With Zlatan Ibrahimovic still out with a thigh injury for the next few matches, it is about time Milan look to address their biggest problem; finding a backup and eventual replacement for Ibrahimovic. Both Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao have been shuffled up top on numerous occasions, but neither has shown that they are capable of filling in for the Swede.

Mario Mandzukic was signed as a free agent in January and seemed like a low-risk high-reward signing, however, the Croatian has been limited to only _ appearances because of numerous injuries. It seems as his age is catching up to him, and he is not gonna get any younger. He may be able to temporarily act as a striker whenever he is fit again, but he is not a permanent solution to the problem.

In January, Milan loaned out 19-year-old striker Lorenzo Colombo to Serie B side Cremonese with the hope of him getting more game time. He made 10 appearances, scoring one goal in the Europa League, in the first half of the season. Colombo showed signs of promise but Milan thought he would benefit from having more game time. While Colombo may not be able to solve the problems up top, he will certainly be another option for coach Pioli when he returns.

The only short-term solution to this dilemma is for Pioli to change his tactics, an idea that the coach has thought about. The solution would be to change the team’s system to a two-man striking partnership instead of a lone forward up top. The only two formations for this would be a 4-4-2, 4-3-1-2, or a 3-5-2 formation. 

4-4-2: Milan could return to the set up they tried in January 2020 when Ibrahimovic had first arrived, however, the idea of having wide midfielders would exclude Calhanoglu, who has struggled in this role in past seasons. This option seems the least likely, especially with the Turkish playmaker’s importance to the team.

4-3-1-2: Next, a classic formation that brought the Rossoneri plenty of success many years ago. This system would see another mezzala come into the midfield to form a diamond with the removal of wingers. The diamond would likely consist of Calhanoglu, Kessie, Bennacer, and Tonali, as well as two of Ibrahimovic, Leao, Rebic, Mandzukic, Hauge, and Castillejo up top.

3-5-2: This last option could have the potential of solving both offensive and defensive problems for the team. The three-man defence would be made up of Tomori, Kjaer, and Romagnoli, with Gabbia and Kalulu being the alternatives. The midfield triangle would be made up of Kessie, Bennacer, and Calhanoglu (when all are healthy) and we would see Theo Hernandez and Calabria (or Dalot/Saelemaekers/Castillejo) as the wing-backs. This would see Theo have fewer defensive duties and operate as the main attacking threat on the left side, a task he is capable of doing. Ibrahimovic would partner with either Leao, Rebic, Hauge, or Mandzukic as the two upfront. 

Image courtesy of sempremilan.com

The 3-5-2 option seems the best on paper and looks to be the easiest system to implement. Serie A has seen teams such as Inter, Atalanta, and Lazio find success with this system, and hopefully, Milan will find success if Pioli decides to implement this system.

Nevertheless, a change in tactics may not be a permanent answer to the Rossoneri’s problems. Come next transfer window, it will be crucial that Milan invest in a striker, and if they achieve Champions League qualification, they will have upwards of 60 million in revenue which could be used towards the purchase of a forward. 

Milan have been long-time admirers of Torino’s Andrea Belotti, who seems to be the most realistic option at this moment. Belotti’s contract expires in 2022 and the Torino Captain will likely want to take his career to a better team come that time. Torino have never wanted to sell him, but with his contract expiring and relegation on the cards this season, they may end up having to do so.