We have now reached the first break of the 2022-23 season as club action winds down for just under a fortnight to make way for international fixtures.
The first nine games of the new campaign – including seven in Serie A and two in the Champions League – give us just enough to take stock of how Milan are preparing in their title defense and quest to go further in the L Europe.
Here are a few things we learned from the first few weeks of the new season…
1. Resolute Spirit
It’s never something a manager would like to demonstrate, but Stefano Pioli must be happy with his side’s ability to react when he falls behind in games.
So far, Milan are trailing in their first game of the season against Udinese (4-2 win), first away game against Atalanta (draw 1-1), derby against Inter (3-2 win), the Champions League trip to Red Bull Salzburg (1-1 draw) and the recent home game against Napoli (2-1 loss).
Therefore, in each of the five games the Rossoneri trailed, they reacted in some way to claim either a draw or victory, except for the match against Napoli where they were always the best team. That kind of fighting spirit is positive, but there’s obvious work to be done to make sure Milan scores first.
2. Bennacer intensifies
Franck Kessie’s summer farewell seemed to have left a chasm in the Milan midfield and there wasn’t a player who arrived who clearly made up for the lack of qualities the Ivorian brought, at least as Tommaso Pobega continues to be introduced with care and that Aster Vranckx has only had one cameo so far.
In this first phase of the season until the international break, it’s fair to say that Bennacer has been a shining star in the Rossoneri’s midfield, and he’s increasingly becoming a leader of Pioli’s team after the Scudetto victory.
The Algerian has taken on some additional duties in the defensive phase and continues to contribute to the build-up game as well, so it’s no surprise to hear that talks are ongoing between the club and the player’s entourage. extend his current contract expiring in 2024.
3. New recruits need time to gel
With the exception of a few elite players, it’s very rare for new signings to arrive and start instantly, but fans are concerned about the lack of impact of some summer signings.
Charles De Ketelaere was the big signing of the summer with an investment of over €30m, and although he has only one assist and has yet to score, he always contributes. MilanNews reported that the Belgian was first in Serie A for key assists for 90 minutes (with just under 3) and for xA (expected assists, or the likelihood of a pass becoming an assist) every 90 minutes with 0.4.
However, we’ve only seen flashes of Yacine Adli and Aster Vranckx, while Malick Thiaw is yet to make his debut for the club and Sergino Dest has been used but to varying degrees of effectiveness.
Pioli is a demanding coach due to the complex system and mechanics he wants to impose on the squad, but he also recognizes talent and will seek to put new signings in the right situations to succeed.
4. Always the one
Olivier Giroud has scored five goals in nine games for Milan so far this season and he has continued his trend of being the man to score big goals, netting in the derby against Inter (again), in the Champions League against Dinamo Zagreb and also equalizing against Napoli.
His resurgence in scoring has earned him a call-up to the France squad, and he’s very close to achieving what would be a remarkable milestone given he’s two shy of Thierry Henry’s record as France’s top scorer. all the time, with the aim of getting a seat on the plane for the Qatar World Cup.
At 35 years and 349 days, Olivier Giroud is the second oldest French player to score a goal in the Champions League, after Laurent Blanc with Manchester United in 2002 (36 years and 338 days).
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) September 14, 2022
The Frenchman is considered one of the certainties of Pioli’s attack and an example for young players given his status as a leader within the dressing room. His physical reliability has also been near-flawless so far in 2022-23, as he is now down to seven straight games, so it comes as no shock to hear that. talks are underway to extend his deal beyond the June 2023 deadline.
5. Kjaer back and still leading
Simon Kjaer suffered a serious knee injury last December in the away win over Genoa and it took him eight months to return to the grass, but he has already started two games this season and looks set to be a leader again defensive.
Granted, Milan’s defensive record this season hasn’t been something to brag about (which we’ll get into), but given that an established centre-back hasn’t arrived, it was important that Kjaer regained his full potential. form and can contribute.
In the games Kjaer started, Milan kept a clean sheet against Sassuolo where they gave away very little, then won 2-1 against Sampdoria where they played with 10 men for 45 minutes and held their hosts to one goal .
