Connect in the back of the net

Napoli finished 11 points higher in Serie A last season than AC Milan, but both clubs went into the summer with similar issues to address. Both clubs finished outside of the Champions League qualification places and both would respond by changing their manager, Milan sacking Filippo Inzaghi and appointing Sinisa Mihaljovic while Napoli appointed Empoli’s Maurizio Sarri to take-over from Rafael Benitez who had left for Real Madrid.

Sarri had said in the summer that Milan had also gone for him, “I had many meetings with (AC Milan vice president Adriano) Galliani” he said, but his chances of taking the job at the San Siro were vetoed by Silvio Berlusconi, Milan’s controlling stakeholder and owner, who did not agree with his politics.

A chain-smoking, tracksuit wearing, left-leaning coach of an uncompromising nature did not sit well with Berlusconi who had Galliani settle on Mihajlovic, who had earlier left Sampdoria, to become their fourth manager since Massimiliano Allegri was sacked in 2014.

“De Laurentiis said that he chose me for the Napoli job because he wanted to make an appointment based on a coach’s work rather than their name” said Sarri, with Napoli’s chairman wily enough to appoint a manager on his managerial skills rather than what he looks like on the touchline.


Sarri’s appointment proving fruitful, while Milan continue to struggle

The result, Napoli are starting to hit form and are looking up at league leaders Fiorentina while Milan have rooted themselves into another crisis. The Rossoneri have lost four of their opening seven games and their latest result, a 0-4 home thrashing at the hands of Sarri’s Napoli, has installed panic into the red and black half of Milan yet again.

Galliani, who held a crisis meeting with the squad after a defeat away to Genoa, was once more the scapegoat, with fans directing their anger at the vice-president after he left his seat mid-way through the second half.

The loss at Genoa was even more embarrassing. This summer’s signings of Juraj Kucka and Luca Antonelli meant Milan had taken 11 players from the north-Italian club since signing Marco Borriello in 2008. Maintaining links with his close friend Enrico Preziosi, chairman of Genoa, Galliani has sanctioned the purchase of €67 million worth of players from Il Grifone over the past seven years. Despite the gulf in financial muscle of the clubs off the field, it would have been infuriating for the Rossoneri faithful to witness their side still inferior than Genoa on it.

Tensions between Milan’s Curva Sud Ultras group and the vice-president were high before the season started after a summer which the supporters claimed “showed Galliani’s incompetence”.

“Any eventual fireworks on transfer deadline day certainly won’t change our opinion. Unlike in the past, the club gave Galliani the necessary liquidity to sign top players” read a statement back in August. Now the Italian, CEO of Milan since 1986, is taking the heat while Mihajlovic avoids fire, for the time being.

“Napoli were better than us was the Serbian’s verdict, “there’s little more to say than that”. After Lorenzo Insigne and Gonzaolo Higuain had torn Milan to shreds on Sunday evening it was hard to argue with that assessment. Defensive errors are still made with alarming frequency and the £17.5 million signing of Alessio Romagnoli from Roma has had little effect on a porous back-line judging by how only 17th place Carpi have conceded more than Milan’s 13 so far this term.


Defensive calamities and lack of depth

Romagnoli was suspended for the Napoli game but Christian Zapata gifted Allan the game’s opening goal with a poor clearance that went to Insigne. His centre-back partner, the 21 year old Rodrigo Ely, scored the own-goal to make it four and, compounded with the red card he picked up in the opening day defeat to Fiorentina, he has appeared out of depth so far in this campaign.

Antonelli was caught out of position at left-back for the opener while on the opposite side Matteo De Sciglio was terrorised by Insigne. How Mihajlovic must wish for the return of Ignazio Abate, who is currently side-lined with a leg injury.

In attack M’Baye Niang and last season’s top-scorer Jeremy Menez have also been missing and while Carlos Bacca has made a decent start to life in Milan after his £21 million move from Sevilla, scoring three goals, Luiz Adriano, bought from Shakhtar Donetsk for £5 million, has managed just one. Mario Balotelli, on loan from Liverpool, impressed when coming off the bench against Inter in the derby and scored in the win at Udinese but was among the long-list of absences of the Napoli game.

There has been enough from Balotelli, and from the talented midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura, scorer of two goals and creator of three so far, to suggest Milan can be threat when it all clicks but at the moment Mihajlovic is far away from achieving that.

There is a distinct lack of inspiration and energy in a midfield that still struggles to dictate possession in the way Andrea Pirlo, criminally allowed to leave Juventus for free in 2011, managed so effortlessly. Ricardo Montolivo and Andrea Bertolacci, one of Galliani’s purchases from Genova, are the latest in the four years since they last won the Scudetto to fill Pirlo’s void without success.


Lack of balance

The Serb is dealing with a squad that seems unbalanced and forged together in a jumble, especially in defence. That can possibly be attributed to a transfer policy that failed to land the likes of Jackson Martinez and Geoffrey Kondogbia despite being so close to deals for the pair in the summer. Martinez would join Atletico Madrid and Kondogbia moved to rivals Inter when it looked like Milan had their moves wrapped up.

Galliani, now accustomed to shopping within the bargain rails after the recent years of budget-cutting, used his relationship with Genoa to land Kucka on the cheap while the agent Mino Raiola, with whom Galliani also has close links, was used to rescue Balotelli from obscurity at Anfield as an alternative to Martinez.


Good money, but not towards the right targets

Backed with £63 million to spend, Milan’s biggest spending spree for fourteen years and financed by Thai investor Bee Taechaubol as he seeks to secure his 48% stake in the club in a €480 million deal, which is still yet to materialise after an agreement from two months ago, Galliani still finds himself hounded out of the San Siro as Milan simply can’t find their way out of a long-inhabited rut.

The search for the answer why may this time direct Milan to elsewhere than the manager or how he dresses in the dugout.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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