Why AC Milan Will Be Genuine Champions League Contenders Next Season

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIApril 10, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24:  Stephan El Shaarawy (R) of AC Milan celebrates after scoring the opening goal his team-mate Mario Balotelli (L) during the Serie A match FC Internazionale Milano and AC Milan at San Siro Stadium on February 24, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The Champions League semi-finalists have been decided, with the two best sides of Spain and the two best teams in Germany battling it out to be the best team in Europe.

Real Madrid and Barcelona can be considered as special cases, due to each possessing one of the two best players in the world—Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo—who are miles better than any one player another team in Europe can offer.

But that does not mean that there are not other contenders for European football's most coveted prize' Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are legitimate threats to the Spanish duopoly.

Bayern trumped Los Merengues in the semi-finals last year, while Dortmund topped their group this season that included Jose Mourinho's side.

Barcelona were going out on Wednesday, until Messi stepped onto the pitch as a second-half substitute, further questioning how dependent the Blaugrana are on the Argentine magician.

So the blueprint for the rest of Europe might be in replicating how the two German sides have built their sides over the past few seasons. With the clear differences in strategies between the two sides, inspiration can be drawn from either in the pursuit of European glory.

While Bayern maintain a strong core of academy players, there has been a tendency to invest heavily in the transfer window, collecting super talents such as Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Javi Martinez to name a few.

But the key difference here is that not one player dominates Bayern's approach to the game—something that their rivals Dortmund also share.

Milan were reasonably close to being able to knock out the favourites for the Champions League this season, so the Rossoneri must feel that they are reasonably close to being able to mount a challenge once again if the draw is kinder to them than it was this season.

With Mario Balotelli available from next season, Milan will be instantly stronger than the side available to Massimiliano Allegri against Barcelona in the last 16 of this year's tournament. Nigel de Jong will have recovered from injury too, further bolstering Milan's options.

Stephan El Shaarawy exploded this season due to increased opportunities in the first team after Milan sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Antonio Cassano, not to mention the injury problems for Alexandre Pato and Robinho's loss of form.

The results of Il Faraone's increased minutes has prompted Milan to look towards investing more in youth talents, and it is conceivable that M'Baye Niang will have a similar impact next season after breaking into the lineup this season.

Another young prodigy that will look to replicate and improve upon some outstanding performances this season is Mattia De Sciglio, who is certainly one of the best young full-backs in Europe, prompting Cesare Prandelli to already hand the 20-year-old a call up to the national team. 

Away from bloodying an already outstanding group of young players in a similar way to what Dortmund have been doing over the past couple of seasons, Milan will look to plug some gaps in the transfer window, and as the most decorated club in football history, the attraction of playing for the Rossoneri will always lure the best players in the world to the San Siro.

A top centre-back is high on their list of priorities as they attack the summer transfer window, alongside a creative force in midfield to reduce the burden on Riccardo Montolivo, as it is premature to expect one of the jewells of the primavera, Byran Cristante, to contribute at this stage of his young career.

A couple of smart additions in the market and further opportunities for several outstanding talents in the squad will form a great support cast that will be able to elevate Balotelli and El Shaarawy to be recognised as elite players.

The final ingredient to Milan becoming contenders for the Champions League again is a bit of faith in Allegri. Despite temptations to hire a more flamboyant coach, Allegri has proven himself to be capable of bringing through the next Rossoneri generation.

If Adriano Galliani can resist the urge to mess with a project that is already on track to return Milan to prominence in the Champions League, the Rossoneri will be considered genuine contenders once more.