Why Vincenzo Montella is walking on thin ice at AC Milan
When Li Yonghong took over AC Milan in April 2017, he made his intentions clear. Forza Milan! He promised to bring back the golden years of the club which disappeared in last years of the Berlusconi era.
His promise was backed by the war chest of over £210 million in the first summer window of the new ownership. Vincenzo Montella, even before the arrival of new owners, received the backing of club's 'insiders'. It only made sense because throughout his managerial career Montella worked wonders with wafer-thin squads. When 'insiders' made him their first choice, Montella demanded their backing in the transfer window.
When summer transfer window opened in June, Milan ran riot in the market. The biggest coup was Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus. A total of 10 players were signed worth above £200 million. In 8 matches played before the season opener, Milan won 6 scoring 20, losing 1, conceding only 5.
Preseason matches of the overhauled squad produced mouth-watering football and results. Everything was going well. And, that is exactly where it all went away.
An impressive opening day win against Crotone was followed by a match against Cagliari where they somehow scraped past their opponents. And then it all went awry; in the first real test of the season, against Lazio, Milan were thrashed 4-1. They were criticised for their lack of team play.
It was definitely the first but not the last time in the season. In the later stages of the early season, Milan went on to struggle against Udinese and Rijeka while they failed to clinch any points against Sampdoria and most recently against Roma. If defeat against Lazio brought Montella's tactical errors into the spotlight, the following matches raised the question on his 'plan' with the team he gathered.
In a market where every team is dreaming of dominating Europe, investing in adding proven players to their attacking ranks (like Chelsea, Manchester United, PSG and so on) Milan chose to invest £200 million in players who can, at best, be called unproven.
Chances created by the midfield yielded zero results because the attack lacked the finishing touch. Andre Silva and Hakan Calhanoglu, the two forwards brought in by Montella are yet to open their account in Serie A. Bonucci himself came under criticism for his performances against Lazio and Sampdoria. The most expensive sign of the summer is still not at home.
Montella demanded more time to work with the squad after Milan lost to Lazio. In order to bring fluidity, he conceded, the squad need time to 'gel'. A fortnight later Milan lost away to Sampdoria. Montella fired team's fitness coach and announced his new preparation plan. It was clear that he was feeling the heat. Yesterday, the Rossoneri fell to Roma 2-0.
Montella's Milan is an ordinary football team on the pitch. Either his ideas and tactics are failing to convey what exactly he wants from the team. The team have been inconsistent since the start of the season. Suso, one of the finest wingers last season, has been deployed as a striker despite having Silva and Calhanoglu at his disposal, arguably better options.
No surprise, playing out of position, Suso has put in lacklustre performances. He is great in one on one with defenders and is capable of putting dangerous crosses into the box. Why is Montella not using the strikers he bought himself? Silva, a £38 million arrival, has only been given 118 minutes in six appearances. He has impressed in the Europa League and deserves more game time in the league.
The same can be said of the defence. Despite Musacchio being fit and fresh, he was overlooked for Zapata who has performed badly. Musacchio is another Montella signing who has failed to impress and cement a regular starting place in the team. It only shows Montella was careless in signing players who don't necessarily fit the puzzle.
Substitutions are another weakness. Against Lazio, at halftime, when Milan were down 2-0 and in dire need of extra energy, Montella resisted the temptation of a substitution. He paid the price when Lazio scored another two goals in the early stages of the second half. Similarly, against Sampdoria, Montella had all three primary strikers on the bench until Milan conceded the first goal.
After the loss at Sampdoria, although Milan CEO gave his backing to Montella and rubbished reports claiming Montella could soon be sacked, rumours across Europe began circulating that Milan has contacted Chelsea's 'discontent' manager Antonio Conte. The situation deteriorated when Bayern Munich sacked Carlo Ancelotti, giving Milan another alternative.
If Milan decide to turn to someone else for their transformation, Conte will be the obvious choice given his ability to transform clubs. He has already proved the same at Juventus and Chelsea. Moreover, the 'insiders' will remember when Ancelotti rejected them for Bayern Munich.
Milan once again came to Montella's rescue after Roma defeat, stating the team has the players they need and they just need to figure out how to play together. The CEO went as far as to say that the coach doesn't have a magic stick to resolve everything and moreover, it's only seven weeks into the season.
Milan are currently trying what teams like Chelsea, PSG and Manchester City have already pulled off in recent years. But to be successful, they need to remind themselves that all three clubs not only have the spending spree policy when needed but also a revolving door policy for managers.
With over £200 million spent on his wish, 10 new players brought in to replace a few, least to say, fans' favourite, with promises for a bright future, failing to produce results in crucial matches, struggling to win against weaker sides and most importantly now, enough alternatives available in the market, Montella knows he is walking on thin ice.
Next up at San Siro is Rossoneri's rivals Inter who at the moment are flying high. If Montella fails to ensure victory at San Siro after the international break, it will only be a matter of time before the club turn to someone else. At the moment, Montella is losing the battles and ultimately, the war.