AC Milan 2021-22 Summer Transfer Window Update

At start of the Summer of 2021, the squad performance was evaluated both holistically and individually. Personnel within the squad were identified as requiring an upgrade in the positional sense, most notably in the left-sided attacking midfield slot. Following a relatively poor showing for both Rebić, whose loan period ended, and for De Paul, whose signing in the last summer window could be placed in the “could have gone better” box, scouts were tasked with finding recruitment targets who could provide improvement and for the criteria desired by the Board. This is namely sign under-23 players for the first-team with a view to developing them and selling them on.

Other areas that were identified as areas for possible strengthening were at centre back to replace Mussachio given his aerial failings and at centre midfield to provide more depth. Beyond that, the squad looked initially well-balanced, bar any incoming bids for our players. Given the reputation bump the Club received for winning Serie A and regaining Champions League football again, bids would be easier to reject with less pressure from the players to demand any offers were accepted and the market value of players had risen considerably following our success.

With these targets areas picked out, time was invested into looking at the players already scouted by the recruitment team led by Chief Scout Geoffrey Moncada.

The start of the transfer window saw Czech youngster, Adam Hložek, join the Club after he had agreed terms during the 2020-21 season but outside of the transfer window. The hot prospect was signed for his minimum release fee of £12.75m to develop in the B-team initially with his performances monitored both on the pitch and on the training ground before evaluating when/if the step up to the Senior side is the right one for him or if he needed to be loaned out to gain more first-team experience first. The right-sided, right footed winger will be trained to develop his positional and tactical understanding of the AML inside forward role to better fit the current tactics employed.

With Hložek signed, this meant that Samu Castillejo could be moved on after being surplus to requirements over the previous season. He was only on the field for 534 minutes, making just six starts and nine appearances off the bench. He was sold to Lazio for £14.5m.

The first Senior team target put forward to bring to the Club was Fiorentina defender, Nikola Milenković. The Serb could provide depth at both centre and right back and would cost the Club £31m in transfer fee. A bid was put forward to La Viola by Director of Football, Fredric Massara, which was accepted by their board. Negotiations with Milenković were well under way when an alert came through that fellow Florentine, Federico Chiesa had put in a transfer request. Given the available transfer funds, it quickly became clear that only one of these two deals could go ahead. Personal terms with Milenković and his representatives had been agreed whilst the two boards came to an agreement over the Chiesa price, so this first deal had to be placed on hold given the greater priority for the Club to recruit a top quality player for the attacking left midfield slot. The Chiesa transfer also gave the Club a chance to recruit an Italian home-based player who could be at the Club for a long time given his relative youth at 23 years of age. The added benefits of signing a player familiar to the League and obviously already being fluent in Italian should help his transition into life at AC, whilst also weakening a domestic rival.

Chiesa quickly agreed terms with the AC Milan board and signed a five-year deal, stating he was pleased to be joining a club in the Champions League.

Chiesa may not have created the same level of NPGs as Milan pair Buendi and Suso, but his passing and creativity for his team mates means that he could be a creative force when deployed down the left-side of the attacking trident for AC Milan. With 1.64 KP/90 and a percentage of pass completion of 85%, ranking him in the top 7%, this indicates that he is a high quality creator of chances for those around him. His 0.25 assists per ninety could well improve with a top-level striker such as Piątek on the end of his passes. Accordingly, the Milenković deal was cancelled due to a lack of immediate cash with the existing structure of the transfer.

Yet there were still some available funds left in the coffers and further deals were sought to strengthen the central midfield unit. With metrics beast Sergej Milinković-Savić well out of the Club’s price range, the Club identified other targets within its means. Dani Olmo had had a solid season at Dinamo Zagreb, scoring nine goals and created seven assists, yet his minimum fee release clause of £18.25m had not as yet been triggered. His combined goals and assists/90 saw him in the top 11% of any other central midfielder aged 23 or less. His attacking runs from a wide central midfield berth in the mezzala role could add more attacking threat to the side. Whilst Olmo was more accustomed to playing in the advanced attacking centre midfield slot, a position left vacant in the preferred tactical set-up at I Rossoneri, it was felt by the recruitment team that he could build upon his existing tactical understanding and adapt further to a deeper position to influence the game. A deal for his release clause was struck and a 5-year contract signed. The layout on Olmo’s wages was something of an initial concern, especially given his agents insistence upon a clause pushing his wage up to £200k/week, which activated after five international cap. Yet, there was a reminder that expenditure towards player wages strongly correlated with success on the field.

When Freiburg came in for Bonaventura, the Club were at first reticent to allow the most creative midfield playmaker go following his output over the previous two seasons. However, the playmaker only had one more year left on his contract and at the age of 30(??) he wanted a significant pay rise, given this would be the last chance he would have to cash in on his not inconsiderable talents. Everyone understood that he was most likely at his peak and they could reasonably expect to see a dramatic drop off of his playmaking abilities so it was better to cash in now rather than look over the edge of a cliff that could arrive at any time. He was sold for £15.75m.

With one in and one out in the midfield area and more depth still the order of the window, the recruitment team met once more to put forward another bold suggestion for the centre midfield berth, that of Calvin Stengs. The 22-year old had had a somewhat unremarkable season at AZ Alkmaar playing in the right-hand side of their midfield in the AMR slot, predominately as an inside forward. Yet the scouting team were confident that with his technical, mental and physical skills sets, alongside his player traits, he was equally well-suited to playing on the left-hand side of the central three midfielders given his stronger left foot. There was only a hint from his key passes (top 12%) that he could adapt, but in a stronger side, it was generally felt that he could thrive. A deal for £39.5m was struck with AZ Alkmaar and terms swiftly agreed with Stengs and his representatives, making him the third signing of the window.

This gave AC Milan six quality players across the three midfield roles: Tonali, Domínguez, Paquetá, and Guimarães alongside new boys Olmo and Stengs.

It was hoped that deals were to be rapped up as the season began but in the first few games Conti had a serious calf strain and would miss the first month of the season. Leaving just Calabria as the only right back in the squad and with no hot young prospect to promote, another option was required. Scouts were quickly assigned to a number of initial targets on a relatively small budget. With Milenković now well out of the Club’s price range after the deals already done, Fiorentina were demanding north of £32m for their Serbian asset, Sergi Palencia was selected as the best option by value and relative attributes. The La Masia graduate joined fellow Barcelona youth players Olmo and Cucarella in the AC Milan squad. Palencia did not meet the criteria of signing players under 23, but there were deemed to be no outstanding options with the given confines of both player age and transfer budget. The Spaniard became the Club’s fifth and final signing of the window for £10.75m, happy to be a rotation option, and one that it was felt could contribute when required as much in an offensive sense as well as defensive. His pass completion and dribbles per ninety highlighted that he was a good technical player and well-versed in attacking down the right flank to provide width as the inside forward cuts in towards the 18 yard box.

That concluded the deals done during the transfer window, with a net spend of around £80m. The deals done largely added to the quality of the squad and brought in youthful players who should only progress, both in their own attributes, but also in value. With the majority of the key areas addressed which were outlined at the start of the window, the Club could now set about defending its League title and look to impress in the Champions League once more.

Join us next time when we review the 2021-22 season!

AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis Hub

The player analysis initially started out as just one blog post but it soon became evident that it would have to be a series of blogs with one central hub. Each image below is just a sneak preview of the content within each of the three posts and all images are click-able to take you through to those posts. Enjoy your reading.

Defence Analysis

Midfield Analysis

Attack Analysis

AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Defenders

Central Defenders

AC Milan employed a flat back four throughout the season, using three main central defenders: Alessio Romagnoli, Mateo Musacchio and Mattia Caldara. The stand-out performer of the trio was the Club captain, Romagnoli. Whilst his pressure adjusted (PAdj) tackles/90 and key tackles/90 were very low (12th and 16th percentile respectively), he was won 91% of these tackles and made a pressure adjusted 3.15 interceptions per 90. This demonstrates that he was able to read the game well and pick off the opposition attacks before dangerous situations arose. In the top 10% in the air, he was a goal threat from set-pieces (scoring four goals) and able to defend from the back from long-balls and when defending set-pieces.

Argentine, Musacchio, was the best passing defender over the course of the season for I Rossoneri. The ball-playing defender completed 35.30 passes/90, and was the League-leading passer for a defender, which helped the team to build up from the back. His tackling was effective, with 2.89 PAdj/Tackles/90 and he won 91% of all attempted tackles. However, his ability to read play through interceptions and lack of height to win headers meant that he was a significant weakness for AC when defending aerial balls. His heading percentages were the lowest across the League for all central defenders and a full 15% below Serie A average.

Caldara played 34.27 90s, and was also a solid passer, much like Musacchio. A further similarity to Musacchio was that whilst Caldara did win 4.32 headers/90, his heading was actually poor, winning only 71% of his aerial challenges. His ability to read the game was also something of a concern, making only 2.49 PAdj interceptions/90. Whilst AC had 56% possession, adjusting for this, he was still below average.

