5 Reasons to Believe AC Milan Can Compete with Juventus Next Season
Max Allegri has every reason to smile. After a protracted, on-off struggle with club owner Silvio Berlusconi that had looked like being the last thing he'd do at Milan, the 45-year-old somehow still finds himself in the job, all the stronger for having fought to keep it.
Attentions can now turn to preparing for next season—and challenging Juventus for the Serie A title. Allegri delivered the Scudetto in his first season on the Milan bench, but has since struggled to challenge, mainly due to the fact he's been overseeing a complete renovation of the Rossoneri squad.
His current crop of young charges are full of promise. But are they up to the task?
There Will Be No Significant Departures
After the fiasco that surrounded last summer's transfer market, Milan have opted to add a special disclaimer in the terms and conditions of this year's season ticket sales.
The surprise departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva led to protests across the city and eventually to the club refunding thousands of season ticket holders who were unhappy at their stars' departures.
This year, the club's website warns of some "squad variation" (here in English via football-italia.net).
The warning is probably more of a precaution than anything else, and Rossoneri fans should feel confident that Allegri will start this campaign with a much stronger squad than last August.
I've written elsewhere on the improvements Milan will need to make to challenge on the continental stage, but with a few well-considered additions this summer they'll be in great shape to take on Juve at home.
Mario Balotelli Will Play a Key Role
Mario Balotelli's arrival last January was a genuine transfer coup on the part of Adriano Galliani. The Italy striker is among the best in the world—and he's a Milan fan to boot.
Balo has the rare talent to lift any side out of the doldrums and to spark life into any title challenge. He's settled into life at Milanello well and managed 12 goals in 13 Serie A games after his switch from Manchester City.
This season the forward will look to build on that early promise and prove once and for all that he's as good as he thinks he is. This is his chance to lead the club he followed as a boy to league glory and to get into the habit of winning trophies ahead of next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
Juventus Will Be Distracted by Their European Ambitions
For all their glittering history, Juventus have never managed the kind of European dominance befitting one of the biggest teams in world football.
Only twice have the Bianconeri lifted Europe's most coveted trophy, finishing runner-up on five occasions.
Only the most positive-minded Juventino will think that a credible European challenge and a title defence is achievable with Juve's squad, and most will concede that the focus is likely to be on the former.
Antonio Conte won the Champions League as a player for the Old Lady, and he wants to repeat the feat as manager. The club's senior stars will be desperate to challenge Europe's best next season as well, perhaps taking their eye off the ball at home.
Should Conte's men slip up, Milan will be the best-positioned side to take advantage.
... and Three in a Row Is a Big Ask
No side knows how to win consecutive titles better than Juventus, but three-in-a-row is still a huge demand, especially when they'll be hoping to reach the latter stages of European competition.
Back in the days of Raimundo Orsi and Felice Borel, the Bianconeri lifted the Scudetto five times in a row from 1931 to 1935.
It's an impressive record, matched only by the Grande Torino side of the 1940s and Roberto Mancini's Inter during the Calciopoli-ravaged days of the late 2000s.
With the league more competitive than it's been in years, it's hard to see another side dominating like that any time soon, even one with as much quality as Juventus.
Competition Will Be Fierce Next Term
Milan's early-season problems took them out of contention and the chaos at Roma and Inter meant that the Giallorossi and the Nerazzurri posed no real threat at all.
This term will be different. having failed to do so in four years with Napoli, Walter Mazzarri will challenge for honours on the bench at Inter.
It's still to early to know for sure what to expect from Milan's cross-town rivals, but they'll certainly be in better shape than last year.
Likewise, it seems impossible to believe that Roma will make such a mess of it again, as the capital club boasts one of the youngest, most exciting squads in the league. And Rafa Benitez's new-look Napoli might have something to say for themselves as well.
Certainly, these teams pose a threat to Milan's title hopes, but no more than they do to those of Juve. It's likely to be a case of an enemy's enemy being a friend for Max Allegri.