An Early Prediction of AC Milan's 2012-13 Starting XI

Tim FontenaultCorrespondent IMay 22, 2012

An Early Prediction of AC Milan's 2012-13 Starting XI

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    With the 2011-12 season over, it is time to look ahead to next season. AC Milan is going to be a different-looking team when the club comes together for training in July. Legends are gone and new faces are coming in.

    With all the rumors, done deals and speculation around the club, what will the Rossoneri's starting 11 look like as they try to pry the Scudetto away from Juventus in Serie A and return to Champions League glory in Europe? Here's an early look at what the squad may look like using all the rumors and done deals, as well as my own opinion about who Milan should target in the summer.

Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris

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    The captain of the French national team is unhappy at Olympique Lyon after the club failed to qualify for the Champions League as power continues to shift in Ligue 1.

    Lloris is under contract until 2015, but Lyon are looking to cut the wage bill, and a deal could be made. Say, for instance, Milan were to offer cash as well as Marco Amelia, whose wages would be considerably less than those of Lloris, then Milan could have a good shot at acquiring the 25-year-old.

    Christian Abbiati is going to be 35 when the season starts, and his contract expires at the end of next season. Milan are starting to get serious about a changing of the guard. Lloris could be brought in to start with Abbiati as his No. 2, and both could help mentor Milan's most recent addition, 19-year-old Brazilian keeper Gabriel.

Left Back: Didac Vila

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    Left back is an Achilles' heel at Milan right now, no doubt about it. However, it is about time to see what Didac Vila can do.

    After winning the UEFA European U-21 Championship with Spain last summer, where he played every minute of every match, Milan loaned him back to Espanyol, the club that sold Vila to Milan in January 2011, and Vila had an incredible season, playing in 37 league games for the Catalans, scoring twice out of the back. Espanyol may have finished 14th in La Liga, but Vila proved he can play.

    The other two options at left back are Luca Antonini and Mattia De Sciglio. Antonini has been miserably inconsistent the past two seasons, and De Sciglio has very little first team experience and has looked lost at times when given the chance, but the potential is there.

    Milan got Vila to be their left back of the future. Let him show why.

Center Back: Francesco Acerbi

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    Managers always want players who want to play more than anything, and it's fair to say there are few players who want to play for Milan as badly as Francesco Acerbi.

    The 24-year-old joined Chievo Verona as part of a co-ownership with Genoa last season after moving from Reggina, but is already ready to jump ship with Milan calling.

    According to reports, a deal is inevitable, and Acerbi is merely waiting on confirmation from his agent that the move is complete.

    The move is a dream for Acerbi, who was born and raised 20 kilometers southeast of Milan in Vizzolo Predabissi, and he admits that even he didn't expect to be wanted by Milan.

    However, with Alessandro Nesta gone, Acerbi could proudly be sporting the red and black right alongside Thiago Silva in the fall.

Center Back: Thiago Silva

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    The heir apparent to the Milan captaincy needs to be retained this summer.

    Captain Massimo Ambrosini has resigned for one more season, but it is likely Silva will wear the armband most if he stays, which he better.

    Manchester City and Barcelona are the two clubs most keen on landing Silva, but Real Madrid and Chelsea are also very high on that list. Barcelona wasted the entire summer last year pursuing the 27-year-old Brazilian national team captain, who has emerged as arguably the world's best center back.

    There are reports that Milan have already rejected a 30 million euro offer for Silva, who is under contract until 2016. If the club has the same mentality as its fans, they will keep saying no.

    There are some players you cannot put a price tag on. When one such player, Paolo Maldini, retired in 2009, the world thought that Milan would be wasting their time looking for a replacement. There was a man who spent all 25 years of his career with Milan. He was their captain, their rock in the back, one of the greatest defensive players of all-time and a champion unlike any other.

    Thiago Silva may not be just the heir apparent to the captaincy, he could very well be the heir to Paolo Maldini.

Right Back: Ignazio Abate

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    This is an obvious selection in the lineup. Abate has emerged as one of the best young defenders in Serie A over the past two seasons and has finally earned the respect of Cesare Prandelli, who will be bringing Abate to Euro 2012.

    When Abate was first with Milan from 2003 to 2007, he was constantly on loan, playing at Napoli, Sampdoria, Piacenza and Modena. Since his return in 2009, he has become a vital piece of the Milan squad. He arrived as a midfielder, but Maruo Tassotti transformed him into a worthy right back, who took some time to find his feet in the back, but he is now a force.

    With Abate on the field, Milan are always much more difficult to beat defensively, and he provides an extra weapon moving up the field.

Defensive Midfielder: Kevin Strootman

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    Strootman may officially be a center midfielder, but he has the ability, as his scouting report will confirm, to play as a defensive midfielder, and that is where Milan should deploy him.

