AC Milan’s title defence is failing: How do they need to rebuild to compete again?

With Napoli running away from the chasing pack in the Serie A title race, questions are being asked of AC Milan's underwhelming attempt to defend their crown.

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An injury-plagued campaign has frustrated and disillusioned AC Milan’s fanbase. At the end of 2021/22, they were celebrating their first Serie A title in over a decade, but wind forward to midway through the 2022/23 campaign, and dissatisfaction is building.

A rebuild is required to flesh out a small and underperforming squad. Here are some smart, cheap options for Milan to improve on several of their weakest areas.

Sergino Dest in action for AC Milan against Torino in the Coppa Italia. [@acmilan]

Centre-forward

With Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combining for nearly 80 years, and Divock Origi unable to shake off his injuries, Milan need to invest in a reliable first-choice centre-forward.

Marcus Thuram is a player with the world at his feet. With his contract at Borussia Monchengladbach expiring at the end of the season, the 25-year-old attacker is being coveted by much of Europe. A fast, powerful forward with a wide range of finishes in his locker, Thuram can play centrally as well as on the left, so would add versatility in forward areas for Milan.

Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud are the only consistent starters to take more than three shots per 90 minutes. Thuram’s 3.59/90 puts him in the top 11% of forwards, and would add a directness severely lacking from the attack. His hold-up play has improved considerably and has increased his threat from being just a weapon in transition.

The French international is also multi-lingual, owing to his career in France and Germany, and his father’s time at Parma and Juventus.

Potentially available on a free, there will be no better deal on the market than acquiring Thuram at this age and time in his career.

Marcus Thuram celebrates scoring for Borussia Monchengladbach. [@MarcusThuram]

Right-wing

Callum Hudson-Odoi has endured a tumultuous few seasons. Plagued with injury and lack of game time at Chelsea, the 22-year-old has produced just one assist in 11 Bundesliga appearances on loan at Bayer Leverkusen.

With Bayer unlikely to renew his loan, and his market value at an all-time low, now could be a smart time to try and extract the best from this hugely talented young winger. Explosively quick and direct, Hudson-Odoi covers both the left and right, and offers a threat in transition that Milan do not possess. Whether it is a loan, or a permanent move. placing trust in Hudson-Odoi burgeoning ability could see a superstar blossom in Milan.

Picking up discarded offcuts from Chelsea has been a proven success for Milan in the past. For Hudson-Odoi, it could be a path worth treading again.

Creative midfielder

As mentioned earlier on Milan’s issues, Stefano Pioli’s insistence on deploying a traditional creative no.10 is hindering the side’s ability to build up and pull opposition structures apart. A creative player that floats in the final third is too easy to mark and nullify. The solution is a midfielder that can drop deep during build-up, combine with the wingers and full-backs, and has the physicality to burst into the final third with the ball at their feet.

Lazar Samardzic could be one such player. The German youth international is enjoying a breakout season at Udinese, where five starts and a meagre 675 minutes have yielded three goals and an assist. Samardzic is extremely raw, having started only six matches since joining Udinese at the start of last season.

Standing at six-foot-tall, Samardzic is the kind of powerful, driving runner Milan so desperately need. Taking nearly three shots/90 and 2.96 key passes/90, he would offer greater creativity than that currently of Brahim Diaz or Charles De Ketelaere, and could equally allow Pioli to adjust to a midfield three. His youth experiences at RB Leipzig also make the teenager a smart and intelligent presser.

A raw and unpolished talent, picking up Samardzic could be a gamble worth taking should the price be right.

Charles De Ketelaere in action for AC Milan against Bologna. (@acmilan)

Centre-back depth

Centre-back is perhaps Milan’s strongest position. Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori, at their ages and fitness, are a brilliant pairing that could man the heart of the Milan defence for another five years. Behind that however, the options are barer.

Simon Kjaer is a leader and strong figure in the dressing room, but Mattia Gabbia has yet to impress in his showings as the fourth choice. A third choice to usurp Kjaer, and push Tomori and Kalulu, will be needed if Milan are to compete on multiple fronts.

Nico Elvedi is one such option. The Swiss centre-back’s contract ends in 2024, so this summer could be the last chance for Borussia Monchengladbach to cash in. One of the Bundesliga’s most established centre-backs, with over 40 international caps, and still just 26 years old, Elvedi would be a brilliant signing.

Hellas Verona v AC Milan – Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona, AC Milan’s Fikayo Tomori celebrates REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

The Swiss is comfortable on the ball, attempting over 60 passes/90 at a 96% completion rate. Elvedi also completes 75% of his long passes. Tomori and Kalulu both have comparable accuracy rates to this, albeit from more long passes attempted per match. Having a deputy that can execute similar methods of ball progression is essential.

Elvedi has also been known to cover the full-back area when needed, and is comfortable pulling wide to protect the space left by a marauding Theo Hernandez.

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