Milan rounded off their brief International Champions Cup campaign with a loss on penalties against Real Madrid in Shanghai.
Madrid, as a result of their 10-9 victory on penalties, won the ICC despite the two sides being level at 0-0 after 90 minutes.
It was a solid display from the Rossoneri, especially the back line, and all-in-all it has to be said that the Champions Cup has been beneficial for the team and for Mihajlovic in terms of experimentation.
With that being said, here are five things that I took from the game:
1. Ely making serious claim for starting spot
As aforementioned, the whole Milan defensive unit could be very proud of their efforts during this game against a very talented Real Madrid line-up that saw the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Isco and James Rodriguez all feature.
One man who really stood out for Il Diavolo however was Rodrigo Ely, the central defender who Milan re-signed from Avellino having departed the club in 2014.
Without exaggerating, Ely stopped the powerful Real Madrid front three (most notably Gareth Bale) in the first half, showing superb composure and exceptional decision making to thwart some of the best footballers in the world currently.
Rodrigo is really pushing Sinisa Mihajlovic by producing such displays, and on the evidence he has shown us in the preseason so far it would be very difficult to leave him out of the defence altogether even with an addition.
Of course, the likes of Gabriel Paletta, Philippe Mexes, Alex (if not sold) and Cristian Zapata (same as Alex) will all have something to say about the issue.
2. Zapata providing selection headache?
The last point about centre-backs competing for a place in the line-up leads nicely on to Cristian Zapata.
A large portion of Milanisti have already lost patience with Zapata, as he seemingly has all the tools to be a superb defender, but for whatever reason cannot do this on a consistent basis.
There is the added frustration that for Colombia, Cristian seems to turn out wonderful performances against some of the most talented and skilful opponents, as demonstrated in the recent Copa America tournament.
In the game against Real Madrid, though, he looked back to his best, at least for 45 minutes. Sharp, agile, decisive; all the qualities we have come to expect of Zapata and which he hasn’t delivered for Milan consistently.
Nevertheless, while there is no talk of him moving on, it would be foolish to rule him out of the picture altogether, and displays like today will help his cause no end.
3. Cerci out of chances?
Another cause of frustration for Milan has been the complete no-show of Alessio Cerci since his loan arrival from Atletico Madrid.
At Torino, Cerci was comfortably one of the best players in the league, forming a dynamic duo with Ciro Immobile that took i Toro into the Europa League qualifying stage. He scored 21 goals for the Maroons before his big-money move to the Spanish capital, where he completely failed to make an impression, not scoring a single goal in his six appearances.
Milan was seen as a fresh start and a career reboot for him; a chance to regain some form and re-establish his true playing style. Things just haven’t gone well, however, and patience is wearing thin with the former-Fiorentina man.
Just before the match against Madrid, comments circulated online in which Cerci described himself as “second to none” when he “trains well” in an interview with Tuttosport.
Following those remarks up with another ‘headless chicken’ style performance was not the right thing to do, and it appears any potential for him to become a big impact player here at Milan has evaporated completely.
4. Still decisions to be made at CAM
A very hotly discussed issue so far this offseason has been the position behind the two strikers and who should occupy it. I am currently working on a separate feature based on this competition, so I don’t want to go into too much detail with this point.
After this game, though, I feel it important to suggest that Mihajlovic will be no closer to solving the problem.
We saw a combination of Suso and Honda used in the game, with the Spaniard having the first half and the Japanese international the second. Neither really provided any real talking points and both struggled to get into the game at all, which as I mentioned doesn’t make things any clearer.
Of course, it has been mentioned that Jeremy Menez will occupy that position as a CF/CAM, but he has been injured and hasn’t partaken in any preseason action so far so judgement must be reserved on the Frenchman.
Also thrown in to the mix are Giacomo Bonaventura and to an extent perhaps Niang and Cerci (although both highly unlikely), plus any new additions (*cough* Zlatan *cough*), which promises to make things extra difficult for Sinisa.
5. Options in midfield
Sort of similar to the last point, this is another selection dilemma for Mihajlovic with regards to what combination of midfield three he lines up with in the 4-3-1-2.
Before the first preseason games, the most logical partnership would be De Jong in the middle of Bertolacci and either Poli or Montolivo, and some may still feel that way.
One man who will be knocking on the door though would be Jose Mauri, who was hugely impressive today in the second half, providing an exuberance of youthfulness and enthusiasm that then resonated through the other ten players.
Jose has all the potential qualities to ideally slot into the left or right prong of a midfield three, despite being small in presence and stature, and there is no doubt he can grow into a wonderful player.
Perhaps the vast majority thought that at just 18 and with not a lot of match practice it would be too soon to thrust the youngster into the line-up, but Jose Mauri has answered those people with that display.
An honorable mention must go to Gianluigi Donnarumma, who at just 16 years of age played an outstanding role in the penalty shootout, rescuing the team from the jaws of defeat with a clutch save. The fact his penalty was saved should be completely erased from everybody’s memory.
Also, Luca Antonelli produced a very strong showing today, reaffirming why, in my opinion, he has one of the starting full-back spots already locked down.
So, those are the five lasting impressions I got from the match against Real Madrid. I can confirm that the ‘5 things’ series will continue throughout the remainder of preseason and into 2015-16, and I look forward to exchanging more opinions with viewers.
Article by Oliver Fisher