The first looks at the defending abilities of the Leagues defenders – assessing their ability to win aerial duels and win tackles, using percentages to measure their capabilities. As can be seen, all three of the AC Milan defenders were well above average for the percentage of tackles won, so were clearly strong in ground duels. Musacchio’s stand-out aerial (in)abilities, for all the wrong reasons, are stark when represented in the below graphical format. He is vastly below the average and well below the next worse aerial performances. This is something that will need to be addressed going into the 2021-22 season. Given that Musacchio is not about to see a growth spurt, it looks like Musacchio will need to be shown the door if the risk of conceding through aerial attacks and long balls is to be overcome. Yes, the team may have only conceded 17 goals all season, but marginal gains could be necessary with improvements being made by their Serie A rivals. Neither Acerbi (33), nor Manolas (having recently joined Napoli from Roma) are viable transfer targets, but scouts have been sent out to do eye tests on Fiorentina’s 23-year old, Nikola Milenkovic and also 21-year old, Gabriele Corbo, of Bologna.

As a side note, what is striking from these figures is how relatively ‘poor’ Juventus’s defenders were at ground duels. Chiellini is the definition of average and Rugani and de Ligt were well below 85% tackle success rates.

Where Musacchio claws back some of his reputation was through his ability to tackle on the ground. Winning well above League average tackle percentages, he won more (non-PAdj here) tackles per 90. Romagnoi and Caldara were remarkably similar – perhaps an indication that they played in a similar way. Veseli’s stand out tackling abilities are let down by his below League average heading abilities, so he was not put forward to the scouting teams. Manolas, again, looks a stand-out prospect, proof that Napoli recruited an outstanding defender when buying him from Roma – it’s looking possible to draw a link to his defensive abilities and their Champions League qualification, conceding 29 goals, nine fewer than Juventus and third best in the League.

Perhaps another way to look at defending capabilities is to assess the number of tackles and interceptions players make over the course of ninety minutes. Again, these numbers are not PAdj numbers, which could help to explain the outliers of Veseli, Müldür and Maksimovic. PAdj numbers would require the identification of all games each player played in and the possession of their respective team for those individual matches for the minutes they were on the field – this has not been collected, so these are ‘raw’ figures. Here, Romagnoli comes across as a more than reasonable reader of the game, but his two colleagues pulled up well short of ‘average’. Credit now looks like it is shifting towards young AC Milan youth team graduate, Gianluigi Donnarumma, for the number of clean sheets and League-low number of goals conceded.

The potential transfer target identified above, Corbo, did not pull up any trees in his reading of the game but perhaps given his young age, he could have time to develop this area under the right tutelage and coaching. Milenkovic looks more developed, which at 23-years of age is perhaps to be expected. It will be interesting to see what the scout reports bring, should the AC Milan transfer team decide to strengthen the central defensive area.

Full Backs

Right Backs

Italian right back duo, Davide Calabria (24) and Andrea Conti (27), completed the most passes per 90 amongst all right backs in Serie A (right backs were simultaneously compared with left backs in this data). Not only did Conti complete the second most passes/90, behind only Calabria, he was in the 98th percentile (100th amongst right backs) by passing percentages. Given their respective role, to create width in a relatively narrow 4-3-3, the number of passes that these two players have contributed to the side indicate that they are a key cog in the tactical set-up. Both are functional defenders, operating at around average tackle percentages, and at or around average PAdj tackles/90. Yet it is their dribbles per game that highlight the space out wide that they are afforded by the way that the inside forward drifts inside and the box-to-box midfield operates vertically. Yet their crossing statistics are not anything much to write home about. This is likely because rather than opting to float or whip the ball into the box, the players are instead instructed to work the ball into the box to look for an opening. This correlates with the high frequency of passes, rather than crossing when an opportunity is presented to them, they instead opt to pass the ball back to a midfielder or into the half-space where the inside forward occupies.

Left Backs

Given that the left-full back berth was gutted by incoming transfer bids which were accepted in the January transfer window, new boys Cucurella and Wöber had little time to settle into life in Milan.

Cucurella was the man chosen to be first-choice left back, playing 14.90 90s, from January through to May. Much like his opposing right backs, he too was a successful passer, but ranked lowest in the League for both headers won and interceptions per 90. Given his lack of playing time at Barcelona when picked up by AC Milan, he will be awarded another season to adjust to the AC Milan playing style and improve upon his defensive capabilities. His attacking output, completing a creditable 22% of all his crosses for the right-side inside forward and Piatek to attack, was what distinguished him from others.

Nominally a centre back by trade before his arrival at AC Milan, Wöber spent time learning his new role as a left wing-back. This, along with the jump in quality from the Austrian Bundesliga, helps explain his dramatic drop off in PAdj interceptions/90 and tackles/90 compared to his statistics at Red Bull Salzburg which highlighted his abilities to the recruitment team. Nonetheless, his adaptation has not been without some success, given he contributed 1.13 key passes/90. His crossing ability does though give cause for concern and this will need to improve if he is to be an effective wing back.

Cucurella’s defensive frailties are highlighted by the raw figures and his tackle percentage. Conti and Calabria fair much better, around average, but Sassuolo’s left wing-back Rogério looks to have remarkable statistics across his 33.96 90s. Scouts have been sent out to assess his abilities and see if his season was simply freakish or an indication of his capacity.

Rogério’s crossing metrics highlight that perhaps his time was spent defending rather than being more of an all-rounder. De Sciglio looks to be more of a prospect, but it is unlikely that he would leave Juventus to come back to AC Milan.

The below graphic is designed to highlight the roles that players were playing for their team, along with their importance of the width that they were able to add. Players towards the bottom left of the graph were likely playing highly restricted, defensive roles, not giving away possession by crossing the ball nor dribbling with the ball at risk of losing possession. The players towards the top right of the graph must have been crucial towards the attacking output of their respective sides. Pol Lirola’s crosses/90 are let down by his percentage of successful crosses, the same with Alessandro Florenzi. Given that Cristiano Piccini is at Inter Milan, and Federico Dimarco was on loan at Cagliari from Inter, any upgrades from within Serie A look to be short on availability for full backs should AC Milan decide to enter the market for one.

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AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Central Midfielders

Central Midfield

The central midfield trio play different roles within the tactical set-up, with a single pivot as a deep-lying playmaker, and the other two as a box-to-box midfielder and a mezzala. As such, the player radars look very different to one another.

Sandro Tonali stepped up to the starting eleven at AC Milan when Bennacer was sold to Liverpool in the January window. The 21-year old demonstrated his playmaking intelligence, completing 89% of all passes attempted, with 2.30 key passes/90. Despite his deeper role, he still created above average chances amongst his peers and was prepared to do more of the dirty side of the pivot role by making 4.02 PAdj tackles per game. His PAdj interceptions per 90 were a concern, but perhaps the high pressing tactic of the players ahead of him meant that the ball was won higher up the pitch rather than Tonali picking up loose balls in the space between the midfield and defensive lines.

Giacomo Bonaventura is a chance-creating machine. His 2.85 key passes/90 and his 0.46 chances created per 90 stood him out from the crowd. His chance creation, attempting those risky through balls, did not negatively impact upon his pass completion statistics. This highlights that the chances he was creating ought to have been good quality chances since the opposition must not have been in position to regularly intercept these defence splitting passes. Where Bonaventura fell down was his defensive contributions – bottom five percentiles for PAdj tackles/90 and averse to a foul, highlights that he is not willing to engage in the necessary foiling of opposition attacks.

Domínguez was another new signing in January, picked up from Bologna. Not possessing the relevant attributes to play the box-to-box role, when he played, he became a deep-lying playmaker in the central midfield strata. This may explain in part his below average pass completion statistics and his key passes/90. Where he will need to improve is his PAdj Tackles/90 (2.40) and PAdj Interceptions/90 (1.18), but at the age of 22, he will be given the chance to work on these areas.

Guimarães was one of the first signings of the January transfer window. His versatility meant that he was able to play across all three of the midfield roles, highlighted by his generally above average metrics. It was this versatility that perhaps held back his first team action, only playing 13.52 90s after his arrival. Not necessarily extraordinary in any of these fields, the fact that he is able to play key passes, dribble the ball and create chances for team mates without giving away the ball, means that his contribution was valuable.

Initially, Paquetá found himself out of favour in the balance of the midfield three, with Kessié, Bennacer and Bonaventura the preferred three. Yet as the season progressed, Paquetá found himself receiving more minutes as his ability to contribute an attacking threat in the mezzala role. His four goals and three assists gave him 0.21 goal contributions per 90. Once more, the lack of defensive contribution from Paquetá was a concern, much like other AC Milan players, but this is not necessarily the role that is expected of him in this side.

Tonali’s and Bonaventura’s playmaking abilities are highlighted by the below graphic. They make excellent chances for their team mates without recklessly giving away the ball. Compare this to someone like Luis Alberto who has 78% pass completion yet created nearly 2.40 chances per 90 – clearly high risk, the same as Tonali, but Tonali had a pass completion some 11% better.

