How AC Milan Might Line Up Next Season
The race for the Serie A title is now officially over, and with three games left, AC Milan is four points ahead of Fiorentina for Serie A's third and final Champions League place with a comfortable run-in ahead. For the rossoneri to finish outside the top three, it would take a mighty collapse from a team that has been in incredible form—the only loss they've had since the winter break was to champions Juventus.
With the potential for movement dwindling by the week, it's time to start looking at what Massimiliano Allegri's lineup might look like when they resume their quest to dethrone Juve and regain the championship.
Will it be much of the same, or will there be wholesale changes for the men from the San Siro? Read on to find out some possibilities.
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Remember when Marco Amelia was an up-and-coming young goalkeeper who was showing enough promise to merit a call-up to the 2006 World Cup squad as third keeper?
Yeah, me neither.
Top keeper Christian Abbiati is still playing decently between the sticks at 35 years of age, but his time as a viable first-team option for a team like Milan is rapidly coming to a close. Injuries have limited him to only 25 appearances so far this season in Serie A.
The 31-year-old Amelia is not a viable option as a successor. His rash judgement and decision-making have led to some unforgivable mistakes, most recently his flying lunge at Kwadwo Asamoah against Juventus that came nowhere near the ball and resulted in a penalty that was the difference in Milan's 1-0 defeat at the hands of the champions.
Milan's third keeper is Brazilian youngster Gabriel, who played the last four matches of Brazil's Olympic run last year and can be forgiven for giving up four goals when one looks at the generally disjointed defense that was playing in front of him. Whether he is an option for the future remains to be seen, but Milan is likely to look outside the team for help in goal this summer.
The biggest coup would be presumably outgoing Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes, with some reports suggesting that now that the team is on more solid ground in relation to the Champions League, it will be a more attractive landing spot than Russia's Anzhi Makhachkala, the EPL's Arsenal and Brazil's Sao Paulo.
Another option is to spend another year with Abbiati in goal and take a flier on one of Serie A's young stoppers, particularly Mattia Perin. The Genoa prospect is on loan with Pescara, and delfini director Daniele Delli Carri has tipped him to be the successor to Gianluigi Buffon at the international level.
Don't let the number of goals Pescara has given up fool you—Perin has played fantastically this season. He's had several games full of a massive number of incredible saves. He was benched midway through the season because he reportedly had an appearance bonus in his contract that Pescara was unwilling to pay, not because his performances were lacking.
Milan will have Buffon's club, Juventus, to contend with if they are to nail the youngster down, but they have two things in their favor. The first is a good relationship with Genoa, from whom they acquired Stephan El Shaarawy two seasons ago. The second is that Juve already possesses a young potential keeper of the future in Nicola Leali, who is projected to be Buffon's backup next season with Marco Storari set to depart.
With Milan in a general mood to build from youth, my guess is that Perin is the way they'll go, with Abbiati spending one more year in goal as a placeholder and Perin as his primary backup.
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Defense has been Milan's major problem throughout the course of the year and is where the biggest upgrade is needed.
The outside is not a problem. There were rumors during the winter transfer window that right-back Ignazio Abate would be sold in order to make room for young phenom Mattia De Sciglio, who had come up through Milan's youth system on the right-hand side. The youngster has proven equally adept on the left side, however, and with two supremely talented players manning the flanks, Milan is set there for a while to come.
It's the center where Milan has its issues. After the sale of Thiago Silva, Milan had to make do with the likes of Cristian Zapata, Daniele Bonera and, for the first half of the season, Francesco Acerbi to fill the hole.
To put it mildly, it didn't work. Philippe Mexes has been the fixture in the middle, but he is what he always is—inconsistent. Sometimes he'll be brilliant, and other times he'll make a critical error and cost the club in a big way.
Silva is one of the best center-backs in the game, and his loss was always going to leave a hole. The problem was that Adriano Galliani's efforts to fill that void were not up to snuff.
The solution is definitely from the outside, and it has a name: Angelo Ogbonna.
The Torino man has been the subject of rumors to a move to Milan ever since the granata were promoted at the end of last season. Torino's front office were expecting a serious run at him in the winter transfer window, but Milan's focus became Mario Balotelli once he became available from Manchester City.
