Last June, 28-year old Frenchman Jérémy Ménez underwent back surgery in Monte Carlo. Since the conclusion of his stellar 2014-15 season for Milan, the former Paris Saint-Germain attacker has yet to play competitively. When he does return to action, what type of impact can we expect from Milan’s leading scorer last season?
At the time, the acquisition of Jérémy Ménez by Milan was observed as nothing more than your typical free transfer by a club who generally speaking have become dependent on them. However, the former Roma man proved many wrong by having his best season statistically as a professional footballer, scoring 16 goals in Serie A, making him one of the top goal scorers in Italy.
Despite the impressive campaign and the eye-popping back-heel goal against Parma, Ménez was not liked by all Milan supporters. His selfish play at times drove Milanisti up the wall, especially when he would refuse to surrender the ball to an open teammate in transition. In the game of football, there are a handful of players who have earned the right to play a bit selfishly when it comes to the final third. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are the most notable names that come to mind when you think about guys who you would encourage to be greedy around goal for obvious reasons. Ménez is talented player but by no means is he as clinical as those mentioned above so when you have a chance to add to a lead and put a match to bed early but don’t, you could understand the frustration.
All in all, Ménez is a gifted player and has many qualities that could be of great use to Milan, especially at this current time. His quickness, pace and acceleration along with his flair make him a dynamic footballer and an asset for Siniša Mihajlović. When he thrived last season, the ex-Monaco forward played as a false 9 under Pippo Inzaghi and was virtually given the “keys” to the attack. However, Mihajlović has strikers to deploy in Carlos Bacca, M’Baye Niang and Mario Balotelli, making it a challenge for minutes in the attack. Then there is the role behind those men, which the former Serbia boss has hinted will come into play once a few players return to 100% fitness. After the win over Fiorentina, he addressed the tactical setup:
“When I have Boateng, Balotelli and Menez fully fit I aim to revert back to the 4-3-1-2 formation. Until then, I think 4-4-2 is one that offers us the best chance of winning.”
For the majority of this season, Mihajlović has found it difficult to find the playmaker to take full control of the number 10 role, which is why we’ve seen a 4-4-2 in the past few months in order to infuse some wingers and expand the field of play. Keisuke Honda, Suso (before being loaned to Genoa) and Giacomo Bonaventura each have been tested out as the floating playmaker yet none made the lasting impression.
Mihajlović has tried practically all possible options behind the strikers prior to the return of Kevin Prince-Boateng-also an option-earlier this month, except Jérémy Ménez who should be back on the pitch soon.
As mentioned before, Ménez did play a more free-roaming role last season and despite the failures of the team, he played it fairly well. He dropped back deep (perhaps a little too deep at times) into the midfield to receive possession and his work-rate was solid, which are two qualities that fare well for the unoccupied number 10 spot. However, Ménez needs to provide more than just pace and hustle. Movement, plus-passing and creativity would be a great place to start.
Last season, the France international did have four assists to his name which gives you some optimism that when he wants to play unselfish football, he has the capability to do so and with some quality. But can he link play effectively and with consistency?
One of the issues you could run into here is if he should continue to play greedy football, it may cause some disconnect with Bacca, Balotelli and Niang. Also, what effect can reverting back to the 4-3-1-2 have on Bonaventura who thrives out wide as a left midfielder?
Unlike Inzaghi who granted Ménez the freedom to do as he pleased last season, Mihajlović would surely put him in his place and take action to ensure the locker-room stays unified. Can you imagine Mihajlović in a post-match interview throwing Ménez to the wolves of the media?
We should definitely see him return sometime this month, but with a new nucleus of players around along with a different formation, it could take some time for the 2014-15 standout to make the proper adjustments that would give Mihajlović the confidence to play him.
With few viable options at his disposal and still weeks before the January transfer window shuts, can Jérémy Ménez be the missing link to take the potentially strong attack to the next level? Or will he be just another failed trequartista experiment?