By Alvise Cagnazzo and Dominic Hogan for Mailonline
17:46 05 Feb 2023, update 17:46 05 Feb. 2023
AC Milan have had a nightmarish start to 2023, already dropping 10 points, highlighting the team’s many weak points.
The club’s period in the sun appears to be over with a number of players clearly out of form and struggling to reach their own high standards.
Théo Hernandez is unrecognizable, Olivier Giroud is out of breath, but the biggest concern is the psychological state of the team.
Against Sassuolo, Pioli’s side enjoyed 61% of the ball but stagnated in possession and conceded five goals from six shots on goal – an embarrassing record proving the team’s defensive frailties. The team seems dead on its feet.
Stefano Pioli and his technical team are also guilty of the team’s demise, having allowed free transfers for Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu over the past two years without signing replacements.
The Rossoneri’s physical preparation is also under scrutiny, following a dramatic rise in injuries over the past three years.
Pioli’s fear manifests in his actions on the touchline and his misguided decision-making in the vain hope of reviving himself and his team.
The decision to leave Rafael Leao on the bench for 45 minutes sums up this confusion perfectly; dropping his star player only to have it explode in his face.
There’s a litany of problems at the San Siro, none of which seem close to being resolved in the immediate future.
MALDINI GUILTY FOR TEAM CRISIS
It’s hard to attribute the failures of an entire backroom team to a single culprit.
Still, closer analysis points out that a large part of Milan’s problems stem from poor decisions in the transfer market by technical director Paolo Maldini.
None of the players recruited this summer come close to the quality required for the Serie A level.
New Italian club owners are increasingly concerned about Milan’s recent mistakes in the market, saying they have in fact weakened rather than strengthened the structure of the team.
This explains recent reports from Gazzetta dello Sport that tensions within the club are increasing. Maldini and Ricky Massara are now in a very delicate position and risk being singled out if they do not qualify for the Champions League next season.
Maldini and Massara wasted £44m (€50m) during the summer transfer market on six players who all fell short of expectations.
Yacine Adli, Tommaso Pobega, Aster Vranckx and Malick Thiaw have shown nothing to disprove that they are the flops Rossoneri fans already believe they are.
But the club’s two worst signings so far have been the most expensive. Bets made on Charles De Ketelaere and Divock Origi – for two very different reasons – weigh heavily against Maldini.
Neither player came close to the expectations they promised, and both struggled to master Pioli’s system.
AC Milan splashed around £30.7m on the former Club Brugge starlet and were repaid with often sub-par performances from the Belgian, while the hefty salary handed to the ex-Liverpool star was not reflected in his goal tally.
THE GUARDIAN QUESTION
In Italy, they say that choosing the right goalkeeper is the most important part of building a successful team. Ciprian Tatarusanu is almost non-existent between the sticks, knocking the ball out of the net seemingly consistently.
Mike Maignan’s prolonged absence has raised fitness concerns for Pioli and Maldini. Perhaps more was expected of the Romanian veteran, but he had already fallen to No.3 in the pecking order behind Maignan and Antonio Mirante before the start of the season.
The French number 1’s injury and the age of deputy Mirante, 39, gave Tatarusanu the opportunity, but his inconsistency saw the good punctuated by sloppy.
Tatarusanu was clumsy in conceding Davide Frattesi’s second for the visitors against Sassuolo, completely missed Domenico Berardi’s header for their third and was troublesome by moving to his left for the fifth.
Every decision the Romanian made was wrong and his defense was uncertain every time Sassuolo shot on goal.
THEO HERNANDEZ IS SOLD OUT
Theo Hernandez has been a shadow of his former self after France’s failed World Cup defense and is unable to bomb down the left flank with the consistency he has shown before.
He was completely dominated by Sassuolo, which forced him to defend deep in his own half, rather than influencing play in midfield. He couldn’t help the team and was left watching Milan sink without a trace.
The World Cup winner had a torrid day from Berardi, who repeatedly got Milan defenders in trouble, and is sure to be in Hernandez’s nightmares for some time to come.
Hernandez may need to be rested, but Milan’s need for his vice-captain is heightened by the lack of any capable replacement.
Hernandez returned to the club at the end of the World Cup not only exhausted, but also crestfallen and distraught after the Blues’ heartbreaking loss to Argentina.
DE KETELAERE WILL HAVE FIGHT TO MAKE SECOND TEAM
It could have been the match to launch De Ketelaere’s career at AC Milan, but instead ended in a nightmare, with his own fans booing with every touch of the ball.
The San Siro fans don’t easily forgive the slightest technical error, and the young Belgian midfielder seemed to take that teasing to heart more than any expert criticism he received in Italy.
The former Brugge star is very shy, and it looks like she’s unable to realize the potential her much-vaunted arrival promised future fans.
The Belgian doesn’t seem to have the guts to thrive in a very tough physical Serie A, and perhaps another 12 months on loan in Belgium could have been more beneficial in bolstering his character.
De Ketelaere seems unable to adapt to the tactical nuances of Italian football and after yet another poor performance against Sassuolo, the midfielder is officially in crisis. Rossoneri fans need to be more patient but at the moment the youngster seems all at sea for club and country.
De Ketelaere fails to deliver on his promise and looks fearful at the slightest hint of a challenge on the ball, often caught in possession and powerless to win it back.
THE MILAN CRISIS IS GOOD NEWS FOR SPURS
As AC Milan continue to implode, former Inter boss Antonio Conte will surely only be rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of the Champions League encounter next month.
Spurs themselves have had a far from routine season, but with the north London side themselves bereft of confidence, a clash with an equally struggling side could be just what his side need.
Spurs have shown signs of an all-too-familiar meltdown of late, having dropped nine points in the new year, including a loss to bitter rivals Arsenal, and are currently outside the League places. Premier League champions.
They may be in the hat for the fifth round of the FA Cup, but a solid run in Europe’s top competition could be the lift fans need to ease any seething tension below the box targeted at Conte.
Son Heung-min may have scored a stunning goal against Preston in the FA Cup, but it has been difficult for the usually reliable South Korean, leaving Harry Kane to take on much of the slack in his absence.
Son will surely be smiling to himself in gleeful anticipation as he watches highlights from Milan’s calamitous workshop on how not to defend against Sassuolo. There is an argument that this tie is the dream draw for a recovering Spurs side.
As well as avoiding the obvious big hitters, Tottenham escaped the clutches of a Club Brugge side that shocked Atletico Madrid, and the Bundesliga duo of Dortmund and RB Leipzig that caused several problems with top teams. these last years.
Both sides have looked shadows of the sides that have finished 2021-22 so well this campaign, and both are desperate for a crowd-pleasing Champions League run, but problems at Tottenham are left to lagging behind. the aftermath of the implosion that occurred at the Rossoneri.