The summer is when you see the majority of major transfers anyway, and Milan has slowly built a team that can be a formidable force in both Italy and Europe if they get a premier defensive upgrade. Ogbonna will cost the rossoneri in the neighborhood of €20 million, but he is an essential piece going forward.
Assuming Ogbonna makes a move to the San Siro, you should expect their regular back four to be as follows: Abate, Ogbonna, Mexes, De Sciglio.
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The midfield is likely set for Milan. Over the last months, a solid midfield core has been formed between Riccardo Montolivo, Mathieu Flamini, and Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Each has different roles. Montolivo is the regista that the team has been missing since its misguided decision to cut ties with Andrea Pirlo two seasons ago. Flamini has taken over the role that Antonio Nocerino played a year ago, a creative element a bit further up the field with a finishing edge when required. Boateng is the trequartista, using his creativity and finishing skill to supplement the strikers and produce goals.
Nocerino has, unfortunately, seriously regressed from a season ago, and he's a squad player at this point. It's not certain whether he'll stay with the team.
There is a solid fourth midfielder behind the three in Ghanaian international Sulley Muntari. The former Champions League winner has the perfect blend of steel in defense and creativity on the attack. He can either group up with Montolivo, Flamini and Boateng in a four-man midfield or come in off the bench to add a dimension to either the front or the back as required.
The midfield arraignment depends on how aggressive Allegri decides to be. If four midfielders are involved, figure Muntari in, playing with Flamini alongside Montolivo deep and Boateng in the role of trequartista.
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Like the midfield, the starting forward line is pretty much set for next season, and much will depend on the formation. The two givens are Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy. Balotelli has been phenomenal since arriving from Manchester, scoring nine times in 10 games.
Milan had regained its form after its horrible start by the time Balotelli arrived, and that was because of El Shaarawy. The 20-year-old has scored 18 times in all competitions this season, and it was his scoring outburst that helped prop Milan up after their dismal start dropped them to 15th place.
El Shaarawy has only scored once since Balotelli arrived, but he has notched three assists and will benefit in the long run by having the burden of scoring placed entirely on his shoulders. He's also showing signs of fatigue, as facing his first year of constant starts in three different competitions (Serie A, UCL, and the Coppa Italia) has worn the youngster down. He'll have most of the summer to recuperate, and his combining with Balotelli could be one of the continent's best strike pairings.
Behind the two are Giampaolo Pazzini and M'Baye Niang. Pazzini, acquired from Inter this past summer, has scored 15 times this season after suffering through a forgettable time a season ago with Milan's crosstown rivals. With El Sha and Balotelli taking the majority of the top reps up front, Pazzini will be relegated to a depth role next season, spelling Balotelli as target man whenever people need a break.
Niang is another case entirely. His skill set is such that he can play on the right side of an attacking triumvirate, an intriguing option considering El Shaarawy is at his best cutting in from the left and Balotelli is such an excellent central striker.
The young Frenchman does not lack in confidence—he recently spoke of his desire to be better then Lionel Messi—and has been strong enough mentally to shake off his terrible one-on-one miss in the second leg of the UCL Round of 16 that could have eliminated Barcelona two rounds early. Given his skill set, a 4-3-3 is a distinct possibility for Allegri depending on how aggressive he wants to be.
Don't count Robinho into the future plans—my guess is he's gone by the time the season starts next year.
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Allegri's core players have given him some good options for next season. Assuming Ogbonna does end up coming to the San Siro over the summer, Allergi will have a much more solid back four to go along with a midfield and striker corps that will scare anyone in Italy.
Allegri has the personnel to field two different formations, depending on how he wants to approach a given game. He can either play a 4-3-1-2 similar to the one Cesare Prandelli plays with the Italian national side using the following personnel:
Or play a 4-3-3 by removing Muntari and inserting Niang like so:
Boateng would obviously have the freedom to roam forward in the latter formation, much like the way Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio used to when Antonio Conte's Juve team used the 4-3-3 early last season.
Either formation could be employed with devastating effect given the players Allegri will have at his disposal next season. His job will be keeping the team united towards their ultimate goal: more silverware. The squad will be hugely talented, enough perhaps to give Juventus a serious run. If Milan plays to their potential, they will be serious scudetto contenders with this lineup.