AC Milan endured a deeply underwhelming 2015-16 season as they missed out on continental qualification for a third straight year. One of the primary sources of this disappointment was their play in the final third.
The Rossoneri’s goal tally of 49 in Serie A last term was their lowest since 2001-02, when they scored just 47. This deficiency was mainly due to the tactical choices of Sinisa Mihajlovic, who was dismissed as club coach in April due to poor results combined with unexciting, functional football.
However, the concerted absence of Jeremy Menez didn’t help in this regard.
The Frenchman enjoyed a positive debut season with the club in 2014-15 but struggled to make the same impact in his second campaign with Milan. Principally, this was down to injury issues; he missed the first 21 Serie A fixtures with hip problems and didn’t make a first appearance in the league until February, when he came off the bench during a 2-1 win at home over Genoa.
As a consequence of his prolonged spell on the treatment table, Menez was unable to reach the heights of 2014-15 in a number of key areas.
In his first year with Milan, the 29-year-old managed to find the net on 16 occasions. This ensured he blitzed his previous personal best in one league season, which had stood at seven, a tally he achieved twice with Monaco in 2006-07 and 2007-08 and once with Paris Saint-Germain in 2011-12.
Menez was not able to build on this last season, scoring just two goals in Serie A action. However, it’s worth noting that those strikes came from just 10 outings, only two of which saw him in the Rossoneri starting lineup.
As a result, the whimsical forward’s strike rate was relatively higher, albeit only slightly, when considering exactly how many minutes he spent on the pitch. According to Squawka, he scored 0.61 goals per 90 minutes compared to his 0.53 per 90 minutes in 2014-15.
What makes this minimal increase more impressive is that it came at the same time as Menez recorded fewer shots per game. Squawka’s statistics show that he had 1.82 attempts last season in comparison to his 2.61 attempts per 90 minutes from the previous term.
Scoring at a higher rate while shooting less means that the player must have been more clinical with the opportunities he was presented with.
This is something confirmed by Squawka, which shows Menez to have obtained a remarkable 100 per cent shot accuracy in 2015-16, whereas in his maiden campaign with Milan he recorded 50 per cent.
It’s tempting to suggest that his statistical improvements in finishing have something to do with a slightly altered position.
Under Filippo Inzaghi’s auspices in 2014-15 he was often utilised as the team’s primary attacking threat in the final third, sometimes as a false nine with two inverted wingers on either side of him. In this role he had a degree of freedom which allowed him to focus on his role in the final stage of the attacking phase.
However, under Mihajlovic’s leadership he was often played as a second striker with instructions to drop deeper and help to knit play together, with Carlos Bacca operating as Milan’s main taker of chances. Menez found himself in dangerous areas less frequently, hence his significant decrease in shots attempted per 90 minutes.
For most of football’s more mercurial, audacious players, confidence is absolutely vital to performance. For these individuals, a loss of form can be triggered by small physical or mental aberrations brought about by a knock or bad luck.
Menez undoubtedly falls into this category of footballer, hence it was no surprise to see him struggle to regain his best form following such a long spell out with injury. While he returned to fitness by February, he never quite played with the audacity that has, on the whole, defined his career to this point.
His jittering movement, deft feints and shimmying runs weren’t on show during his time on the pitch in 2015-16. This is evidenced by WhoScored.com, which shows that he completed just 0.3 dribbles per game last season. This number pales when taking into account his figure for the previous term, 2.2 per game.
Along with his injury woes and a subsequent loss of confidence, it is also arguable that his style just didn’t correlate with the tactical desires of Mihajlovic, who sought to strictly systematise even his most technically gifted squad members. Indeed, the Serb’s emphasis was more on defensive positioning than on channelling his team’s creative inspiration.
In such circumstances, Menez’s drop-off in his dribbling statistics is understandable. His passing numbers remained steady, however.
According to Squawka, he attempted more passes per 90 minutes in 2015-16 than in 2014-15, while also completing more in total. And while his pass-completion percentage went down from 83 per cent to 81 per cent, he did contribute 1.82 key passes in comparison to the previous campaign’s 1.37.
Yet while his general passing statistics were respectable, Menez’s loss of productivity in the final third was shown again by the fact that he didn’t set up one single goal in league action. While he has always been an individualistic player, he did previously offer more in this regard; in 2014-15, for instance, he assisted four goals.
His goals rate may have increased slightly over the past two seasons, but the notable decline in assists and the amount of times he beat his marker are clear signs of an attacker whose edge has been blunted by injury and tactical limitation.
While Menez was asked to play a more withdrawn, defensive role last season, his defensive statistics didn’t show any improvement. According to WhoScored, he made 0.8 tackles per game in 2015-16 compared to 1.2 in 2014-15 and didn’t contribute one single interception in 2015-16, compared to his average of 0.7 per game in 2014-15.
It is possible that his lack of game time throughout much of the season played a part. Even when on the pitch he never looked fully match-fit, which could have impacted his ability to get involved in the defensive phase.
Per Transfermarkt, Menez has just one more year left on his contract with Milan. As a result, both he and the club are at a crossroads regarding his future. Either he stays and fights for his place and aims to earn an extension to his existing deal or leaves the club for a fee this summer.
The player’s agent is of the opinion that the latter scenario is more likely. “He (Menez) is a Milan player, and he has one year of his contract left. But I think he will leave,” Jean-Pierre Bernes told Europe1 (h/t Forza Italian Football). “Menez will leave this summer. We’ll have to see which offers are available.”
While some of the 29-year-old’s statistics improved last season, it is worth noting that those numbers were achieved over the course of a much smaller sample, with Squawka showing him to have played just 297 minutes of football in 2015-16 compared to 2,694 in 2014-15.
Considering this, along with the fact that some of his key attacking figures declined, the prospect of Menez moving on is the most sensible one for both the player and Milan.