5 Lessons from AC Milan's Performance at the Trofeo TIM
AC Milan finished with no points from Saturday's Trofeo TIM competition, which began the preseason for the Rossoneri.
In their two 45-minute matches, Milan ran two completely different teams and fell 1-0 to Juventus on a penalty kick (which Mirko Vucinic arguably embellished on) and then lost 2-1 to Inter Milan, who won the competition with six points.
Inter may have had the youngest overall squad, but Milan were the most depleted. Christian Abbiati, Kevin Constant, Rodney Strasser and Sulley Muntari were all unavailable because of injury. Mathieu Flamini was out. Didac Vila was off the squad for no identified reason. Riccardo Montolivo, Ignazio Abate, Antonio Cassano, Antonio Nocerino and Philippe Mexes were all given a break due to Euro 2012 and the upcoming trip to Germany and the United States. Alexandre Pato was unavailable because he is representing Brazil at the Olympics.
With 12 players out, nine or 10 of whom are expected to play major roles in the team this year, the fact that Milan were even competitive in either match is impressive. However, we did learn a thing or two about certain players and the team as a whole.
Here are some of the things we found out.
Stephan El Shaarawy Can Be Great, but Needs to Get Tougher
19-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy joined Milan in the summer last year and is already a fan favorite. Many are pegging him to be Pato's strike partner in the long haul and he is expected to be an important member of the team for a long time.
He showed his quality throughout the day, pressing on attack for long spells of both matches and finally got his breakthrough in the 15th minute of the second game against Inter Milan when he put a touch past Christian Chivu and slipped the ball into the corner with such simplicity it was like someone was holding RB (or R1 for you PS3 players) on FIFA.
However, later in the match, the Egyptian-Italian went down after getting hit near the edge of the box and stayed down. It was contact that he should have gotten up from right away. After a few minutes, the staff had him ready to go again, but shortly after, it seemed clear that he couldn't play on so Allegri subbed him out.
Is El Shaarawy another Pato, incredible when he's on the pitch but susceptible to severe injuries all the time?
Both Pato and El Shaarawy are the main players of the future at Milan. They need to be careful, but they also need to avoid silly injuries. They can help that by working on their strength and getting tough.
Francesco Acerbi Will Worry a Lot of Fans
Francesco Acerbi had his first go in a Milan uniform during the second match against Inter Milan.
It is very easy to argue that both goals were his fault.
Fredy Guarin scored on a header to equalize for the Nerazzurri. He easily slipped away from Acerbi, or did he? The former Chievo Verona center back was nowhere to be found on the play!
The worst evidence of the lack of faith Milan fans can put into Acerbi was on Rodrigo Palacio's match-winning goal. The Argentine slipped past Acerbi as Inter played a free kick very quickly. You'd think it was present-day Diego Maradona out there chasing Palacio. There was absolutely no pace in the 23-year-old's legs.
It's great that Acerbi is excited about playing for the club he grew up adoring, but he has to realize that he's expected to play at a level worthy of the club.
Acerbi is supposed to be one of the up-and-comers in Serie A. Instead, he's getting torched by Palacio and looking stupid courtesy of Guarin. Let's give him the benefit and say he's still not in top shape and there's still a month to get him to that point.
Now let's go back to reality and say this kind of performance can't happen anymore. Acerbi is going to be a starter on this team and he is expected to keep Milan's defense as steadfast as it was with Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva.
Michelangelo Albertazzi Deserves a First Team Chance
We've spent so much time talking about Milan's pursuit of a young center back after the sale of Thiago Silva that we forgot to think about a guy who's been waiting in the wings for some time now.
21-year-old Michelangelo Albertazzi has been at Milan since 2008 after moving from Bologna's youth sector. He went on loan last season first to Getafe, where he never appeared for the first team, before being brought back and loaned in Italy to Varese, where he played twice.
The Primavera center back got a chance to show off his ability in the second game on Saturday and proved to be the better of the two center backs on the pitch between him and Acerbi.
He got to balls quickly and covered the defensive third very well. This is a player that Milan fans should want to see playing on defense for them on a regular basis down the line.