Further investigation into chance creation within the midfield strata demonstrates just how many chances Luis Alberto was creating for his Lazio team mates. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic also looks like a monster when it comes to goal-scoring opportunities that he was also laying on for I Biancocelesti. Little wonder that Lazio scored the third highest number of goals in Serie A (66).

The below graphic sorts the playmakers from the water carriers. Strangely, Paquetá rears his head in the poor creativity and low passing frequency, which shouldn’t really be the case with his attributes. Perhaps the play being focussed down the right when he played down the left counted against him, along with having a playmaker in behind him demanding the ball from team mates, but this was still disappointing and surprising for a team that dominated possession. Equally, the play-making abilities of Modric, Rabiot and Pjanic for Juventus stick out.

The below graphic highlights something similar – with Rabiot, Modric and Pjanic out on their own with Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto. Fellow Juventus player, Emre Can, is also an outlier, creating an assist to nearly ever chance created (13 assists from 16 chances created). This metric analysis graphic also demonstrates the quality of Bonaventura’s chances that he was creating for those around him, being well above the trend-line. Domínguez appears to have been unlucky not to have made an assist given his 0.3 chances created/90.

To look at the other side of the midfield part of the game, raw data on tackles/90 and interceptions/90 were compared to identify players that were good at breaking up play. This is where Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s importance to Lazio’s side becomes crystal clear. He breaks play up with regularity and then lays on chances for the likes of Immobile ahead of him. He’s a managers dream – no wonder that he is wanted by some of Europe’s elite sides with a hefty price tag attached to him. Once highly thought of, Alfred Duncan, looks to have had a season to forget, coming out average with tackles/90 but minimal interceptions/90 and poor passing creativity and low risk passing.

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AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Attackers

Wide Attackers

The attacking wide men in the AC Milan side play in the inverted winger and inside forward roles, depending upon who is playing in the various positions. The players drive at the half space in between central defenders and full backs before looking for a cross/shooting opportunity in the inverted winger role, or look to cut across further in the inside forward roles before seeking to shoot or pass to an on-rushing teammate.

Attacking Midfield Right-Hand Side

New boy Emi Buendía had an excellent first season. One brief look at his player radar and percentiles tells you as much. He was league-leading in both non-penalty goals and assists – putting him out on his own for goal contribution amongst attacking wide players. With a total of 32 goal involvements out of all goals scored by AC, this was a whopping 45.71%. His 14% goal conversion is also incredible given that he was responsible for taking direct free kicks when on the field of play. His desire to drive at his opponents, using his trickery to go beyond players and lay on chances for his teammates or find himself in goal-scoring situations. His 76% passing success highlights that he was willing to attempt risky passes if it was for the benefit of the team, and given his 0.37 assists per ninety, these look to have been highly effective when they did make it through to a teammate.

Fellow right-sided attacker, Suso, would by any normal standards have had an excellent season, were it not for his teammate above. He was second in the league behind Buendía for both key passes and assists per ninety. His eleven assists and nine non-penalty goals in 30.42 90s gave him a goal contribution of 0.66 per game, or 28.57% of all goals that AC Milan scored across the season. He too sought out the riskier passes for the benefit of the team, explaining his poor pass completion statistics, but again, when these risky passes are leading to goals, they should not be discouraged.

Attacking Midfielder Left-Hand Side

Rebić’s performance highlights a potential weakness within the AC Milan set up – either with the recruitment team or the tactical system. His two year loan spell has been average at best – literally, if you look at his percentiles for 2020-21. Whilst he was something of a goal threat (registering seven non-penalty goals) he was not a key contributor of assists (just two to his name), his goal contribution saw him fall at the 60th percentile – nothing much special for a side that outscored the rest of the league relatively comfortably. He could and perhaps should have scored more given his high number of shots on target over the season – poor finishing or just bad luck in front of goal cannot be assessed with the current available data. Overall, looking into these available metrics, his loan will not be made permanent, nor will AC be seeking to extend the loan.

The question of recruitment or tactical set-up is further compounded when analysing Rodrigo De Paul’s performance. He too had a mediocre season to put it mildly. His recruitment from Udinese at the start of the season looked promising, given his relatively cheap price and the performances he had put in for over the season that saw the Udine-based club relegated. Whilst it was anticipated that he would be a back-up player to Rebić, his quality of performance when he was on the field was not at a level that is expected of AC Milan, despite his eight assists. A goal conversion rate of 4%, and only 0.86 shots on target per ninety meant that when De Paul was in a position to shoot, he was either taking poor quality shots, or wasting good chances. Recruitment will need to focus on this area, not just because Rebić’s loan is at an end, but primarily to add quality and redress the issue of an imbalance across I Rossoneri’s attack. With both players coming in at around half of Suso’s goal involvement, and well below that of Buendía, scouts have been charged with finding a player ready for first team football at the San Siro.

Emi Buendía’s performance in front of goal becomes apparent when you compare it directly to the other AMR/AMLs. He destroys most other players in the same sections of the field, with only Lorenzo Insigne coming close to matching his goal output to shots. With Suso and Rebić somewhere around average, Rodrigo De Paul’s poor season looks even more drastic with this comparison.

Ronaldo’s ridiculous number of shots on target/90 can go partly towards explaining his goal output, but he was far less efficient than either Buendía or Insigne. Using this metric to analyse potential replacements for Rebić’s loan expiring, no-one appears to be an abundantly obvious prospect.

Buendía also looks to be way out from the rest, but alongside Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, when it comes to the number of non-penalty goals and goal conversion. This metric is more useful to demonstrate that Ronaldo is profligate in front of goal, shooting with incredible frequency within ninety minutes. Roberto Insigne is a big outlier in this metric, but only played 16.47 90s (1,482 minutes) and scored only two goals from just twelve shots taken. As such, his metrics should be ignored due to a small sample size.

Measuring creative abilities against finishing output of these attacking players gives further evidence as to how successful the two AMRs were for AC Milan.

When assessing the input of players playing in these positions towards creating chances with key passes to the number of passes completed, remarkably, given his frequency of assists, Buendía isn’t far away from the crowd. Fiorentina’s Marius Wolf is another example of a player who appears to have been exceptional in terms of his desire to be involved in play. Yet, when the numbers are analysed, he only played 15.14 90s (1,363 minutes). Therefore, his 1.78 key passes across 65.44 passes per ninety need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s plausible that these numbers could have come down across more minutes. Hestad also only played 16.86 90s (1,517 minutes), so there’s cause for caution there too. However, Federico Chiesa’s figures came across 39.64 90s (3,568 minutes), so are far more reliable. His key pass frequency is actually better than that of Buendía, even if they are across considerably more passes per ninety. Federico Chiesa is already known to be a considerable talent and fits the requirements of the AC Milan board of signing young players for the first team. Scouts will be sent out to watch his games and assess his availability from Fiorentina.

Centre Forward

Krzysztof Piątek top scored in Serie A over the 2020-21 season, with 31 non-penalty goals. His marksmanship saw him score 14% of all shots taken, putting him in the top ten percent of all strikers in Serie A. Overall, his involvement was not as strong though. His instinct in front of goal did not appear to be on the same level as his contributions to the rest of the team, in terms of trying to press and win the ball back from the front and make passes to bring in others. A goal involvement of 58.57% is exceptional, but 50% of that came from his goals (including penalties).

His performance in front of goal has him out all on his own when it comes to looking at the number of non-penalty goals against minutes per non-penalty goals. His ability in front of goal has him at the pinnacle of Serie A’s strikers, averaging less than 200 minutes per goal.

Given the above evidence, you could be inclined to believe that Piątek’s season couldn’t have gone much better. Yet when you break down his goal conversion against the number of non-penalty goals that were scored by Serie A strikers, he actually performed below the trend line, this indicating that there was perhaps more to squeeze out of him.

In terms of the rest of the League, Gabriel Barbosa (Gabrigol) looks to have had a remarkable season, scoring at an incredible conversion rate. It has to be questioned as to whether or not this is sustainable going forwards for the Atalanta forward. Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot frequency and quality is also plain for all to see here. Yes he scored the third most goals over the season, but just 8% of all his shots went in. Higuaín practically ashamed him in this regard being far more clinical with the chances provided to him from the playmaking powerhouse in behind him in the form of Modrić, Can, Pjanić and Rabiot.

Serie A strikers appear to be a selfish cohort and Piątek doesn’t seem to be any different from the rest of the crowd. Coming in at just over 0.10 assists per ninety, his goal involvement stemmed from him predominately putting the ball in the back of the net himself rather than laying on opportunities for his fellow teammates. Given his output in front of goal, this should not necessarily be discouraged, assuming he can continue to hit the target on a regular basis.

Romelu Lukaku on the other hand is out there on his own in terms of his goal involvement. A ratio of nearly 0.3A/90 & 0.45G/90 sees the Target Man a fantastic foil for those around him. It’s a wonder that Lautaro Martinez did not finish higher on the goal scoring charts with this level of service from his fellow striker. Martinez actually endured a relatively torrid season by his high ceiling, as did Džeko, though perhaps time and a poor AS Roma showing contributed to this.

