Ranking AC Milan's Top 5 Players for April
At the end of the season, April 2016 may well be remembered as the month when AC Milan’s gradual turnaround in fortunes was decisively halted, and then reversed. It saw the club pick up just one win from five as their grip on a top-six Serie A finish and return to Europe was loosened. It also saw a managerial change.
After consecutive defeats to Atalanta and Juventus, Sinisa Mihajlovic was sacked and replaced by former Primavera boss Cristian Brocchi as Rossoneri head coach. However, while that call led to a momentary upturn with a 1-0 win away to Sampdoria, the club then lurched into full crisis mode with a draw at home to Carpi and an embarrassing loss away to already-relegated Hellas Verona.
With just four points taken from a possible 15, Milan’s progress from dysfunctional mid-table fodder to functional outfit with continental ambitions took a severe blow. And, with an inexperienced coach in charge, the immediate future looked bleak.
In short, April was a difficult time to be a Milanista. The team’s performances were below par, and their results were poor. Unsurprisingly, few individual players stood out amid this collective underachievement.
Here, Bleacher Report assesses Milan’s top five players from a harsh month.
All statistics provided by WhoScored.com unless otherwise stated.
5. Jose Mauri
Prior to April, Jose Mauri had made just one substitute appearance as a Milan player. The 19-year-old, who arrived last summer from Parma filled with promise, had seemingly been frozen out of the first team.
His agent, Dino Zampacorta, saw fit to comment on the situation publicly in January. “The lad is very bitter for many reasons,” he told MilanNews.it (h/t Football Italia). “He is 19 years old, but very mature for his age, lives a calm life and doesn’t go out clubbing or drink alcohol. He didn’t come to Milan to warm the bench.”
Mauri’s circumstances would change in the Rossoneri’s home draw with Carpi on April 21. With his team-mates struggling to break down the visitors’ resolute defensive setup, he was introduced from the substitutes’ bench for the final 29 minutes of the game.
In that brief time on the pitch, the Argentinian made a strong case for greater future involvement, as discussed in this post.
Mauri provided an injection of verve and intensity, traits that were otherwise lacking from a staid Milan performance. He attempted four shots on goal, more than any of his colleagues, and also contributed one tackle and one key pass.
On the back of that showing, he was given a starting berth for the next match, away to Verona. And, while that trip ended in humiliating defeat for the team, he wasn’t fazed by adversity. Putting in two tackles, one dribble and one key pass, he was again one of the Rossoneri’s brighter sparks.
Mauri has yet to experience victory as a Milan player, but on the positive side, April finally saw him make his mark upon the starting lineup after a long period of waiting.
4. Giacomo Bonaventura
Giacomo Bonaventura’s importance to this Milan side is not to be underestimated. He has, according to Squawka.com’s statistics, been the team’s best player by far this season. On top of that, it’s worth noting that he has missed just four league games in 2015-16, and on each of those occasions the Rossoneri haven’t won.
Considering the above, it was perhaps inevitable that the team would struggle on their trip to face Verona on April 25. Their nimble attacking-midfield creator was unavailable for the game due to a hamstring injury, after all.
Milan would lose that match on a day when they could have done with Bonaventura’s composure in the final third, but the major problem for Coach Brocchi isn’t what to do when the player isn’t available. Rather, the issue appears to be deciding how to use him when he is.
The 26-year-old has shown real versatility and tactical intelligence to undertake a variety of different roles since arriving at the San Siro, and April only highlighted this positional flux. Against Atalanta and Juventus, he played on the left wing; against Sampdoria, he played behind the strikers; and against Carpi, he played in central midfield.
Despite this constant change, Bonaventura put in some decent performances, particularly against the Blucerchiati, where he seemed to grow into the role of trequartista. In that game, he completed three dribbles and made two key passes as well as setting up the winning goal for Carlos Bacca.
3. Ignazio Abate
Ignazio Abate was one of Milan’s more consistent players in April. The right-back’s exceptional work ethic never faltered amid the team's continued poor form, while his forward runs were prominent on a frequent basis.
Against Atalanta, Carpi and Verona, the 29-year-old completed more dribbles than any of his team-mates, highlighting the effectiveness of his offensive forays. And, in a month when the Rossoneri scored just four goals in five fixtures, this aspect of his play was particularly important.
He may not be quite as noticeable as his more technically gifted team-mates, such as Bonaventura, Mario Balotelli or Carlos Bacca, but he remains core to Milan.
2. Gianluigi Donnarumma
Milan’s 2-1 defeat to Verona in April was arguably the worst result of an average season, but it would only have been worse had it not been for Gianluigi Donnarumma’s goalkeeping heroics, discussed in this post.
The 17-year-old has shown maturity beyond his years to assume the No. 1 spot at such an illustrious club, and he did not wilt under the bombardment in the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi.
With the score at 1-1, he was called into action repeatedly to deny Verona. His relentless streak of saves evidenced outstanding reflexes and quick decision-making.
After the match, opposition coach Luigi Delneri spoke of the ‘keeper’s remarkable display, telling Premium Sport (h/t Football Italia), “We were much more aggressive, but we had more scoring chances and we were up against a great Donnarumma.”
Donnarumma complemented that display with a series of solid showings throughout April, keeping two clean sheets in five games despite the presence of an increasingly leaky defence in front of him.
1. Mario Balotelli
In April, for the first time since he returned to the club, Mario Balotelli made a concerted case for a prolonged stay with Milan. Currently on a season-long loan deal from Liverpool without obligation to buy, the striker needed to impress, and he did that last month with several strong showings.
Coming off the bench in the defeat to Atalanta, he was one of the few creative sparks, making three key passes. The 25-year-old was then picked to start the following fixture with Juventus, where he laid on the assist for Alex’s headed goal from a corner kick.
Prior to the next match away to Sampdoria, Brocchi replaced Mihajlovic, but the new coach kept faith in Balotelli, starting him and consulting him on several occasions throughout the match.
The player responded by putting in a dogged defensive shift, chasing back to win possession, winning multiple free-kicks for his team and impressing with his hold-up play.
Afterwards, Brocchi praised Balotelli for his showing, telling Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia), “Balotelli was fantastic and only lacked a goal tonight.”
In the 0-0 draw with Carpi, the former Inter Milan finisher was unable to prize open a stout opposition defence. However, in this respect he was no different to his team-mates, and he nonetheless managed to complete four dribbles and make two key passes.
April was a bad month for Milan, but it was a good one for Balotelli. Finally he began to deliver the consistently good performances required to convince the club to extend his stay.