AC Milan: Stefano Pioli in danger of losing job after winning Serie A in 2022

13 December 2023 0 By Total Football News

Mina Rzouki banner

As Milan succumbed to yet another league defeat over the weekend, coach Stefano Pioli is now under serious threat of losing his job.

A loss to Newcastle in the Champions League may well hasten his departure from a club that he guided to great heights.

For a club that invested heavily in the summer to bring in 10 fresh new faces to the team, Milan were not supposed to be out of Europe and potentially out of the title race so early into the season.

Sitting in third and nine points behind league leaders Inter in the Serie A table, Milan have struggled in playing with any consistency this season. Their inability to score in the Champions League coupled with a defence that is perforated far too frequently, Pioli is being rightfully questioned.

Is it time to move on from the 58-year-old Italian?

It seemed like only yesterday that the song ‘Pioli’s on fire’ sung to the tune of ‘Freed from desire’ was being belted out at every opportunity.

Pioli won the Scudetto with Milan in 2022, pipping favourites Inter to the title. Ahead of schedule, Milan’s long-term project was bearing fruit far quicker than anyone had envisioned, and Pioli merited much of the praise.

Stefano PioliStefano Pioli guided AC Milan to the Serie A title in 2021-22, their first Italian championship since 2010-11

Maintaining that brilliance proved to be quite challenging.

The Rossoneri suffered last season, especially after the World Cup. Playing in Europe exposed the thinness of the squad and Milan struggled to give their best in all competitions.

The team looked imbalanced and incapable of building play effectively and #Pioliout trended quite often on X, especially after the loss to Inter in the Champions League semi-final.

The 5-1 drubbing at the hands of their city rivals in September fortified claims that Pioli had reached the end of his journey with Milan.

It was the fifth consecutive derby loss for the Rossoneri this calendar year. The coach was clearly not learning from his mistakes. The high press, the decision to man mark, the absence of new attacking patterns of play, Milan were not growing but rather regressing despite all the new arrivals.

The problem with modern day football analysis is that buying a lot of new players is a viewed as a great thing and a sign of great ambition. After all, it was thought management had bestowed Pioli with several attacking solutions to lessen their dependency on the inconsistent yet magical Rafael Leao.

Deeper analysis of their transfer market activity would reveal that the purchases failed to address Milan’s biggest problems. Ten new players were brought in and yet the only striker they could sign to alternate with the ageing Oliver Giroud was Luka Jovic, a player who hasn’t impressed ever since he departed Eintracht Frankfurt.

Signing him on transfer deadline day on a one-year-deal suggests the motivating factor behind his arrival was more desperation than clear planning.

No alternative to left-back Theo Hernandez was sought in the market either while the midfield is still without a conductor, a player who can control and direct play.

Most importantly, many of players brought on were arguably not considered ‘the final product’, which is understandable considering Serie A finances but that also means that patience then becomes a necessity.

Pioli needs time to develop these players, to coach them and understand their strengths in order to design a new playing system, to achieve balance and produce better performances.

Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have seemingly integrated quicker – they are the two of the bigger names to have arrived – but others still need to find their footing.

Injuries have also hampered Milan’s progression. It’s hard to create new patterns of play when you lose a player almost every gameday. The Rossoneri will go into the match against Newcastle with only one centre-back available to them. So far, they have registered 26 injuries, 18 of them are muscle injuries.

Fitness coach Matteo Osti won the award for best trainer in 2022 and is deeply esteemed by his colleagues. Now he is being questioned due to the many player absences.

Olivier GiroudAC Milan drew 0-0 with Newcastle in their opening Champions League group match at the San Siro in September

Pioli’s tenure at Milan has been blighted by injuries. In December 2021, Radio Rossonera revealed some disturbing statistics when assessing the impact of injuries on Serie A.

Between September 2020 to December 2021, Milan players collectively missed 377 games due to injuries. The next team on the list over that period was Napoli. Their players had missed 271 games – more than 100 games fewer, a substantial difference.

“It is true that we have a lot of these injuries and I honestly cannot explain it,” said Pioli in a November news conference.

“It can’t just be bad luck at this point. Playing so often, the physical and mental stress levels are elevated and this can affect the players.”

This matter certainly requires further investigation and training methods must also be assessed. It’s imperative to note that certain injuries were picked up by players out on international duty, but Pioli and his coaching staff must find a way to resolve the never-ending battle with fitness they have endured yearly.

Massive changes across the club always require patience. Milan only recently changed ownership, both Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara – two directors who supported the players and built the Scudetto winning side – departed.

So too did Sandro Tonali and Zlatan Ibrahimovic two self-professed fanatical Milan fans. Interestingly Ibrahimovic has just be rehired by the ownership.

The club culture has changed, the dressing room lost leaders with big voices and so expecting a seamless turnover seems rather fanciful.

Yet Milan the name, the brand, should be competing for the biggest trophies every season but those are not won by reputations alone but rather present facts.

It’s also fair to say that Milan should be winning against teams such as Udinese and Saturday’s loss to Atalanta revealed a certain tactical recklessness that would worry any football fan.

Changing coaches isn’t always the solution and at times calcio could do with having more sensible objectives. This current Milan boast neither Inter’s experience nor Juventus’ financial might and Pioli ought to be given the time to rebuild this team.

If no significant improvements are made by the end of the season, then better plans can be made for the future, with or without Pioli.

Mina Rzouki is a European football journalist and broadcaster who is writing for BBC Sport this season. If you have a question on European football that you’d like to ask her, then fill out the form below and she will answer a selection of them in subsequent columns.

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