Indeed, despite playing as a Complete Forward on Attack, Piątek did not look to heavily involve himself in play. Perhaps a combination of being assigned the Attacking duty, pushing him further away from his teammates and being the sole striker, thus being easier to mark, are explanations for this lack of involvement in the build up play. Yet when he was integrated into the play, he was not profligate with the ball, regularly finding his teammates, to give him an excellent pass completion statistic for a lone front man. Given the preference to play two wide men cutting in to support the attack, hitting in between opposition centre backs and full backs and also to play three central midfielders, the system will not be adjusted just to increase the involvement of a striker, and nor should it if he is able to demonstrate his effectiveness in front of goal with the lowest minutes per goal in Serie A.

With Piątek’s performance taken into consideration and Andre Silva returning on loan from Frankfurt, there is no need to go into the transfer market to add more depth. If anything, Silva’s return frees up Leão to go out on loan himself to gain valuable first-team experience.

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AC Milan – 2020-21 End of Season Update – Club Focus

Having lost just two games before the Winter break, AC Milan were sitting atop Serie A. The squad had gone through something of a transformation, as clubs with a higher reputation, such as Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid, picked off some of their best talents. Five players left, three of which were first teams starters, resulting in the AC Milan recruitment team swinging into action to replace those that had left.

Some savvy recruitment ensued, with the Club picking up players using either a data analysis approach (Wöber) or identifying those that were under-valued (e.g. Guimarães) and under-utilised players (Cucarella). These were replacements who, it was hoped, would not drop the quality in the squad, nor jeopardise the harmony among the players, which was very strong given their position as current front-runners for the Serie A title. This approach to the two transfer windows (including the previous Summer window) yielded a net transfer spend of £47m for the year according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, helping the Club return to the black. The established war chest could be useful in the Summer transfer window, after a detailed squad analysis to address any weaknesses or lack of depth. This will be the focus of the next blog post in the series.

There was a strong sense of optimism but not necessarily overwhelming expectations amongst the Milanese hierarchy for the title and trophy to arrive back at the San Siro. Club legends, Messrs Maldini, Baresi and Boban, recognised that the push for the Club’s first Scudetto in 11 years could be realised at the first attempt under their new manager.

In truth, there was little to worry about for the Board. Milan’s second half of season mirrored that of the first in terms of defeats, with just two more losses against their name. The changes to the tactics and the personnel at the Club, amongst both playing and non-playing staff, saw a significant increase in the number of chances created and goals scored. The goal difference soared to +53 as a result, leaving an impressive Atalanta behind in second place, with a ten point gap to I Rossoneri. The title was confirmed at the San Siro following a routine 2-0 victory over Parma in front of the home fans.

Goals came from across the team but Piatek was the Capocannoniere for 2020-21, with a credible 24 goals from 36 games, beating off Immobile and Ronaldo. Leading the front line in a far more creative side than the ’19-20 cohort, and for a team taking considerably more shots, Piatek was able to benefit from the service provided to him and use his impressive finishing ability to put chances away, scoring 20 non-penalty goals. Again, more on this in the next blog post.

The Club’s desire to win Serie A was achieved two years ahead of schedule, which even they conceded was beyond their expectations given Juventus’s domination of the League in recent years. This was seen as something of a fillip for the owners of the Club as they had been touting the Club to potential buyers. This news of success on the field only increased the value of the Club off it, with Singer and partners able to cite higher anticipated future revenue streams from Champions League TV money, as AC would be going straight into the Group Stage as number one seeds. When matched with new sponsorship deals, the financial future of the Club looked to be on a stronger footing than it was at the start of the 2020-21 season.

The Club also had reasonable success in the Europa League, if not actual silverware. The squad made it to the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by RB Leipzig over the two legs.

This journey also significantly boosted the Club’s reputation, though it was still a long way short of the overall target – to return the Club back to its 1990/2000s heydays.

League Financial Spending 2020-21

The on-field success and work of the marketing team to drive sponsorship deals saw AC Milan have a healthy 31% of their revenue being spent on player and staff wages. With the third highest revenue stream in the League, AC look to be well set when it comes to adding to their squad in the Summer. Spare a thought for the directors of Napoli who have an eye-watering 67% wage/revenue expenditure. Add this to the fact that their stadium is rented and in desperate need of renovation/replacing and it might be a while before the Neopolitan’s see a new stadium being built through internal finance. Little wonder Napoli fans are staying away in their droves – their capacity utilisation was less than 50% over the season.

In terms of competing financially with Juventus, great strides have been made with matchday and ticket revenue following a successful season on the field. Attractive attacking football saw the crowds return to San Siro to cheer on their side, with an average attendance of 59,908, some 14.59% up on last year. Together, Juventus and AC account for just over one third of the overall income generated from ticket sales and match day revenues, leaving the other big four in their wake.

League Statistical Analysis

The opening blog of this series looked at the causal relationship between salary expenditure and success, measure in points per game. Analysing the data over the season, AC Milan performed above average on their salary expenditure compared against the rest of the other clubs, with the exception of Atalanta. With Juventus spending well over the norm for the rest of Serie A, their 4th place finish saw them drastically under perform. Atalanta deserve notable commendation for their display in the League with only the eighth largest salary expenditure – the La Dea clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to their financial outlay on recruitment, as well as their training/player development and style of play.

In assessing the League’s use of the ball in possession in terms of points per game, AC Milan again came out favourably. Averaging 56% possession but scoring 70 goals in the 38 game season, only Juventus scored more and with less average possession. This looks to be proof that the tactical style is not just possession for possessions sake but that the ball is being progressed into areas which are yielding goal scoring opportunities. When this data is analysed, Brescia are well below the curve and clearly badly under-performed, not creating enough when in possession of the ball, resulting in their relegation. Inter and Lazio both appear to be capable counter-attacking sides, scoring points but with less than 50% of the ball, finishing 5th and 6th respectively.

Yet, when Il Diablo’s shot efficiency is analysed, the team do not appearing to be scoring significantly above the average number of goals per shot taken. Perhaps more could be done to improve this going forward but it is not an immediate concern. Fiorentina on the other hand, took a considerable number of shots and ones that were presumably of poor quality. La Viola’s possession/PPG is also below the trend line too. Perhaps their build up play is too considered/slow, enabling opposition defences time to organise themselves, in turn forcing Fiorentina to pass the ball around before frustratingly shooting from distance? This data also further underpins Lazio’s abilities on the counter-attack, taking the fourth largest quantity of shots and scoring the third highest number of goals despite their possession statistics. The generation of shots by Juventus is also stand out given their possession statistics. To have taken that many more shots than the rest of the other teams by comparison highlights their trigger happy nature as a team. Although when one builds in the C7 factor, then maybe the water becomes a little clearer? Nonetheless, it’s hard to blame the attack of The Old Lady for not defending their Serie A title with this output.

The adage of “your opponents can’t score if they don’t have the ball” also looks to be true to an extent for AC Milan as they conceded a League low of just 17 goals over the season. Only city rivals, Inter kept more clean sheets, with 25, one more than I Rossoneri. Inter appear to be considerable outliers in this regard – their level of possession conceded to goals conceded demonstrates just how tight their defence was over the season. Fiorentina raise their head above the parapet once more with their defence giving up a considerable number of goals given their League-high levels of average possession. Not only were they wasteful when they had the ball, when the lost it, it cost them goals with a high frequency.

For AC Milan, if youth team graduate, Donnarumma, can maintain this class going forward in his blossoming career, AC could be well-placed to dominate into the future. When combined with the mean defence, their domination of possession in games is the result of their recruitment of highly technical players who resist initial pressures and can play through or around deeper defences when the opposition choose to drop off and regroup. Their tactical build-up and their high work rate to press the opposition when the ball is loss then helps to recycle the ball and transition before the opposition are able to capitalise on any weaknesses.

Looking into this in more statistical depth across Serie A, the Pearson correlation co-efficient for goals scored and total points is 0.89 – a very strong statistical correlation. 1,048 points were obtained with a total of 887 goals scored. Yet, not conceding, i.e. keeping a clean sheet had a Pearson correlation co-efficient of -0.87 (negative as the fewer goals conceded leads to more points being gained). The total number of clean sheets across the League was 276. This is correlation is almost as strong to that of points and scoring goals – highlighting the importance of having a strong attack AND defence in the 2020-21 season.

As teased above, the next blog post will focus on the player performances, using data analysis to monitor compare and contrast the squad’s output against their League counterparts. Keep an eye out for when that drops.

AC Milan 2020-21 January Transfer Window

The January transfer window found AC Milan top of Serie A, well above the target set by the board for the 2020-21 season. Having only lost just the last two games prior to the New Year, the Club had also qualified out of their Europa League group with SK Brann, Zenit St. Petersburg and GNK Dinamo. Two draws against an indomitable SK Brann, an away draw and home win against GNK Dinamo and two victories against Zenit were enough to see the team progress after having already beaten Icelandic side Knattspyrnufélagið Valur, Dimamo Brest of Belarus and Glasgow Rangers in the qualifiers.

