As the game ended against Bologna at the San Siro in week 37, we were treated to the scenes of head coach Vincenzo Montella being thrown into the air by members of his squad, scenes reminiscent of Scudetto winning days. Alas it was not, they were celebrating a sixth position. A return to European competition is worth celebrating for sure but were such scenes of celebration justified?
Who were the major contributors to a return to Europe? Also, who needs to up their game if they want to be part of the new Milan? Here are the tops and flops from this past season that also saw the end of the Berlusconi era.
Most Valuable Player: Gianluigi Donnarumma
Can there be any real discussion about this? The stand out player of the season is undoubtedly Gianluigi Donnarumma, the 18 year old goalkeeper was head and shoulders the best player Milan had this season. Who can forget the save from Sami Khedira to secure a win at the San Siro against Juventus? But in games against Sampdoria, Pescara and Napoli, the young goalkeeper from Castellammare di Stabia looked a class above. The Supercoppa Italiana penalty heroics cemented his place in Milan fans hearts which, hopefully this summer, will not be broken as contract negotiations are yet to be concluded.
Flop: Gabriel Paletta
From the sublime to the ridiculous as we move from Donnarumma to central defender Gabriel Paletta, the Argentine born defender equalled Luigi Apolloni’s all-time Serie A record of five red cards in a single season from the 2000-01 season. His positioning, passing, tackling and general reading of the game was nothing but abject all season and new additions to the defence will be most welcome.
Most Improved: Suso
This was the season that Spaniard Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáenz de la Torre, or Suso to you and me, finally started to show his true talent. With the injury to Giacomo Bonaventura, the tricky winger stepped up his game and for a while carried Milan on his shoulders. With seven goals and nine assists this season, the Spaniard was at times unplayable and hopefully, with another season of regular football, he can prove his form this campaign was not just a flash in the pan.
Most Influential Player: Giacomo Bonaventura
Seems strange to pick a player who had his season ended prematurely by injury in February as a most influential player of the season, but as the saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” And with the case of Giacomo Bonaventura it certainly did. Unquestionably Milan’s’ best outfield player up to the injury and his absence from the team was felt immediately, without Jacks creativity the team lost its direction and ultimately the season tailed off without him. Hopefully dropped back into midfield rather than wide next season and with some added quality next season, he will no longer have to be a Jack of all trades and can become a master of one…midfield creator!
Needs to Improve: Carlos Bacca
This is a tough one, as all those that need to up their game next season will probably be gone. But in the highly unlikely scenario he is still at the club, Carlos Bacca is the one. At times under Montella’s system, he looked lost; isolated up front on his own and when he did receive the ball instantly lost it either with poor control or a bad pass. He scored less that ten goals from open play and missed penalties more often than Niang! A season to forget for the Columbian striker who courted controversy with his foray to Sevilla mid season, fortunate that despite the best efforts from Gianluca Lapadula he got as many games as he did.
Vincenzo Montella spent the season working under constant rumours of an impending takeover which ultimately effected his movements in the transfer market, but to achieve a sixth place finish and a Supercoppa victory over Juventus in Doha has to go down as a successful season. Under the new owner Li Yonghong, Montella’s work has not been unnoticed and as such has been rewarded with a new contract. Milan can make some serious moves in this summers’ window, with that comes extra pressure for “L’Aeroplanino” it will be interesting to see how he copes with that.
Expectations for the Future
The squad has performed adequately this season, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli and Manuel Locatelli briefly lifted Milan hearts with the new young Italian dream and flirted – albeit briefly – with a Scudetto challenge. Next season, we can expect changes and players of the highest quality to arrive as the Chinese money starts to take effect. Juventus will be difficult kings to dethrone but we can fully expect a Champions League place as the top four next season qualify for Europe’s elite club competition. Montella will have the players to enforce his possession-based style of play and a prediction of third place does not seem too unrealistic.