For now one thing is certain. It is definitely for the best to keep Albertazzi at Milan and have him bouncing between the Primavera squad and the first team. Massimiliano Allegri gave a lot of call-ups to Primavera players last year due to injuries or matches when he wanted to rest key players prior to the Champions League.
Albertazzi showed on Saturday that should that day come he won't disappoint Allegri. This is a player to hold on to.
Kevin-Prince Boateng Should Stay at Attacking Mid and Urby Should Move Up
There's been a lot of talk this summer about Kevin-Prince Boateng moving into the central midfield, moving back from the trequartista role which he has played in each of his first two seasons for Milan.
However, after Saturday's Trofeo TIM, it seems like Milan would be crazy to move him back, especially with no other trequartista in the squad or likely on the way in this summer.
The 25-year-old helped Milan push into the attacking third constantly over the two matches as Milan put a lot of pressure on their two rivals, despite only scoring once. Boateng had the assist on El Shaarawy's goal after heading the ball through after a beautiful long pass from left back Djamel Mesbah.
The trequartista is also known as a playmaker and that's exactly what Boateng always has been for Milan. Many say that Zlatan created all the attack during his two years at Milan, but they forget just how important Boateng has been to the team.
Instead of moving Boateng back, they should move Urby Emanuelson, who has played all over the place at Milan, into the central midfield with Antonio Nocerino and Riccardo Montolivo. Emanuelson is well liked by Allegri and it seems the boss will do just about anything to have him in the squad.
Surely most Milan fans will wish that he was at left back, which has been the Achilles heel of the club since the departure of Marek Jankulovski, but with Sulley Muntari out until near the Christmas break and given Bakaye Traore's awful performance on Saturday, Emanuelson could be the guy and could do well in the midfield.
The Quality of Milan's Youth Is Evident
With so many players out of Saturday's competition, the Primavera players got a chance to show their worth, and they didn't disappoint.
We've already touched on Albertazzi, but there were several other standouts.
Most notable of these is 17-year-old Bryan Cristante. He's certainly impressed the club. He made his debut last December at the age of 16 in the Champions League against Viktoria Plzen. To date it is his only first team appearance, but his work in the youth sector has earned him caps with the U-16 and U-17 Italian national teams during the past couple years.
On Saturday, he impressed a lot of fans, with many comparing him to Andrea Pirlo. That can be a lot for a 17-year-old to handle, but he has learned under the wing of Milan's great midfielders since 2009 and has clearly picked up a thing or two along the way.
18-year-old Simone Ganz, the son of former Milan player Maurizio Ganz, was paired with Stephan El Shaarawy, already an established first teamer at 19, in the second game and held his own. He's earned a couple first team call-ups and made his debut last November against BATE Borisov in the Champions League. The three-time top scorer in the youth system has shown that he has promise and could eventually start to see more trips to the first team.
18-year-old Mattia Valoti did well on the left side of the midfield in the Inter match but did have a couple communications issues with Mesbah, although it was nothing too serious. Valoti was a star last preseason and is expected to see more chances to break into the first team this year.
With so many players between 17 and 21 playing so well, there is reason to be excited about the future of the club.
Final Opinion of Saturday
Okay, Milan lost both matches, but it's July 21st. The first round of Serie A is on August 25th and the Champions League proper begins on September 18th. There is a month to work everything out.
Not only that, it's not like the teams that were out there are going to be Milan squads we see during the season. The whole point was to get everyone that was available out there and see what they can do. It also didn't help that Milan were missing 12 players, bringing to the competition a group of 23 players made mostly of youth players, who it needs to be said did very well for the most part.
Anyone who wants to jump off the bridge right now needs to stop themselves and think. This was the equivalent of a split-squad game during Spring Training in baseball. It's just about getting everyone out there. Inter and Juventus had more to work with than Milan.
Milan pressed the issue a lot. The problem was a lack of quality in their finishing, which will be helped by Pato's return as well as just constant repetition and practice. On defense, it's clear that the issues with Acerbi need to be addressed. In the midfield, there will be more to work with when the Euro 2012 and injured players return.
No one should be worried about Milan, yet. The rebuilding project will be interesting to see when the "Year Zero" team comes together entirely, but Milan should still be competitive.