With a shocking 5-2 loss at home to Sassuolo on Sunday, AC Milan and coach Stefano Pioli are facing the most difficult moment since he took charge of the Italian club back in October 2019. The Rossoneri are still in the race for a Champions League spot, but since the new year started, they have won only the first match against Salernitana away, drew two matches against Lecce and AS Roma and lost four times. Adding to that, AC Milan were knocked out of the Coppa Italia against Torino and lost the Supercoppa Italiana 3-0 against Inter Milan. The numbers are worrying, as the Rossoneri conceded 18 goals in seven matches, more than any other team in the top five European leagues as of Sunday morning. In the last two games, AC Milan lost 4-0 against Lazio before the 5-2 defeat at home against Sassuolo. Those two defeats put more pressure on the position of Pioli.
Sassuolo hangs FIVE on AC Milan as the defending champions drop to fourth in Serie A. 😳 pic.twitter.com/Gxihv6NYaq— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) January 29, 2023
Pioli was one of the secrets as to why AC Milan managed to win their first Scudetto in eleven years during the past season, but it seems that he has now lost a bit of control in the dressing room. The results are clearly showing that something has broken, and he had never led AC Milan to six games without a win, and the last time it happened was in April 2019. The last time they conceded five goals at home was against Juventus in 1997 (6-1), and they just allowed four goals in back-to-back league games for the first time in their history.
4 - AC Milan have conceded at least 4 goals in 2 Serie A matches in a row for the first time in their history. Hit.#MilanSassuolo— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 29, 2023
Chances are that Piolo is still safe for now though. AC Milan's main issue is that defense. Pioli started off the current 2022-23 season after losing former club captain Alessio Romagnoli as a free agent. The club decided to not invest in experienced players to replace him, also considering the comeback of Simon Kjaer after his knee injury. Pioli currently has five center backs on the roster: Fikayo Tomori, Kjaer, Matteo Gabbia, Pierre Kalulu and Malick Thiaw, who was signed last summer from Schalke 04. Last season, AC Milan based their league success on the defense and especially on the individual performances of Kalulu and Tomori. Their perfect combination and defensive work were the reasons why the Rossoneri conceded only 31 goals in 38 matches. This season, the story is different and the same key players are underperforming and are not supported by the midfielders and the wingers.
Also, the great performance of goalkeeper Mike Maignan was another reason for their success, but the French player has been injured for many games, and his replacement, Ciprian Tatarusanu, didn't deliver. That saw the club sign Marco Sportiello as a free agent in the summer. The much-awaited comeback of Maignan will definitely help AC Milan to improve their defensive record, but they will probably need another starting center back. Last summer, the club decided against signing Sven Botman and Newcastle signed him instead. If we look back at that decision, it was probably a mistake considering his form in England.
Adding to this, the strikers don't seem to work much better. Club stars Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud are not creating as much as before, and the big signing, Charles De Ketelaere, is still a mystery, having had no real impact. He's definitely not the reason why things are not working well, but everybody expected something different despite his young age, 21, after he arrived in the summer of 2022.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was never available this season and his potential comeback is still unknown due to his knee recovery. It's difficult to predict if Pioli will be able to overturn the events in the coming games, but the club will definitely continue to support him as they did before the first COVID outbreak. In that case, he was able to show to the club and the fans that he was the right man to lead AC Milan, despite former club CEO Ivan Gazidis already having an agreement with Ralf Rangnick for the following years.
In a few weeks, everything changed for Pioli and for the club and he proved to be the perfect coach for the club, as he won the league a year later. The hope of the manager is that he can repeat something similar now, starting next week when they will face Inter Milan on Sunday, two weeks after losing the Supercoppa against the same city rivals. But first thing is first, and that's finding a way to lift the morale of the team before attempting to rediscover the defensive form that got them to the summit of Italy not too long ago.