il Faraone: Stephan El Shaarawy was unable to help his side as they lost their season opener away to new boys Hellas Verona 2-1. (Getty Images)
With the start of the new Serie A season, all eyes are on Massimiliano Allegri and his young AC Milan squad after an opening round loss at the hands of Serie A new boys Hellas Verona.
The memory of the truly horrific start from last year is still etched firmly in the minds of the Curva Sud, but the new season brings an opportunity for Milan to exorcise their demons and get back to the glory of days gone by.
Having barely qualified for the playoff rounds of the Champions League, Milan haven’t spent as much as most of their fans would have liked. All that may change if they were to qualify for the group stage of the UCL having held PSV to 1-1 draw in the Netherlands.
The away goal gives them an edge going into the second leg tonight and it is widely expected that with the €30 million broadcast rights kitty that comes with progression, Adriano Galliani will finally be able to bring in quality reinforcements before the end of the extended transfer window on September 2.
Though it hasn’t been the busiest of transfer windows, Milan have still made some quality additions to a squad that was already brimming with talent. The Milanese outfit has acquired Andrea Poli from Sampdoria in a co-ownership deal worth €3m and also finally welcomed former Empoli man Ricardo Saponara after he was signed in January.
Poli is expected to crack the first team immediately and is to be a part of a three-man midfield that includes new captain Riccardo Montolivo and hard-hitting Nigel De Jong. Saponara, however, is expected to phase into the team slowly with Kevin Prince Boateng set to retain the starting spot if no other additions are made to the squad.
The loss suffered at the hands of Hellas Verona is a concern and has exposed exactly how vulnerable this Milanese defence truly is. With the transfer deadline approaching rapidly, Milan find themselves needing defensive reinforcements if they are to make a real charge for the Scudetto.
Injuries have also been a cause for concern in Milan’s pre-season appearances. Going into tonight’s match with PSV at the San Siro, il Diavolo will be without Jherson Verghara, Mattia De Scglio, Riccardo Saponara, Daniele Bonera, Giampaolo Pazzini and De Jong, though the Dutch international might just pass a late fitness test. These injuries have disturbed Milan’s plans to go into the season with a 25-man squad.
Depending on the result of tonight’s match, Milan will either challenge Juventus for the title or will play second fiddle to the old lady all season long. Alessandro Matri, Christian Eriksen, Adem Ljacic, Mamadou Sakho and Davide Astori are being pegged as the prime transfer targets. Keisuke Honda seems destined to fulfill his desire to step onto the San Siro pitch in January, when he will join Milan as a free agent.
Silvio Berlusconi, the president of the club is said to have directed Allegri to play with two strikers and the manager might very well comply and switch back to the 4-3-1-2 system that was last deployed when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was leading the line. The system wouldn’t be ideal for one of the bright sparks in Milan’s set-up as M’baye Niang will have to play second fiddle to Stephan El Sharaawy and Mario Balotelli for the most part.
It will also be interesting to see the continued development of Primavera graduate De Scglio in his second season with the senior side. The young Italian international dazzled crowds with his Maldini-esque performances down the left flank last season and is expected to be a large part of any AC Milan plans moving forward.
Aside from De Scglio, another two Primavera players are making the jump up to the senior side this season. Andrea Petagna and Bryan Cristante will be eager to prove themselves to Allegri and establish their places in the squad.
The partnership between Balotelli and El Sharaawy will be the key for Milan this season if they are to challenge Juventus for the title. With all the major teams spending heavily in the mercato, Milan seem to be heavily outgunned but they do have more experience playing together and in Italy that counts for a lot. Even so, you would be hard pressed to believe that Milan will win the title but there is nothing wrong with hoping.
Predicted Finish: 2nd