defensive line; for others, a high one. For some fixtures, they pressed the opposition in their own half aggressively; in others, they took a more passive approach.
On top of the style alterations, Mihajlovic has chopped and changed formations with troubling frequency.
In his final season as coach of Sampdoria, he utilised a 4-3-1-2 effectively. Hence, it was no surprise that he brought this system with him to Milan. However, after a 4-0 home defeat to Napoli in October, he threw out this shape in favour of a 4-5-1 in order to restore some defensive solidity.
This led to an improved resolve and the concession of fewer goals, but it also stultified the Rossoneri’s own attacking threat. Against more conservative sides, Bacca struggled up front on his own.
A 0-0 draw at home to Atalanta in which Milan were second best triggered Mihajlovic to bring in his third formation in just three months: the 4-4-2, a shape he has stuck by ever since.
In the first match after this change, Milan won 4-1 against Sampdoria. And in the 17 Serie A games since adopting the 4-4-2 setup, they have lost just twice. Unfortunately, they have drawn eight of those fixtures.
It could be argued that each modification led to an upturn in form, though this has only ever been temporary. Eventually, teams have figured out how to nullify Mihajlovic’s side no matter what formation they line up in.
Recently, the coach suggested that another change could be on the cards. Speaking to the press ahead of the clash with Genoa, he said, per Football Italia: “Returning to the 4-3-1-2? It's certainly an option once everyone is fit. In some of the matches we'll change the formation mid-game.”
With just eight league matches left this season, Mihajlovic’s uncertainty regarding his favoured formation is a worrying sign. It’s also a key reason behind his team’s identity crisis and subsequent inconsistency.
On top of the constant changes both in personnel and tactics, Milan have regularly been foiled by injuries throughout this campaign.
Ignazio Abate has taken a while to find his best form due to three injury absences in the first half of the season, while Luca Antonelli had two short-term spells on the sidelines.
Juraj Kucka has arguably been the club’s best midfield player in recent months, but he's been unavailable due to thigh muscle and hamstring problems of late. Meanwhile, Andrea Bertolacci has sat out large swathes of his debut year in Milan because of two separate injury issues.
Up front, the Rossoneri have relied on the fitness of Carlos Bacca. Both Jeremy Menez and Mario Balotelli missed the majority of the first six months of the season, while Luiz Adriano had time on the treatment table for bruised ribs. More recently, M’Baye Niang was ruled out for the rest of the campaign because of injuries he suffered in a car crash.
Consequently, even on the occasions when Mihajlovic has had some clarity in terms of what his best team looks like, he has often been unable to pick it due to certain players being unavailable.
Without a fully fit squad, he has had little choice but to alter the lineup on a regular basis, unsettling the team and subsequently hampering Milan's ability to earn consistent wins.