There were no immediate plans to act in order to improve the first team, with the squad playing well in a wide 4-1-2-2-1/4-3-3. Nevertheless, the scouting team had been busy identifying potential targets for the Summer window and looking to find players for the Primavera side to boost the quality of the U19s on a more immediate time frame.

Signings in the off-season transfer window have been receiving minutes, with new-boy Sandro Tonali alternating with the excellent Bennacer as a single pivot in the deep-lying play-maker role. Rodrigo de Paul was rotating in and out of the team with Ante Rebic in the IF – A role on the left of the front three, with Piatek (CF – A) and one of Suso or Buendia, the last of the new signings, playing down the right-hand side (IW – S).

When reading below what transpired during the January transfer window, it’s worth remembering that AC Milan’s standing within Europe is well below what the club should be aspiring to – ranked the 80th club in European coefficients. This, combined with the Serie A success of this season, led to a number of players being wanted by bigger clubs in Europe. The level of change that has taken place has clearly been significant over the last fifteen or so years, a negative change from the viewpoint of the Rossonerri fans. All the first team players that were traded on were looking to move on to their new clubs rather than stay and play at the San Siro. It is hoped that, over time, AC Milan can raise its standing again such that players value playing for this Club and do not see it as a stepping stone onto the next stage of their careers.

The first significant sale, not counting that of Pepe Reina going to Leganés, was that of Ismaël Bennacer. Wanted by a number of clubs after an impressive start to the season, it was the Premier League’s Liverpool which entered into negotiations with the power brokers at Casa Milan. An initial offer was negotiated up to £50m, with two instalments as part of the deal. From the point of view of the Club directors, having signed the player from Empoli for only £14.25m, this represented a good deal, despite the fact that he was one of, if not the, most promising prospects in the AC side. Yet, his desire to play Champions League football, which he so clearly deserved, could not be denied and so it was agreed to let him leave, with Liverpool almost doubling his wages.

Bennacer sale to Liverpool

It was not considered necessary to replace Bennacer, with Tonali able to stand up to first team football on a more regularly to aid his development and Kessié able to fill into the defensive midfielder slot if required. More minutes could also be given to Bonnaventura, if necessary, as the elder statesman in the Milan creativity department had been seeing less action after the arrival of the young pretender, Tonali.

Ricardo Rodriguez had been playing second fiddle to Theo Hernández in the first half of the 2021-22 season. Understandably, he was therefore keen to move to China’s DL Yifang and receive an incredible 197% increase in gross salary. A fee of £28m, with potential for it to rise to £33.5m, for a back-up 28 year-old left back was seen as a good deal, even if it did leave the side temporarily light in the left wing back position.

Rodriguez deal to DL Yifang

Joining Rodriguez on the plane to Dalian was Rade Krunic. Krunic had only managed five starts with six appearances off the bench. Despite his four goals and two assists, he was not able to break past Kessié in the box-to-box role. Considered back-up, the club were happy to receive £10.75m for a player who was also taking up a non-EU player slot. Krunic was also delighted to receive a near doubling of his wages.

Krunic deal to DL Yifang

After the sale of Krunic and, more importantly, Bennacer, the scouts put forward the idea of signing Bruno Guimarães from Brazilian club, Athletico Paranaense. The player was reportedly unsettled and wanting to leave to join a bigger club. Well-liked by the scouting department, Director Franco Baresi was sent to Curitiba to negotiate a deal for the central midfielder who had provided twelve assists and four goals in the Brasileirão. A £17m deal was seen as an incredible bargain for such a well-rounded player, who is able to play across all three of the roles within the central midfield positions in the Rossoneri side. Paquetá was tasked with welcoming his compatriot to the Club and helping settle into life at Milan, with the two looking forward to playing together.

Guimarães deal from Athletico Paranaense

In trying to find a replacement for Rodriguez to act as back up to Theo Hernández, the scouts hit upon Marc Cucurella from Barcelona. The left wing back found himself out of favour at the Nou Camp behind Jordi Alba and Lenglet, and so was available for an incredibly low initial price of £2.6m, rising to £3.4m. With Baresi on the flight back from Brazil with Guimarães, Frederic Massara, the Club’s Director of Football had been tasked to negotiate and structure the deal with both club and the player’s agent. Whilst no data was available on the player due to his lack of playing time, it is hoped that La Masia graduate would join the list of Olmo, Onana and Icardi (among others) to go onto prosperous careers beyond their brief time at the Spanish giants having never made a senior team appearance. Suso was happy to welcome his fellow countryman to the Club and would be training directly up against him in full squad games.

Cucarella deal from Barcelona

Having already completed more deals than anticipated in the January window, the Club’s directors had hoped not to have any more incoming bids to avoid unsettling the team any further. Unfortunately, bids were still coming in for their players, despite their public protestations. The Real Madrid had identified Franck Kessié’s seven goals in sixteen appearances and a further three goals in eleven starts in the Europa League as a good way to reduce the age of their midfield, whilst not forgoing quality. With Modric having already moved onto Milan’s Serie A rivals, Juventus, Kessié could offer an alternative to Kroos, Ceballos and Valverde. Kessié had only joined the club at the start of the prior season for £16.25m, but was extremely keen to join La Liga giants and Champions League regulars – the deal was therefore negotiate upwards to £70m, which Real Madrid had no hesitation in agreeing to – perhaps this deal was priced too low by AC?

Kessié deal to Real Madrid

With time running short in the transfer window, a replacement had to be found quickly. The scouting team had already identified Nicolás Domínguez sitting in Bologna’s team unable to be registered for I Rossoblù, having just returned from a loan at Velez. With Bologna having already utilised all their non-EU player slots, the player was set for six months of no football without a further loan. AC Milan had no intention to loan the player and, fortunately for I Rossoneri, the Serie A player rules are somewhat perverse. AC Milan were able to pick up the Argentine central midfielder with no registration difficulties as non-EU players transferring within Serie A do not count towards the limit. A £33m deal was struck – quite the mark-up for a player that never played for Bologna, but there was little doubt of the quality of player that had been brought in, if his attributes were to be believed. The deep-lying play-maker offered the perfect rotation option to Tonali, with his strong first touch, vision, passing and player trait of plays killer balls often. The board had some concern that this gave the squad an imbalance towards central midfield, but for the manager there was little concern about the spread of minutes. With Tonali, Domínguez, Guimarães, Paquetá and the experienced Bonaventura, these five players were able to rotate across the Serie A and Europa League fixtures without too much issue over player fatigue and danger of upsetting squad harmony.

Deal to sign Domínguez from Bologna

On deadline day itself, the Club received a further bid from Man City for the first-choice left back, Theo Hernández. Hernández was understandably keen to move to the Premier League and a considerably higher ranked club, and whilst his fee of £30m looks cheap, the club felt there was little they could do but accept a locked in offer as Hernández was threatening to upset squad morale if he was not given the chance to negotiate his side of the deal. Having made fifteen starts and contributed three assists, his input would be hard to match, especially given that he fit the profile of player that new-look AC Milan were looking to build around being a high quality player aged 23 years.

Theo Hernández deal to Man City

In response, the Club had to act quickly to find a replacement. The scouting network had once again already identified Maximilian Wöber playing at RB Salzburg in the Champions League and Austria tipico-Bundesliga as a transfer target for the Club.

With a high recommended rating from the scouts, the player fits the Club vision of signing under-23 year old players for the first team. Cucurella will be thrust into becoming first choice left back, with Wöber given time to adjust to the requirements of the AC Milan system and the prospect of playing at left wing back rather than as a left-sided centre back. It is considered unlikely that Romagnoli will be vacating this latter role in the side soon, given his captaincy of the team.

Wöber deal from RB Salzburg

Further deals were completed in the January transfer window for youth prospects, Bulgarian Stanislav Shopov (£3.4m) and Leonidas Stergiou (£5.75m). Both will be kept in the U23 team to learn Italian and adjust to the AC Milan playing style, acting as back up for the first team, with a view to loaning both players out to gain first team experience to aid their player development next season. The Club are particularly excited about the potential of wonderkid prospect, Stergiou as he appears to have the solid foundations and higher ceiling of the two. At 18, he already appears to be adept in the basic fundamentals of defending and is comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Shopov deal
Shopov statistical profile – based against U18 central attacking midfielders
Stergiou statistical profile – based against U18 central defenders

In what was a far busier transfer window than expected, and indeed hoped for, the AC Milan hierarchy hope that the new players can bed themselves in quickly to their new environment and the rigour of Europa League and Serie A football to continue their good form in both. An update on the full 2020-21 season will be the focus of the next post.

To read the next post, click the below image.

AC Milan Squad Analysis & Summer Transfers

The previous post explained the reasoning for the choice of AC Milan. This post will look at the approach to squad analysis alongside player recruitment and retention.

With a desire to use data to evaluate squad performance and inform player trading decisions, the game has been holidayed for a full year to 1st June 2020. It’s worth noting that upon creating the save, the first transfer window was disabled and no transfer activity took place over the Winter transfer window, so as such, the squad remains the same as it was in 2019.