The Dane’s return is also important for the dressing room due to the wealth of knowledge and experience he is able to impart to the young squad.
6. A positive surprise
Milan have been linked with plenty of targets this summer for the right-winger role, including Domenico Berardi, Marco Asensio, Hakim Ziyech and even Riyad Mahrez, but Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara have decided to back Alexis Saelemaekers and Junior Messias.
So far they have been rotated depending on the state and the opponent faced, but Saelemaekers have appeared in 8 out of 9 games this season for a total of 371 minutes played, scoring 2 goals – both in League champions against RB Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb – and add an assist.
Messias meanwhile has played at least one role in Milan’s 9 games played so far. The Brazilian currently has 408 minutes and scored once in the 2-1 away win over Sampdoria.
Management can therefore be pleased with their contribution so far, and while that by no means means Milan are doing well on the right side of attack, it is more of a pleasant surprise than anything to get a significant contribution from two wingers who many fans considered lost causes.
7. Pioli offers new tactical solutions
Stefano Pioli has often spoken of his desire to create an unpredictable and chameleon-like side, and the Rossoneri coach admitted as much after the win over Samp – which included a red card for Leao which forced him to rethink the set-up of the team during the match – that a three-man defense might be an option going forward.
We’ve highlighted many different aspects of Milan’s play this season that have made them quite difficult to predict, such as the transformative role of Ismael Bennacer, change the number of players used in the building game, various midfield combinations used and even a deployed false nine.
Not only that, but the positional swaps were fascinating to watch because you can watch at different times in games and see Theo Hernandez playing as a midfielder, Sandro Tonali on the wing, Rafael Leao as a striker and the playmaker fall for being a midfielder.
Milan have many strings to their bow at the moment and given their struggles to break the low block at times in previous seasons under Pioli, these are positive steps.
8. Depth of Attack
Pioli hasn’t been able to rotate his main strikers as much as he would have liked due to the injury problems he has faced.
A big part of the problem has been that Ante Rebic and Divock Origi have gone missing in each of the last games, with the former battling a hernia which now appears to have dissipated and the latter having a muscle problem which later affected the tendon.
This means that Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud have both been working overtime pretty much since the start of the season. Some performances by the Portuguese winger lacked sharpness (but he was decisive all the same) while the French striker cannot expect to start game after game at the age of 35.
The hope is to have both back just after the international break so that a healthy rotation can be implemented otherwise things could get worse before they get better from an injury perspective.
9. From strength to weakness
Milan won the Scudetto last season having kept 9 clean sheets in their last 11 league games, conceding just two in that streak, but this season so far they have conceded 8 goals in 7 first league matches.
The Rossoneri have in fact already scored as many league goals this season as they have in the entire second half of the 2021-22 Serie A campaign, and there are a number of factors behind that.
Too many individual mistakes were made, with lapses in focus proving costly. Sergino Dest and Fikayo Tomori were at fault against Napoli and it proved fatal, but there is no cause for alarm yet.
Because the group is still adapting to the defensive rotation which is quite simply a necessity. While seeing Tomori-Kalulu in every game is ideal, sometimes they need to be rested and this is often paired with other changes that take a bit of a toll on defensive unit cohesion and familiarity.
However, the panic button should not be pressed yet. Tomori remains a certainty, as do Kalulu and Kjaer, with Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria very capable full-backs, but now the break comes to reset everything and clear those errors from the system.
10. Goals always on track
It’s important to end on a high note as this should be how the Milanisti feel about the first seven weeks or so of the season. Milan are one game away from being back at the top of the Serie A table (three point gap) and sitting atop their Champions League group.
This means that the two main goals of the season – competing to defend the Scudetto and reaching the UCL round of 16 – are well on their way to being achieved. Winning a trophy should be the goal, but for such a young group who still have obvious areas to address, competing on two fronts would be a good effort.
The Coppa Italia support also offers a good chance to deepen the competition, although the message must be as it has always been throughout Pioli’s tenure: take one game at a time and look to keep going. to improve.