The Rossoneri will have a thrilling month with several important matches (Juventus, Lazio, Borussia Dortmund…). Okafor’s goals and Chukwueze’s sprints are needed. Starting tomorrow in Cagliari
26 September – MILAN
Milan’s next 40 days seem taken from the Bible: a desert crossing. The calendar has reserved a complex horoscope for Pioli: away to Cagliari tomorrow, then Lazio at home, Champions League in Dortmund, away to Genoa, Milan-Juve, trips to Paris and Naples. It would be the month of Libra, but there is little that is balanced here: many obstacles, medium, high and very high. So how do you do it?
In 2023, Milan demonstrated that they have one quality and Pioli will focus on that: compactness. In January, amidst the worst crisis in recent years, the team remained together and found the strength to react, eliminate Tottenham and Napoli, and play in a Champions League semi-final. It’s not a little. Pioli expressed a revealing thought on Saturday: “We can’t go after everything and I think the negativity around my players is exaggerated a bit. As far as I’m concerned, I take all the responsibility, I coach a very responsible group. The group knows that one teammate’s mistake is everyone’s mistake.” The message to the world is clear, Milan is a team and tries to unite, also by closing itself off against controversies and external attacks. At that moment, Pioli was referring to Leao – blamed for the unfortunate back-heel against Newcastle – but the discussion can be extended to some of his criticized teammates and above all to him, who has definitely experienced better moments in his chemistry with the AC Milan fans. It is no mystery that today the first of those criticized is the coach.
In short, Pioli wants to compact the group to try to keep the ranking tied as well. Inter have a decidedly simpler calendar between September and October, with only one direct clash from the Champions League area: Inter-Roma on 29 October. Milan’s little miracle would be to stay at a distance, perhaps even in the wake, to try to get back up to the level of their cousins between November and December. Soon, definitely early to understand how it will go in a world where at every turn – that is, at every draw or defeat – all the structures are called into question. It’s easier to understand what Pioli will try to do in the next 40 days, starting tomorrow, with Cagliari, with a team far away in the standings but more thorny than expected.
The leader of the caravan, at the beginning of the desert crossing, must establish clear rules and hierarchies, have everyone’s trust, and explain what the dangers will be on the route. Pioli needs his key players: this is the first step in the desert. A key man will return tomorrow: Theo Hernandez is now training with the team. The other will most likely arrive at the weekend: Mike Maignan is already well but Milan’s idea today is to manage him, not risk him in Cagliari to have him from Milan-Lazio in good condition, without shivers from potential injury. And if Maignan is probably Milan’s strongest player at the moment, Theo is fundamental to Pioli’s game. Milan with Theo can play an attacking 4-3-3, surprise with left-footed improvisations without conscience, scare with the strongest left wing in Italy.
the new ones
The second step in the desert will be to find energy, performances, goals from the new players. Pioli got almost nothing from Okafor and Jovic, just more from Chukwueze. Loftus-Cheek did well, Reijnders and Pulisic were excellent before the post-derby decline, Musah is improving but this is the moment for alternation, here the second lines must become protagonists as never happened in the last championship. Jovic is not yet in condition – for him, we will talk about it again – but Okafor and Chukwueze will be important immediately
The third step is the most complex: ensuring defensive stability. Milan did not concede a goal in the two post-derby matches against Newcastle and Verona but by constitution they are an attacking team, with Loftus-Cheek and Reijnders much better at looking forward than backward. Without Krunic, professional balancer, Pioli will have to study something, perhaps not against Cagliari who will close, but in the following matches. Protecting Thiaw and Tomori is a priority: teams that concede so many goals have never been seen fighting for the championship.
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And then, one step at a time, Pioli can push himself into the desert and overcome these 40 days together with his team, which he contributed to building and feels is his, present, not always brilliant but united. If he resists, he will be able to look up and see the second star, which today seems very distant. At the end of October, who knows.
September 26 – 09:41
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