AC Milan finished 7th, landing them Europa League football for 2020-21, but in part thanks to the poor UEFA Club Coefficient discussed in the last post, AC were going to have to undergo three qualifying rounds before the Group Stage. Juventus achieved their 9th consecutive scudetto. This will be some mountain to climb to overtake them.

Serie A 19-20

Scoring only 43 goals in 38 games tells a sorry picture of low-scoring football games, especially given that they finished the season with a goal difference of +7. Thirteen draws, some 34%, represents some 26 points dropped on its own, before even touching upon the ten losses. Where do the issues lie – is it with uncreative players, or with the forwards not being efficient in their finishing of the chances that were made for them?

In order to dive into the squad analysis, a squad view was set up to show all the metrics available within FM20 using the chalkboard statistics available in the ‘Customise Current View‘ drop down. Then, using the print screen facility within FM20 (Ctrl + P) and saving as a web page, an Excel file was created.

Squad analysis spreadsheet

Using this information, the squad was assessed on their ability to create goals, shooting efficiency and tackle efficiencies.

Given the clear issue over goal-scoring, the priority went towards looking at chance creation and shooting efficiency. When looking at the creativity of the AC Milan squad during the 2019/20 season, Bonaventura and Bennacer are the stand out players, consistently creating chances and one that are (presumably) of reasonably high quality given that they’ve led to the most Assists/90. Both clearly played in playmaker roles looking at these metrics and so should be placed into these roles in any tactic adopted for the 2020-21 season. These figures are clearly low, and this is not surprising given the lack of goals that the team have scored. This is perhaps an indication that the team were playing low-paced football against defensively organised teams? Further investigation is needed on this.

Using a slight variation of metrics, this time Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90, a familiar pattern emerged. Bonaventura and Bennacer were again stand out in turning more of their passes into chances for the rest of the team to score. Biglia on the other hand, who has a broken ankle and is set to be out for a further two months, is far less efficient in turning his passes into chances for other players. Given his injury and the fact that he is on a substantial contract, over £105k/week, which is expiring at the end of the season, it looks wise to let him go, as Kessié can be used to more effectively make runs for either or both Bonaventura and Bennacer. Rade Krunic is also a concern – he may have played far fewer minutes (529) compared to Bennacer (2,986) and Bonaventura (2,178), but his play does not look to be adding much to the team. What is also of note in these metrics is that Piatek does not look to be involving himself in play that much, with just over 15 passes/90, pointing towards his role being more advanced (and perhaps isolated?), whilst the full backs are creating around a half chance per game each – Conti (0.49), Calabria (0.61), Rodriguez (0.72) and Hernandez (0.32). More clearly need to be done to convert passes into chances – and crucially good quality chances.

Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90

So if, at least some, chances are being created – how efficient are the forwards at finishing these chances? Are there further problems here too?

Piatek’s stands out from the crowd with his 3.92 Shots/90 and 1.66 Shots on Target/90. Pioli clearly preferred a single striker formation, most likely with Suso and Rebic playing out wide. Both Suso and Rebic actually outperform Piatek’s shot efficiency, with 47% and 57% respectively, to Piatek’s 42%. Yet as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of shots you don’t take”. At least Piatek is buying a ticket to the lottery. However, averaging below than 0.35 Goals per 90 is less than impressive. Whether the quality of the shots he was taking were low, we’ll never know, but this needs to improve if the team is to improve. 13 goals in 39 games is certainly not going to cut it. Pioili clearly also didn’t have much faith in Piatek’s back-up, Rafael Leão, with Leão only playing 182 minutes over the season – ten substitute appearances and no starts. This at least indicates that Piatek should be fit to start most games in a season and appears to avoid suspensions. Qualifying for the Europa League for 2020-21 will only increase the workload – Leão should therefore reasonably expect more game time going forward.

The above evidence points towards the fact that the team did not appear to take many shots during the season, and when they did, they were largely funnelled through Piatek. If the opposition could shut Piatek down, they drastically reduce the chance of AC Milan scoring against them. With Serie A typically having deep set defences, with at least one, if not two pivots in the defensive midfield slot, more creative players and players who are willing to find their way into the box will need to be recruited. To improve his shot accuracy and efficiency, Piatek will be put onto a personalised training plan to give him the places shots trait.

Tackle success rates against Tackles/90

Investigation into the defence is worthwhile on the back of their somewhat stellar performance of allowing less than a goal a game – 36 goals in 38 games. It’s worth noting that at this point, none of these stats are possession adjusted, so these are the raw figures. With regards to the centre backs, Romagnoli has the most appearances, unsurprising given he’s club captain, and Musacchio and Caldara have 17 a piece. Léo Duarte should be ignored – he only made six starts and ten substitute appearances. His average rating of 6.56 also indicates that when he did play, he did not play well.

It’s remarkable how similar both left backs are with their tackle percentages and the frequency of their Tackles/90. This could be an area to improve upon but may also highlight that opposition teams looked to exploit the gap in behind Suso and target either Calabria or Conti in the right back position. This will need to be assessed as the season goes on. Given the well-established defence, there does not seem to be an imminent need to address any areas in this department. AC Milan have well-balanced squad when it comes to the defensive set-up, with four quality central defenders, all possessing solid attributes for positioning, heading, marking and tackling and two good left and right backs for each position. Transfer spending allocation can be better utilised elsewhere.

AC Milan 2020 finances

Looking at the initial finances available to spend, this is clearly going to need to be controlled wisely and wait for sponsorship deals to come in so as not to plunge the club further into debt. Fortunately, despite the clubs recent downturn in European standing, the sponsorship deals do come flooding in. When combined with TV revenue and season ticket sales, the club goes from red to black – pun intended. There is some concern that some of these deals only last for one year, but hopefully, if the club is able to return to the Champions League as per the ambition, then these deals could be improved upon.

AC Milan 2020-21 sponsorship deals

With creativity an absolute priority, the Club move quickly to add depth and quality to the side. The Directors, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Zvonimir Boban, head East to Brescia to bring Sandro Tonali back with them, the natural successor to former AC Milan great, Andrea Pirlo, whose career also began at ‘Le Rondinelle’ (the little swallows). His pass completion statistics are well above average, but it’s the frequency of chances created that sticks out – 0.16 more chances than the average.

Further funds were raised from player sales, including Diego Laxalt (£4.4m) and Alen Halilovic (£4.7m). Manchester United had interest in Hakan Çalhanoglu, so he left for £17.5m – not a disappointing sum given he had only one year left on his deal with the Rossoneri and had an underwhelming season with only five goal involvements in seventeen starts and eleven substitute appearances. The further sale of Fabio Borini to Frankfurt for an initial £3.9m (with potential uplift to £4.8m depending upon appearances) led to on-loan Ante Rebic being the first-choice option for the left-hand side of the attacking trident, with winger, Samu Castillejo, a back-up option. Further depth was required so Rodrigo De Paul was signed from relegated Udinese.

Profile – Rodrigo De Paul

With Suso’s contract containing a £31.5m release clause and the player having a market value of £35m, Tottenham were sniffing around. Suso was unwilling to renegotiate his contract in light of this interest from a Champions League club, so to provide further depth and prepare for the scenario of Suso being taken from us, scouts were sent out to look for someone to play in the AMR slot. These players needed to be adept at playing in similar roles to the Spanish wide man and aged 23 or under to fit with the Club Philosophy. They came back with Emi Buendia as the top prospect, above the likes of Victor Tsygankov, David Neres, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Artur.

Profile – Emi Buendia

It is hoped that these three players will add quality to the squad, as well as depth, ready for Europa League football. These signings will be analysed at the end of the 2020-21 season to check their metrics against how they performed the previous season to see how well, or otherwise, they have adapted to life at Milan.

Taking into consideration the paucity of quality youth prospects and the Club Vision, the Chief Scout, Geoffrey Moncada, has been provided with the following brief:

Scouting Focus

At the start of the season, the media and bookmakers have AC Milan down to finish 4th behind Juventus, Napoli and city rivals, Inter Milan. The next blog will be an update following the closure of the January transfer window.

To read the next post in the series, click the below image.

* Player radars have been created using the website

FM20 – The Preamble and Save Reveal

Serie A has been in relative decline for a number of years now, with Inter Milan the last Italian side to win the Champions League under Jose Mourinho back in 2010. The treble-winning side came after Internazionale racked up losses of in excess of £1bn over the preceding decade, funded by oil-backed Moratti, who openly admitted to buying success. Before that, AC Milan were the last team to win the prize for the best European club, exacting revenge over their 2005 defeat to Liverpool, lifting the trophy in 2007.

Italy as a nation ranks third amongst the list of countries to have had a side win the Champions League (previously the European Cup), shared between AC Milan, Inter and Juventus. Yet sides from the boot of the continent have yet to win the pinnacle of European football in any of the last nine years.

