We’re hardly experts on AC Milan; the name conjures forth images of unpleasant figures like Silvio Berlusconi and Riccardo Montolivo, so we try to avoid the topic whenever possible. Fortunately, the excellent Peter Coiley of the AC Milan Offside (give him a follow on Twitter) was willing to suffer our ignorance and shed some light on the Rossoneri. Peter was also kind enough to let me blather about the Viola to him, which you can read here.
Viola Nation: As is standard for Milan over these past few years, this has been a pretty turbulent season so far. If you had to choose three adjectives to describe it, which would you use? And if you want to explain your choices, we won’t stop you.
Peter Coiley: Frustrating, confusing, and yet hopeful all at the same time. The performances in the early season were not up to par and then we started to put in better shifts, but the results still didn’t follow. Exit Piatek, enter Zlatan, a little change in formation and suddenly we look a little more competent. Bennacer looks like a top player in the making and Rebic is playing like the beast we saw in the most recent World Cup. We’ve improved, and I’m hopeful for the development, but I’m still not convinced on Pioli, but I don’t know really if there are better options out there.
VN: It’s been a few months since we did one of these. In fact, the last time was when Stefano Pioli took the Rossonero reins. It sure looks like he’s steadied the ship in the past couple of months. What’s the biggest difference since he took over for Marco Giampaolo?
PC: The biggest difference is consistency. Giampaolo couldn’t pick a formation or a starting XI that remained the same week over week. Pioli has changed formations a few times, but he’s generally used the same players and he’s using the ones that are dangerous. Rebic couldn’t see the field under Giampaolo and Leao barely saw much of it. Theo has a license to go forward more under Pioli and that partnership on the left side is working well for us. If we could just get Castillejo a partner on the right flank...
VN: More recently, the biggest change seems to be the return of noted Viola-killer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What’s the difference, both in tactics and mentality, since the big Swede popped up in Milan again?
PC: Tactically and mentally there’s been a very obvious shift. We were severely lacking a forward who could provide excellent hold-up play and movement and at the ripe age of 38 he’s still causing defense a lot of problems. He’s actually missed quite a few big chances, but I haven’t given it much stock because with Piatek those chances never would’ve been created in the first place plus he’s set up plenty himself. In terms of the mentality, you can see on the pitch how much he’s demanding from players around him. Last game against Torino he was in Paqueta’s ear regularly. Ibra went on to miss a good chance to seal the game that by his standards should have been a goal, and he was so angry with himself he wouldn’t even talk to reporters. That’s the kind of example he’s setting. All business, all the time. Work to improve the team by improving yourself. That’s what he’s brought back when we desperately needed it.
VN: Now that Pioli’s mostly sorted his shape and his XI, who’s been in really good form of late? To rephrase, of whom do we need to be very afraid right now? Conversely, is anyone not pulling their weight as much?
PC: Rebic and Castillejo are doing wonders on the outsides of the pitch. Castillejo’s work rate is seeing him spring others going forward, and Rebic….I mean you can’t say enough about the guy. 2020 is his year. 6 goals in his last 7, and I’ll add in Ibra because he’s set quite a bit of these goals up, though like I said he hasn’t been the clinical machine we’ve become so accustomed to. Lastly, Bennacer has already shown me he’s the best center mid we’ve had in the last 7 years or so. If he cleans up his discipline then he’ll be able to actually play in a full season going forward.
VN: Are there any Fiorentina players you’re worried about facing this week? Any matchups or areas of the pitch that you think could prove particularly decisive
PC: Plenty of them. Vlahovic is an absolute tank up top and with Kjaer out we have a vulnerability he can exploit. As I mentioned last time, Castrovilli is going to be a star (if he isn’t already) and the last thing I want him to do is score in the reverse fixture as well; I’d love to watch the Castrovilli vs. Kessie matchup. Dancing feet vs. brute force is going to make for an exciting watch. Milan also seems to have a knack for goalkeepers performing at their very best against them, and whether it’s true or not, Dragowski is in fine form and anyone who can deal with 40 shots against Atalanta is a force to be reckoned with. Lirola is starting to pan out nicely on the outside and since often enough Theo decides he doesn’t need to go back and play defense, that could become a real problem for us.
VN: Little bit of a non sequitur, but what are your thoughts on the GdS report that UEFA is planning to look at Serie A teams misreporting player transfer fees? Seems like it could shake things up a whole lot, especially for a club like Milan.
PC: I would say I’m worried mainly because we don’t really make any money from selling players and we are losing sponsorship money as well. We’ve just made some money from Piatek and potentially Suso and gotten massive wages off the books so if we’re found guilty of anything, all the financial progress we’ve just recently made will probably go out the door.
VN: Right. Back to the business at hand. Let’s do some predictions: What do you think is the final score in this one, who (if anyone) gets the goals, and what’s the general tenor of the match?
PC: This is a toss-up because I know last time I predicted a draw but I knew deep down in my heart that a draw was speculative. If we run the 4-4-2 I’m going to give the 3 points to Fiorentina since it means the numbers you guys have in the midfield coupled with your pace spells bad news. In that scenario I saw 2-1 Fiorentina with goals from Vlahovic and Chiesa and Zlatan will net himself another. If we put a 3-man midfield I’m going to go with 2-1 Milan with a Zlatan brace. He’s so upset about missing against Torino I think he’ll shatter the net once or twice.
Sounds like we’re hoping for a 4-4-2 from the visitors, then, and some quick breaks down the right. We’re heading for the pigeon coop right now to get word to Iachini. Many thanks, Peter. Always a pleasure.