Milan 2021/22 Season Preview: Could the Rossoneri go one better under Pioli?

With the Scudetto race seemingly more open than before, Milan will be fancying their chances. Dom Lombino previews what the Rossoneri fans can look forward to during the 2021/22 season.

Milanese football returned to the fore of Serie A last season with Milan trailing their bitter city rivals by 12 points despite being crowed Campioni d’Inverno. Much has changed on the Italian peninsula during the offseason as five of the top seven teams have had managerial changes, but Stefano Pioli remains at the helm to guide the Rossoneri for the third consecutive season.

Although Milan remains one of the few teams who failed to win the Scudetto after being winter champions, Milan exceeded all expectations that were set upon them as very few had predicted a title challenge.

Milan will once again participate in Europe’s elite competition after securing their Champions League spot with a 2-0 victory away at Atalanta on the final day of the season. This is the first time since the 2013-14 campaign, where they were knocked out in the round of 16 by Atlético Madrid, that Milan will challenge amongst the strongest teams in Europe. Since their last appearance, Milan have had some rather indifferent showings in the Europa League, but their last run led them to the Round of 16 succumbing to eventual finalists and European powerhouse Manchester United.

However, Milan have faced some tough blows before the campaign has even begun. The losses of two key starters in the form of EURO 2020 winning hero Gianluigi Donnarumma and creative midfielder Hakan Çalhanoğlu on free transfers to PSG and Inter respectively after failing to agree on new contracts.

Perhaps a more damaging aspect is the lack of a transfer fee received during a time where there is very little money to go around because of the Covid-19 pandemic that has shook the world over the last 18 months.

Still some uncertainty at the San Siro

Milan have been proactive by replacing Donnarumma and Çalhanoğlu with the signings of Mike Maignan and Brahim Díaz. The former arrives from surprise reigning French champions Lille as Maignan starred in goal for Les Dogues by keeping an impressive 21 clean sheets from 38 appearances on their way to the French title. The latter will spend another season on loan from Real Madrid after the two sides negotiated a renewal. There will be high expectations placed upon the two due to the stature of their predecessors.

Milan risk losing two more key starters in the following summer as both Franck Kessie and Alessio Romagnoli head into the final 12 months of their contracts. Securing the renewal of Kessie is fundamental as he is their key midfielder who provides drive, strength and creativity. The Ivorian chipped in with 13 goals in Serie A last season, beaten only by the eternal Zlatan Ibrahimović. There are positive signs as both club and player have expressed the desire to start contract talks, signs which point to a positive ending for Rossoneri fans.

However, the situation is more complicated for club captain Romagnoli. The Italian has suffered multiple injuries since joining from Roma and consequently his form has suffered. Moreover, Fikayo Tomori has formed a strong partnership with Simon Kjær, further reducing Romagnoli’s game time. The emergence of the former Chelsea Academy prospect and an inability to agree on contract demands means the prospect of Romagnoli walking away is realistic.

Milan have already been active in the transfer market. The arrivals of centre-forward Olivier Giroud and full-back Fodé Ballo-Touré as well as the permanent signings of Tomori and Sandro Tonali are sure to bolster the squad depth following a season of relatively few changes to the starting eleven. Nevertheless, there is still work to be done.

Another midfielder needs to be signed to cover for starting midfield duo Kessie and Ismaël Bennacer who will more than likely be called up for the African Cup of Nations in the new year. As well as another midfielder Milan will be aiming to bring in another right-back as Diogo Dalot returned to Manchester United after spending a season on loan with the Rossoneri.

A deal for Alessandro Florenzi could be done soon though, with the Rossoneri now in the final stages of a move.

Top four a realistic aim for Stefano Pioli?

Whereas last season a title challenge was seen as an overachievement, this year the Scudetto has been blown wide open already with defending champions suffering from financial difficulties and the controversial departures of star players Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku.

Milan will be hoping to pounce on their neighbours’ difficulties to take the crown for themselves. However, a more realistic aim is consolidating their position in the top four to reaffirm that they are a Champions League-worthy side as they continue to build towards the future.

In addition, fans will be hopeful of a deep run in the Coppa Italia after previously being knocked out in the Quarterfinals as well as Champions League progression.

Ibrahimovic to be influential as ever?

Milan will be hoping that Theo Hernández continues his impressive form since joining from Real Madrid in 2019. Through his first two seasons in red and black, the Frenchmen has totalled an impressive 13 goals and 11 assists in 66 appearances in Serie A. Moreover, Hernández offers explosive pace capable of carrying the ball out of the defence and driving up the field to begin the attacking phase.

Furthermore, Ibrahimović’s performance will be key to any success that Milan might have. Many were critical of his return but it cannot be denied that it has been a great success. As well as scoring goals, 25 goals in 37 appearances, the Swede has helped this young Milan side mature and develop. However, once again there are question marks over the 39-year-old after having knee surgery which kept him out of EURO 2020 after coming out of international retirement.

There has been much speculation over his fitness as he faces a race against time to be fit enough for contention for the opening game of the season against Sampdoria.

As the new season approaches Milanisti have every reason to be optimistic and will look to close the gap at the top of the table whilst enjoying the return of Champions League football to San Siro.

By Dom Lombino

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