If you take the Ballon d’Or as a measure of footballing pedigree of a league, and remove the ‘Ronaldo effect’ (CR7, not R9), then Serie A hasn’t had a player in the top three since Fabio Cannavaro won the prize in 2006 – and even then, during the Summer of 2006, he had transferred to Real Madrid following Italy’s World Cup win. Italy even failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, for the first time since 1958. Why?

It has been well documented amongst football-centric economists that success is strongly correlated to wage expenditure – put simply, when it comes to employing footballers, you get what you paid for. Using the data available within Football Manager, I was able to put together a rough idea of the number of players over £100k at each club within four leagues – England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – to examine the ability for the clubs to pay players big contracts, which should predicate success on the football field.

The graphic above clearly documents that Serie A is well behind the likes of the Premier League when it comes to the ability for sides to spend money on paying high wages, with twelve sides able to pay wages of £100k/week or more. Combine this with the graphic below demonstrates just how seriously the likes of AC Milan have fallen in their ability to pay big contracts to big name players, and also highlights how dominant Juventus are when it comes to their wage bill within their respective league.

It’s telling that, at least according to the game database, both West Ham and Leicester have the same number of players on contract of £100k/week or above and Crystal Palace have one player more than AC Milan. This graphic, if accurate, probably also helps to explain the gripes of Spurs players and the contracts on offer from Daniel Levy.

Concentrating this down onto just Serie A, looking specifically into player age for comparison, and remembering that player wages have a strong correlation to success in a league, then again we can perhaps see why Juventus won their eighth Serie A in a row in 2019. No prizes for guessing which dot represents Ronaldo in the below graphic. If we ignore Buffon, at 41, then in nine of the different age brackets below, Juventus come out on top. They also are the leading wage payers across age profiles, a clear sign of forethought and consideration of the future of the Club.

Besides Donnarumma, at 20, AC Milan don’t feature close to the top of the wage outlay, until Pepe Reina, the back up goalkeeper at 36. Having two goalkeepers being the highest paid at their respective age is not necessarily a sign of strength and planning for a club.

Serie A Player Age-Wage comparison

Whilst not necessarily a good guide, measuring the domestic success of a club by how many players make up the national team squad sees only two players in the AC Milan team deemed good enough for the Nerazzurri – Donnarumma and Romagnoli, the club captain.

Taken from

AC have considerably declined from their last zenith back at the start of the millennia. Forbes list AC Milan at 18th in their Business of Soccer list, with a current brand value of $583m. This is lower than both Schalke O4 and West Ham and their brand is valued at only a third of that of Juventus’s $1.512bn. The only other club inside Forbes’s top twenty clubs to also make a net operating loss in 2018 were Everton and they find themselves in a similar ignominious state when it comes to their 2019 league position.

There have been a number of factors which have contributed to the demise of one of the world’s former favourite team.

Juventus’s monopoly, taken from Latin monopolium meaning to have exclusive control of a commodity or trade, over the Scudetto in the last eight years has seen regular influx of Champions League money into Turin to help fill the coffers of the Agnelli family (owners of Fiat). They have been able to report positive operating income in all but one of the last ten years, in part thanks to their move to their fully club-owned stadium, the Allianz Stadium, back in 2011. They’ve used this money wisely in the transfer market, picking up high profile signings on free transfers (whilst admittedly paying considerable signing on and agent fees). They have also signed players, such as Bernardeschi, Pjanic and Higuaín, who have performed well in their domestic league, strengthening their side and weakening rivals.

In comparison, AC Milan have fallen from pillar to post following the withdrawal of Berlusconi’s money back in 2017. In each of the last four years, AC Milan have reported a net operating loss, and in 2018, control of the club was taken over by Elliott Management – a hedge fund – following the disastrous short-lived takeover by Chinese businessman, Li Yonghong. Li’s takeover of the Rossoneri was partially financed through borrowing from Elliott Management, with high interest loans, loans which Mr Li was not able to repay, meaning that ownership transferred into the hands of the hedge fund owners. More on this in the fantastic TiFo video below.

Elliott Management seem determined not to be the long-run holders of the keys to AC Milan, stating their intent to raise the level of success before selling the club on for a profit. To achieve this, they recognise the need to increase the frequency of wins on the pitch.

Yet winning isn’t necessarily going to help build up the bank balance, at least not domestically. Prize money for places between the top Italian and English leagues are barely comparable – the winners of Serie A receive just £3.87m, which is roughly equal to the team finishing 19th in the Premier League. When taking into consideration the Bundesliga prize money on offer, this blows both the English Premier League and Serie A out of the water, with the bottom team earning over £26m in prize money.

Income generated by the sale of TV rights is also well behind those of the other major leagues in Europe. The latest domestic TV deal in Italy sees Italian teams receive around half that of English Premier League teams from their deals – the Premier League is also generating far greater sums from the sale of international TV rights. This clearly impacts upon their ability to buy the top players but also demonstrates that TV companies are unwilling to invest heavily into showing football with half empty stadiums. AC Milan’s stadium can hold a capacity of 80,018, yet last year the average attendance was 54,651 (according to, a capacity utilisation of 68.19%. Compared this to the average attendance at the Allianz Stadium, which is lower at 39,193, but has a far better capacity utilisation of 95%.

The San Siro is an iconic stadium in world football and is probably a contributing factor to the attraction of foreign players wanting to play in the famed arena. Yet the council-owned stadium is in a state of decay. Both Inter and AC Milan are in talks with the council to build a new stadium. Parts of the stadium remain unopened when games are held, as they are deemed unsafe and visitors describe the place literally shaking when goals are scored.

Despite this, the Rossoneri’s fans are not keen to move on from the stadium, due to the memories that are tied up in the stadium. It will likely take years for AC and Inter to gain permission from the local council to build a new shared stadium, given that the council would then be forfeiting valuable rents it can charge the two teams for the privilege of playing games at the stadium. Renting the stadium means that both AC and Inter give up a large portion of match day revenues to the Milanese council – something that many of their other European counterparts do not have to do. AC Milan posted $99m match day revenues over the last financial year, which pales compared to $557m that Arsenal achieved over the same period, in part thanks to the corporate facilities they can provide at the Emirates stadium. This is not something that solely affects AC Milan. The majority of Serie A stadiums are council-owned and many of them are falling into a state of disrepair, with only a handful receiving an ‘upgrade’ in time for the 1990 Italia World Cup, and many have not been brought up to modern standards in the following 29 years, to include what would be consider de rigueur in new stadiums, for instance, modern turnstiles and large TV screens.

San Siro with its famous spiral staircases

Poor transfer business has also seen the team under perform their expenditure. The failure to transition smoothly from the mid-to-late 2000s away from the ageing team of Maldini, Pirlo, Kaka and Filippo Inzaghi, has seen significant investment into the squad, with little in the way of return. Recruitment of players at the back end of their careers, such as Beckham, the returns of Shevchenko and Ronaldinho, saw AC Milan rely upon its much vaunted medical department to maintain player fitness, whilst these players also benefited from playing in a slower tempo league than they may have come from. 2012 in particular saw a tranche of big name players leave, including Seedorf, Nesta, Gattuso, and van Bommel seven of which on a free as their contracts expired or they called time on their careers. This has led to AC Milan having a negative net spend of £438.86m over the last decade – the largest transfer deficit of the top five teams.

Data from

This is still affecting AC Milan to this day, as the club is still under performing based against the relative cost of its squad. In 2018-19, the team finished fifth, behind city rivals Inter, but notably behind relative minnows Atalanta, from whom AC Milan have bought a number of players from in the past.

Through the continually poor recruitment, AC Milan have been left with little opportunity but to shift their focus towards youth. The squad now has the lowest average age in Serie A.

The clear shift towards buying youth prospects is mirrored in their requirements of a coach as part of the club vision. Having a preference to sign U23 players and relatively firm declaration of desire to sign no players over the age of 30, combined with locking in first-team players for at least four years on their contracts seems designed to maximise players re-sale value after development from minutes on the pitch.

The added benefit of signing younger players from Elliott Management’s point of view is that they typically demand lower wages – which fits neatly with AC Milan’s need to bring back their wage expenditure under control, back into line with their revenue generation to avoid issues with FFP. Milan negotiated with UEFA to withdraw from the Europa League in 2019/20 due to their failure to meet FFP in past years, as part of a compromise and show a willingness to control their wage bill and balance their books after years of misspending.

Young players will be required too. Not a single Il Diavolo academy graduate currently at the club is deemed good enough to be in any of the Italian youth teams. Recruitment will need to start within the borders of Italy if the team is going to be able to fulfil its quota of home-grown players for Europa League squads. Signing young players is not without risk – player development is not guaranteed, in spite of minutes played. The squad lacks experienced leaders to mentor the youth and help them during difficult moments in games.

Without European football to generate extra revenue and increase their Club Coefficient, AC Milan look like they may only fall further from grace. At the start of the game, according to Football Manager, AC Milan find themselves in 80th position with only two years of European football in the past five years, both times in the Europa League. AC Milan have not seen Champions League football since 2013-14 since finishing 3rd in the preceding year.