    Strootman is believed to be heading for an arrival at Milan, with reports indicating that he and his agent will be opening talks with the club despite interest from Manchester United.

    One look at Strootman will reveal a menacing-looking Dutchman who can be the perfect replacement to Mark Van Bommel, who is leaving Milan to return to Strootman's current club, PSV Eindhoven.

    A price of 15 million euros is expected to be necessary to acquire the 22-year-old's services, but he is worth it to be sure.

Center Midfielder: Riccardo Montolivo

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    He was the one they desperately wanted last summer. He is the one they got for free last week.

    Fiorentina were very difficult to deal with when Milan pursued Montolivo last summer to boost the midfield, but with the 27-year-old's contract set to expire, the time to strike for his signature presented itself at season's end this year, and Montolivo is now officially going to be an AC Milan player.

    Montolivo will certainly provide a major boost in the midfield for Milan, and despite a drama-filled season last year because of his refusal to sign a contract extension at Fiorentina, expect Montolivo to have a big year now that he's where he wants to be.

Center Midfielder: Antonio Nocerino

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    Nocerino's performance during the 2011-12 season was far greater than the 500,000 euro price Milan paid for him from Palermo on the last day of the transfer window in the summer. The 27-year-old made 48 total appearances with 11 goals, 10 in Serie A and one against Barcelona in the Champions League.

    His performance this season earned him a spot on Cesare Prandelli's Italian squad for Euro 2012.

    There was a time when Silvio Berlusconi looked back on the purchase of a player and said the price ended up looking like "peanuts."

    While Nocerino is certainly no Kaka, because there is only one Kaka, that 500,000 euro price is looking pretty cheap right now.

Attacking Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder

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    A surprise name has come up in Milan transfer talks, as Inter Milan superstar Wesley Sneijder reportedly wants a move to the city rivals.

    Sneijder is apparently growing unhappy with the direction of the club after the worst Serie A finish in 13 years and a trophy-less campaign. Inter's sixth-place finish has them in the Third Qualifying Round of the UEFA Europa League for next season, while Milan are safely in the Group Stage of the Champions League after their second-place Serie A finish.

    Sneijder's agent has apparently spoken to Adriano Galliani informally about the interest from the player, while the 27-year-old Dutchman has supposedly made moves of his own, speaking to good friend and Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng before the Milan Derby earlier this month.

    This complicates the reports that the agent of Santos playmaker Ganso is in Milan to work on a deal with the club for the 22-year-old's services. Both Sneijder and Ganso are attacking midfielders, and both are going to be expensive. Sneijder is the more expensive, valued at roughly 25 million euros, but he has the advantage of having led Inter to the Champions League title in 2010, and a month later, he led Netherlands to the Final of the FIFA World Cup.

    If Sneijder wants Milan and I'm Galliani, I'm making it happen.

Forward: Alexandre Pato

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    It is now or never for the 22-year-old with the Rossoneri.

    Nagging injuries have left him off the field more often than not since debuting for Milan in 2007. However, when he plays, he scores. There's no denying his incredible ability with 61 goals in 142 games.

    Unfortunately, the injuries are credited to an imbalance in his legs, which was discovered early this year. If he and the Milan Lab can work to fix his injury problems, he could be a staple at the club for years to come.

    Pato has the dedication. He turned down a move to Paris Saint-Germain, where he would have been reunited with Carlo Ancelotti because of his commitment to Milan. There has also been a decrease in drama surrounding Pato's love life, which may be part of what is keeping him devoted to Milan as his girlfriend is Barbera Berlusconi, a Milan board member and daughter of owner Silvio.

    The point is that Pato wants to play for Milan and Milan certainly want him to be playing. If he can stay healthy, watch out world, he'll do this a lot.

Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Any other suggestions? Didn't think so.

    Ibrahimovic is the best striker in Serie A and arguably the world after netting 35 total goals last season, 28 in Serie A to win the Capocannoniere as Italy's top scorer. It is the second time he has won the award. Only one other Swede, Milan legend Gunnar Nordahl, has won the honor.

    Reports reveal that Manchester City and Real Madrid are keen on Ibrahimovic. Milan would be crazy to let him go though. Few are as precise in front of goal, and he has been a machine since joining Milan in 2010.

    Galliani was believed to be considering making Ibrahimovic captain as a ploy to keep him, but that shouldn't be necessary. Ibrahimovic wants to win trophies, and if Milan retain Silva and build a strong squad in the market like the one predicted here, Milan could be huge contenders for Champions League glory in 2013.

    There are no replacements for a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede needs to be retained.

Possible Bench

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    Goalkeeper: Christian Abbiati

    Defenders: Philippe Mexes, Luca Antonini

    Midfielders: Sully Muntari, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Massimo Ambrosini

    Forward: Robinho