Milan Transfers: 4 Centre-Backs to Improve the Rossoneri's Struggling Defense
Over the past few years, the central defense has been Milan's biggest problem.
A rotating door of unsuitable replacements for Thiago Silva has made the Rossoneri an incredibly mediocre defensive side.
This season, Milan have conceded 17 times through 13 matches, putting them on pace for an historically poor 50 goals allowed. That's a tally characteristic of a side that's fighting to stay above the relegation zone, not a tally of a club expected to contend for a European place.
In this slideshow, we'll take a speculative look at four centre-backs, all of whom would bolster Milan's porous back line.
Please note that most of the footballers in this list haven't been formally linked with a move to the San Siro, as we'll direct our focus towards players whom Adriano Galliani and company should be targeting.
A Note on Today's Centre-Backs
The distribution of today's top centre-backs, and best centre-half prospects, is very stratified—world football's top clubs control the vast majority of elite central defenders.
While "The Next Messi/Ronaldo" can usually be found with a cursory YouTube search, you just don't hear much about "The Next Vincent Kompany."
And when you do, it generally isn't long before Jose Mourinho begins to court him.
To make matters even worse for Milan, many of the better defensive starlets are of nationalities not well-represented at San Siro, making it increasingly unlikely that the Rossoneri could strike a deal for an Aymeric Laporte, a Fabian Schar or a Robin Knoche.
Daniele Rugani, arguably the best young, Italian central defender is, of course, already owned by Juventus.
As Milan falls from the ranks of being a prime destination, along with their penurious transfer policy, Galliani must be a step ahead in order to give the Rossoneri the edge they now need in transfer dealings.
That's why you won't find, for example, Laporte, Schar, Knoche, Matthias Ginter or Shkodran Mustafi on this list, as each player simply isn't a feasible target for Milan in today's transfer climate.
Our four transfer suggestions can be placed into two distinct categories: up-and-coming Dutch youngster and player most likely to ride the bench for Premier League powerhouse.
Let's get into it.
Terence Kongolo, Feyenoord
Despite selling their two best defenders a year ago—Stefan de Vrij to Lazio and Bruno Martins Indi to Porto—Feyenoord's back line has been even better this season, due in large part to 20-year-old Terence Kongolo’s brilliant form.
The twice-capped Dutch international has posted solid averages of 2.3 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game, but what’s more impressive is that he’s completing over three tackles per every foul, and he has only been booked once this season.
He’s upped his pass-completion rate to a healthy 86.2 percent, and his outstanding aerial ability rounds out a skill set that has him poised to become a top central defender in the coming years.
The prevailing notion is that the Dutch national team can score with the best of them, but their vulnerability at the back prevents the Oranje from lifting a major trophy.
However, due to Holland's culture of awarding big minutes to young players, a number of promising central defenders—including Kongolo, his two former teammates and the next player on our list—have recently been coming through the ranks.
With standout performances through what amounts to about one full season of first-team football, as well as a smattering of European and international appearances, Kongolo is exactly the type of player Galliani should be targeting.
His €3 million Transfermarkt.com valuation is much lower than his actual worth, and competition for his signature will be rife, but Galliani would do well to turn back the clock and poach a Dutch top prospect.
Joel Veltman, Ajax
Like Kongolo, Veltman has been sensational through the first third of the 2014-15 Eredivisie campaign, helping his club Ajax to the fourth-best concession rate in the league.
Another young central defender who's already been capped on seven occasions for the Oranje, Veltman, along with Kongolo, was included in Louis van Gaal's 2014 World Cup squad.
The two Dutchmen share a similar playing style, with the chief difference being Kongolo’s ability to play as a left-back, where Veltman is more of an out-and-out central defender.
Per WhoScored, Veltman has played every minute through Ajax's first 12 matches of this campaign, posting per-game averages of 2.3 tackles and 2.0 interceptions, an 89.2 pass completion percentage, as well as a ratio of about three successful tackles:one foul—all remarkably similar numbers as compared to Kongolo's.
Veltman is a positive centre-back who will look to make a forward run and catalyze the attack when given the chance, always an interesting dimension to a central defender's game.
The Dutchman would almost certainly not be available for a winter move—Ajax are embroiled in a title fight with PSV and will be keen to keep hold of their star centre-half.
His €4.5 million valuation is slightly higher than that of Kongolo, and while either player would rank as a great signing, both would give Milan one of the better young centre-back pairings in world football.
Vlad Chiriches, Tottenham
The Romanian international was linked with Milan in the past, but instead opted to join Tottenham last summer.
Chiriches, 25, is great at breaking up play and, to continue the trend, averages nearly three completed tackles per foul committed. His passing is on par with our two previous transfer suggestions, though he’s slightly less assertive in the air as compared to the Dutch duo.
Chiriches performed well through 17 appearances under Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood last year, yet has managed just three league starts for Mauricio Pochettino.
The former Southampton manager prefers Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen as the central defensive pairing, while Federico Fazio represents a nice rotation option despite the slow start to his Premier League career.
Eric Dier has been deputizing at right-back while Kyle Walker has been injured, and given how Pocchetino used his full-backs at Southampton, it’s likely that Walker will reprise the starting role upon his return.
As a result, Dier will likely be pushed back into the jumbled centre-back depth chart, as the English youth international played in the middle at Sporting, and at Spurs before Walker went down.
That sequence of events would see Chiriches needing to contend with four centre-backs—all of whom have seen more playing time in Pochettino’s new regime—for a Spurs side that may struggle to finish in the European places this season.
Missing out on Europe would mean even fewer playing opportunities for Chiriches, and it could lead him to look for a way out of White Hart Lane.
At €11 million, he’d cost considerably more, but his experience would make him a more apt plug-and-play starter.
A loan with an option to buy could make sense for both clubs.
Matija Nastasic, Manchester City
Another loan with an option to buy possibility, Nastasic is, at the moment, the best defender on our list.
He was excellent for the Viola during the 2011-12 Serie A season, prompting then-manager Roberto Mancini to exchange a fair bit of cash, as well as Stevan Savic—who has become a fine defender—for the Serbian starlet.
As compared to the 26 games he played for Mancini during the 2012-13 Premier League campaign, Nastasic saw his playing time dip the following season, when current manager Manuel Pellegrini deployed the defender in 17 matches.
A healthy Vincent Kompany and Pellegrini's penchant for playing Martin Demichelis—the former Bayern Munich man was indispensable in Pellegrini's Malaga teams—cut into Nastasic's minutes this season, but perhaps the biggest blow was the Eliaquim Mangala signing.
Mangala was brought in from Porto over the summer for a staggering fee of €40 million. When a manager pays that much for a player, it's a safe bet to assume the player will see his fair share of playing time.
Through City's first 13 matches of this season, the centre-back appearances have been divided as follows: Kompany has 12, Demichelis has 10, Mangala has six and Nastasic has zero.
Now this could very well change as the domestic cup competitions ramp up—or if City can salvage their European season with a result against Roma, in Rome, on December 10th—but as it currently stands, Nastasic seems surplus to requirements.
He's way too good of a footballer to be wasting prime development years on City's bench, and a return to Serie A would see the 21-year-old receive the playing time he deserves.
Galliani has worked deals with City before, taking the problematic duo of Robinho and Mario Balotelli off the Citizens' hands.
Hopefully we'll be able to add Nastasic to that list.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored unless otherwise noted.
Transfer data courtesy of Transfermarkt unless otherwise noted.