Logic rarely prevails at AC Milan, when the management seeks to reinforce the squad. Players are purchased prior to understanding the squad requirements. Let’s take Giacomo Bonaventura, for instance.
The former Atalanta midfielder was signed after Milan failed to secure Jonathan Biabiany. Bonaventura, primarily, is a central midfielder. Biabiany is a winger. Even a genius with unparalleled intelligence might fail to satisfactorily justify how Bonaventura becomes an obvious replacement to Biabiany.
Unlike Bonaventura, Milan have followed Bertolacci with a sense of admiration for at least two seasons. His signature for the club seemed an undeniable inevitability. When he finally put pen to paper, the Berlusconi family were relieved of €20 million. The sum is preposterous, as it made Bertolacci the third most expensive Italian to be transferred in Serie A in the last 23 years.
Creative midfielder missing in Milan’s midfield
Based on last season’s performances, it had become painfully obvious that the team was fractured in midfield. The aching realisation of Milan missing a creative midfielder in the centre made many a fan suffer. An adequate internal assessment would indicate that the club should scour the earth for a player who would provide that much-needed creative spark in the centre of the park. However, Milan shelled a mighty sum of money on a different type of midfielder.
Bertolacci and Bonaventura are fundamentally similar players. They are direct, dynamic central midfielders, who like to attack the opposition box with the ball at their feet. They facilitate play not by moving the ball forward, but by moving forward with the ball. Neither of these players is a goal-scoring machine, nor can they be bankable assist-providers.
That being mentioned, Milan are better with Bertolacci in the squad than without him. At 24 years of age, Bertolacci is probably on the brink of entering his peak as a footballer. He is also, probably, Milan’s best left-footed player. But, is he one of Milan’s three best midfielders? Probably not.
Nigel De Jong, Jose Mauri and Bonaventura arguably merit that title. De Jong is a leader and remains the club’s best defensive midfielder. Mauri was one of the league’s best young midfielders last season. And Bonaventura enjoyed what possibly was the best season of his career so far while being Milan’s best midfielder last season.
How then does Bertolacci fit into Sinisa Mihajlovic’s adamant 4-3-1-2? Well, quite obviously as the trequartista – not by exclusion alone, but also by the strength of his skills. Bertolacci, in the friendlies that he has played so far for Milan, has been disappointingly anonymous.
Experimenting Bertolacci in a wide role may not be a bona fide success
Ghosting in and out of games and being wasted as a wide-left midfielder, Bertolacci isn’t able to stamp his authority on the game. His vision has been wasted, when operated narrowly down the left-flank. Mihajlovic has tried Keisuke Honda, Alessio Cerci, Bonaventura and Suso behind the strikers but is yet to experiment with Bertolacci in that role.
Now, the experiment may not be a bona fide success. But, it is worth trying nonetheless, as Bertolacci is likelier to succeed higher up the pitch with his propensity to attack. Talk of Lucas Lima joining the club remained printed on gossip columns and players in the squad aren’t simply good enough to don the role. The coach has two weeks before the season officially starts, giving him ample time to trial Bertolacci in that position.
Moreover, when Bertolacci and Bonaventura play in a three-man midfield, their similarity ensures that the midfield is lop-sided and not complimentary. A defensive-minded no.8 counters that concern.
Presuming the club does not sign Alex Witsel and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, utilising Bertolacci as an attacking midfielder and positioning Bonaventura deeper in midfield might be a coherent solution to quieten the chaos. That way, Mihajlovic is playing his best players and in suitable positions.