From the moment the 2021/22 schedule was released, November 7th was circled on the calendars of Interisti, Milanisti, and any others interested in the two inhabitants of the Guiseppe Meazza. Now that the first derby della’Madonnina of the campaign has just about arrived, we crossed from the Curva Nord to Curva Sud to see how our cousins are faring. The Three Men & Milan Podcast was kind enough to answer our Rossoneri-related queries. Be sure to check them out on Twitter and subscribe to their work on Spotify.
A big thanks to them for their time!
Q: Milan has looked like a new team since Zlatan arrived in early 2020, but after almost two years of surging form, the results clearly go beyond the Swede. What’s been the catalyst for Milan’s revival?
A: Whilst I don’t think the impact Zlatan’s return has had can be understated on the pitch and within the squad, on a higher level the ownership of Elliott, the return of Paolo Maldini and the management of Stefano Pioli have been key.
Over the past decade the mentality of the whole club had deteriorated and the standards fell, with inconsistent leadership and short-termism. Elliott have come in with a clear plan to balance the books and move the club towards being self-sufficient. They have looked at successful models around Europe and taken inspiration from them and as a result, despite not having the financial rewards of the Champions League until this season, managed to significantly reduce the losses.
They have been aided in this by technical director Paolo Maldini who has proven to be a shrewd, no nonsense negotiator as shown by the Donnarumma saga. Maldini had always said he would only return to Milan when their was a solid project in place so his return is an endorsement of the Elliott ownership.
Finally, Stefano Pioli’s appointment as manager may have drawn the raised eyebrows from many, but he has silenced the critics (ourselves at 3menandmilan included!). The team spirit he has brought into a young group of players has been very important. He’s managed to motivate and get the best out of several young players who were seen as risks to take on such as Theo Hernandez and Fikayo Tomori, both of whom are now worth significantly more than they cost. He’s also been innovative from a tactical perspective allowing players such as Theo to play to their strengths and flourish.
Q: What would a successful 2021/22 season look like for Milan? Is silverware a must? Subsequently, do you see Stefano Piolo staying at the San Siro for the long term?
A: We need to achieve consistency and having finally broken back into the top 4 last season, this is now the minimum target. I don’t think silverware is an absolute necessity right now but it will become so in the medium term.
Given the way the European fixtures have gone, it looks virtually certain that we will be out of Europe so I would like to see us emulate Inter last year and use this to really push for the Scudetto.
It's no secret Pioli has had to work hard to win over the fans but he has certainly done that. He will of course be judged on the team's performances but as long as we are continuing to progress I’d be more than happy for him to stay in the dugout.
Q: What are Milan’s strengths? Are there any players you see causing Inter problems Sunday?
A: Milan have a predominantly young side, with one of the lowest average ages in Serie A, allowing for a high intensity and pressing style. This coupled with the experience of Kjaer at the back and Ibra/Giroud up front creates a nice balance. We’ve also seen a lot of rotations with players popping up in positions you might not expect to find them, such as Theo being the furthest player forward and Tonali dropping into a right back position, which can cause confusion in the opposition. At times against Roma, the players almost seemed to be in a 2-2-6 formation, with the full backs pushed on to press early and stop Roma from playing out from the back.
Q: On the flip side, where does Milan struggle? Which Inter players are you most worried about?
A: The biggest worry for Milan at the moment is injuries/suspensions to key players. Theo was (somewhat controversially) sent off against Roma and will miss the Derby. Then there is the continuing absence of Mike Maignan in goal, who was having a fantastic season before picking up a wrist injury against Atlético.
As for Inter, Nicola Barella is a fantastic player and in great form. He’s a real driving force and capable of inspiring those around him to greater performance. Joaquin Correa has always been a thorn in the side for Milan and seems to have settled in well. He’s someone I never look forward to seeing on the opposition team sheet.
Q: And finally, what’s your prediction for the first derby of the season?
A: I think it’s going to be a tight game and I think there’s going to be goals. I’m hoping we can continue our form and edge a win.