Therefore, AC Milan will be the main save this year. The aims will be to:

1. Return AC Milan to Champions League football (for the 2021-22 season – more on why this season in my next post)
2. Oversee the move to a new, modern stadium
3. Continue to balance the books, using smart acquisitions and player sales
4. Win Serie A (within 3-5 years)

The next post will focus on analysing the current playing squad and the player recruitment approach to be taken.

To read this post, click the below image

Central Attacking Midfield & Centre Forward

The attacking central midfielder in the Reggina line-up is set up to attack, designed to permeate the box, confuse defenders, and find space with their runs with a goal-scoring focus. Playing in behind a sole striker, a complete forward, link up play is important to make quick plays and progressions.

Belgian international, Wim Janssen, joined the club at the start of the 2031-32 season from the unlikely destination of Tigres, the Mexican club. Tigres has picked up Janssen from K Racing Club Genk for his minimum fee release clause of £14.75m and after two years in Mexico, Reggina swooped in to pick him up for £27.5m – again, his minimum fee release clause – after thirty-one appearances and seventeen goals for the Liga MX club. Possessing very technical skills, and the player traits ‘gets into the opposition area’, ‘gets forward whenever possible’ and ‘plays one-twos’, he is the ideal player for this role.

Wim Janssen

Paulo Oliveira, the Portuguese attacking midfielder, has been with Reggina since the beginning of the 2027-28 season. Having started his career at Portimonense Sporting Club, Oliveira scored twenty-three goals in sixty-one league appearances for the Portuguese side, attracting the Reggina scouts to his abilities. Oliveria has largely been a back-up option, though a productive one, with forty-seven goals in ninety-seven games.

Paulo Oliveria

Wim Janssen was handed the primary starting birth in the attacking central midfield slot, with the role set as attacking midfield on attack to provide runs into the box and help support the lone striker. The more experienced Oliveira was a highly capable back-up option throughout the season, filling in for Janssen when required, typically filling in against weaker opposition and coming on off the bench to replace Janssen if he was having a poor game.

Attacking Central Midfield

Given the deep block/defensive nature of most teams in Serie A against a strong Reggina side, whomever plays in this role is often tightly marked/surrounded by defensive midfield players during slower build up play, so this role isn’t expected to contribute tonnes of passes nor deliver key creative blows to cut open opposing defences. This is especially the case given that they have two playmaking players in behind them. This is borne out in their metrics – with both Oliveira and Janssen being far from stand-out players in these areas.

Instead, where they excel is in their shots/90mins and their high level of shots on target/90mins. Oliveira (ranked first – 4.48 Shots/90mins) and Janssen (fifth – 4.15 Shots/90mins) both provide an attacking threat through their penetrative runs off the striker through link up play, or through arriving in the box, moving quickly between the lines of midfield and attack to avoid being picked up. This helps to explain why both rank highly on the Shots on Target/90mins metric, with Oliveira topping the metric with 2.60 shots on target/90mins and Janssen dropping down to sixth. These stats could have been somewhat skewed due to Oliveira being one of the players responsible for taking penalties. Yet on closer inspection, Oliveira only scored one goal from a penalty over the season, so it appears to have had very little impact upon the data. Of those players that took fifty shots or more over the course of the season, Oliveira and Janssen rank fourth (20.98%) and sixth (16.10%) in shot-to-goal conversion, with only the two most frequently used strikers (Quinteros and Muñoz, both analysed below) and Barca having superior conversion rates.

Their goal and assists/90mins metric see them placed fifth (Oliveira – 1.37 G/A/90mins) and sixth (Janssen – 1.11 G/A/90mins) in the overall charts, with only the strikers and left wingers offering goal involvement over the course of a game. This stat underlines their critical link in the Reggina set-up – offering goals but also, if possible, providing assists. Janssen provided the second most assists, fifteen over the season (0.44 assists/90mins) and although Oliveira provided just six, he did so over considerably fewer minutes played, giving him a metric of 0.43 assists/90mins. Neither player looks special when it comes to assists/90mins – though this is largely on the back of Mainz’s incredible 0.91 assists/90mins – but given their lack of space and their primary focus upon attacking spaces rather thanbeing a creative force, this metric shouldn’t be ignored in terms of the significance to the overall performance of the team and their link up with the centre forward. As mentioned above, Janssen’s player preferred moves of ‘gets into opposition area’, ‘gets forward whenever possible’ and plays one-twos’ make him an ideal attacking midfielder who can provide the link up play and then rip an opponent’s defence apart with his quick feet (acceleration 18 and pace 16) and movement off the ball (16) to deliver a decisive blow.

The role of centre forward for Reggina has been established as a complete forward on attack for some time. Offering an all-round body of play as part of the tip of the attacking force is essential given that they are leading the line, nominally, on their own. The forward must possess the technical abilities and be sufficiently strong enough to be able to hold up the ball to then link play with on-rushing teammates, playing in passes as they are overlapped but also being clinical in their finishing, either with their head/feet from crosses or have the composure when left one-on-one with a goalkeeper. The role also results in them trying to find space when out of possession, often drifting into the channels to provide an outlet, stretching defences and creating holes as they do so.

Wladimir Quinteros, the curiously named Ecuadorian centre forward has been with Reggina for nine seasons. Signed for only £2.8m from Club Social y Deportivo Independiente, after having started his career at Imbabura Sporting Club, Quinteros has made his name known around the world. Quinteros joined Reggina shortly after making his international debut for his home country for whom he has scored thirty-seven goals in eight-five appearances. Given his length of stay at Reggina, Quinteros is considered a leader in the dressing room.

Wladimir Quinteros

Ander Muñoz, a 19-year-old Spanish international, is a true wonderkid. With attributes beyond his young years, this player has shot to fame since arriving at Reggina two years ago from Athletic Club for a release fee of £1.8m. Having been capped by Spain twice already, the striker has a keen eye for goal, with incredible attributes that enable him to play in others around him, as well as finish chances off. Muñoz will almost undoubtedly be the main sole striker when 30-year-old Quinteros’s abilities start to decline (depending upon the future of out on loan Julio Cesar).

Ander Muñoz

Andrea Bagnoli is the last of the home-grown talent to have made it into the first-team at Reggina. His player development path has been somewhat blocked by the sheer ability and form of Quinteros and the rising talent that is Muñoz, but he still shows some signs that he is an out-and-out goal scorer given the chance. With forty-eight goals in eight-four appearances so far for his home club, and five goals in eight international appearances for the Azzurri, Bagnoli’s capabilities in front of goal are clear to see, despite being only 21-years old – which has led to the European Golden Boy title having already been bestowed upon him. In fact, his first goal for Amaranto’s first-team was scored against Inter Milan in Serie A, when Bagnoli was aged just 15. In the next season, he topped the scoring charts for Reggina, following a long injury lay-off for Quinteros, marking him as a child prodigy.

Andrea Bagnoli
Centre Forward Metrics

Spearheading the attacking line, it’s unsurprising that Quinteros and Muñoz are towards the top of the ratings for shots/90mins and shots on target/90mins. Quinteros scored thirty-six goals in thirty-six appearances, including three off the bench. Muñoz scored eighteen goals in nineteen appearances, coming in at 1.24 goals/90mins, topping this metric ahead of Quinteros’s 1.10 goals/90mins. Both have impressive shot conversion ratios – 25.35% for Quinteros and 28.56% for Muñoz. This makes them deadly in and around the box, scoring a goal every four shots. Quinteros’s link up play was superior to Muñoz over the 2031-32 season, with Quinteros chipping in with nineteen assists, 0.58 assists/90mins. Quinteros also ranked second for the number of key passes, with 77, 2.34 key passes per 90mins (sixth) compared to Muñoz’s 1.72 kp/90mins (eleventh).

It is logical therefore that Quinteros tops the charts for goal involvement/90mins, with 1.68 goals or assists/90mins. Muñoz is not far behind with 1.45/90mins, ranking him fourth in the squad. By dropping back to allow runners to run through the defensive line, or by drifting out wide to pull the defence out of position, this role provides a great deal of chances for their teammates. Quinteros’s player traits of ‘moves into channels’ is also in the complete forward player instruction, but it is clear to see that by being exceptional off the ball and having a sound reading of play as it develops, this allows him to open up space to play others in. Whilst Bagnoli tops the key passes/90mins, chances created/90mins and cross completion/attempted crosses metrics, he played less than four hundred minutes across the whole season, so should be disregarded on the basis of such a comparatively small sample size. However, the chances created by Quinteros put him fourth on the overall list when Bagnoli’s numbers are ignored. This is ahead of any playmaking midfielder in the central midfield, except for box-to-box midfielder, Stanciu.

Muñoz does not look to be too far behind Quinteros and is at least showing promise that he can match the goal threat that Quinteros brings to the side. His reading of the game should only improve given more game time and his metrics in chances created/90mins and number of assists ought to build on this season’s figures as a result. His goal output is remarkable given his young age – it can only be hoped that this is sustained going into future seasons and that his player progress does not stagnate.

Below you can see the full metrics available for players in the centre forward and attacking midfield position for your own comparison/conclusions: