AC Milan’s summer spending has already begun with the signatures of left-back Leonel Vangioni from River Plate and striker Gianluca Lapadula from Pescara. However, these additions are merely the start of a process.
The club has now underachieved for three consecutive seasons with Serie A finishes of eighth, 10th and seventh, respectively. New manager Vincenzo Montella has been tasked with reinvigorating the Rossoneri, and he spoke about his ambitions in a recent press conference, per Football Italia:
It's unacceptable that Milan should have been out of the European cups for three years. Our objective is to return there. Milan have to play well. We have to lead by our style of play. That's what made Milan great over the years. We must promote an idea which both Milan and I believe in. To do that, we need the right players and of course I'll be giving some suggestions on the market.
There are several areas of the squad that must be strengthened if Milan are to return to the top of Italian football under Montella’s auspices, and particular emphasis should be placed on central defence. In this vein, it is of little surprise that the club have been linked to a centre-back in Villarreal’s Mateo Musacchio.
According to Sport Mediaset (h/t Football Espana), Rossoneri CEO Adriano Galliani flew to Ibiza last weekend with the objective of agreeing a deal for the 25-year-old, with the La Liga outfit holding out for a bid of around €30 million.
As it stands, Milan’s ownership situation is unresolved; the sale of the club to a Chinese consortium—originally scheduled for June 15—has been delayed for another one or two weeks, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia).
Should the takeover take place, it is expected that fresh funding will be allocated for improving the first-team squad. Indeed, current club president Silvio Berlusconi told reporters that he would demand that the new owners “commit to invest 400 million euros over two years,” per Reuters.
The new investment could pave the way for the realisation of several transfer-market objectives, one of which may be purchasing Musacchio.
The Argentine began his career with River Plate in his home country before moving to Villarreal in 2009, initially joining the club’s B-team, which was competing in the second tier of Spanish football at the time. After impressing in that division he was promoted to the first team, where he has now played for six full seasons.
In 2011, Musacchio was rewarded for good form at club level with a call-up to the Argentine national team by then-coach Alejandro Sabella, going on to win three caps for his country. Now, Montella appears to have set his eyes on the player as his No. 1 defensive target this summer.
Milan’s need for centre-backs is a long-lasting one. Last summer, the club sought to rectify the situation by signing Alessio Romagnoli, though without an outstanding partner, the 21-year-old had to adapt quickly to his new surroundings.
Alex helped by providing experience alongside the youngster, but with the Brazilian’s recent exit on a free transfer, the Rossoneri are in need of someone to fill the right-sided centre-back position. This necessity has only been added to by the departure of Philippe Mexes and an injury to Cristian Zapata, who is in need of surgery following his outings for Colombia at the Copa America.
Musacchio’s signing would thus fill an important hole. But beyond simply patching up a depleted area of the squad, he could prove to be the ideal defensive addition as Milan seek to enhance their squad for a tilt at returning to Serie A’s top six.
He is an experienced La Liga competitor and has over 200 appearances for Villarreal under his belt in all competitions. During that time, several of his team-mates, including Diego Godin, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Gabriel Paulista and the aforementioned Zapata, have moved on to pastures new. Most recently, Eric Bailly left the Yellow Submarine to join English giants Manchester United.
The above demonstrates that Musacchio has learned his trade at a club with a knack for developing excellent central defenders, and he could well become the latest off their reputable production line.
In addition, it’s worth noting that he has represented Villarreal in both the Europa League and the Champions League, performing on European club football’s grandest stages.
In terms of experience and quality, Musacchio fits the bill. Stylistically, his signing would also represent the beginning of a new era at Milan.
During Montella’s three years in charge at Fiorentina, he brought about short-passing, possession-based football. On top of his results, it is this style of play that convinced the Rossoneri hierarchy to appoint the 42-year-old.
Following on from the team’s confused look under Filippo Inzaghi and the functional, flair-free play proselytized by Sinisa Mihajlovic, Milan were in need of a coach with a vision that included more attractive football. This is something they should have going forward, but the new boss will need players to suit his intentions.
Building possession from the back is core to Montella’s ideals and, apart from Romagnoli, he lacks the players to fulfil this particular principle. Musacchio, a good ball player with sound technique, could assist in this respect.
Comfortable when bringing the ball out of defence, he is able to pick out team-mates with his passing range and prefers to play vertical forward balls as opposed to sideways passes. In this sense, he is a purposeful player in possession, one who understands the need to penetrate opposition lines in order to build dangerous attacks.
His footballing intelligence is important in other aspects of his play, too. While Montella wants defenders who can bring the ball forward, he also wants them to have sound fundamentals. Musacchio ticks the boxes here, with good positional awareness and reading of the game allowing him to disrupt opposition attacks.
This trait is shown when comparing him to Romagnoli statistically. While the Italian wins marginally more tackles and comfortably more headers per 90 minutes, according to Squawka’s data, he makes comparably fewer interceptions per game.
Musacchio’s awareness allows him to compensate for his relatively slight frame. Standing at 6’0", he is not the most physically imposing centre-back, but his tactical acuity enables him to negate any disparity in stature. He is also reasonably fast and brave, with an unerring willingness to put himself in the line of fire to prevent the concession of a goal.
One possible issue is his injury history. Per Transfermarkt, he missed 19 games in 2014-15 because of a thigh muscle strain, while he was later absent from 25 matches in 2015 due to a fracture of the fibula. On top of those prolonged spells out on the sidelines, this year he had two separate periods out due to hamstring injuries.
As a result of these fitness issues, he made just 14 league appearances for Villarreal in 2014-15 and 13 last season. While he is a quality player, this must be a concern for Milan, which, in addition to technique and solidity, will require reliability from any central defensive addition given the lack of competition for places in this area of the squad.
Nonetheless, if the Rossoneri can keep Musacchio fit and playing regularly, there is no reason for him not to succeed at San Siro. He has the qualities—on and off the ball—to help kick-start Montella’s exciting new era.