It's widely considered that Milan need an injection of creativity in their midfield. Riccardo Montolivo is one of the finest players at his position in world football and had a fantastic season at Milan last year, but because he's really the only creative source in the center of the pitch, it can make the oppositions' attempts to game-plan against Milan considerably easier.
This area has begun to be addressed, and the Rossoneri have been close to signing 23-year-old Sampdoria midfielder Andrea Poli for a while now. When he arrives, which does look inevitable, he'll surely be given a chance and will help take some of the onus off Montolivo.
He may not be a player that Milan fans are overjoyed to see as he's a solid albeit unspectacular player, but his passing ability will help facilitate Milan's attacking forays.
One player who has garnered much intrigue of late is 18-year-old midfielder Bryan Cristante. The Primavera player will be called up to the first team at the start of next season and already in his young career, he's shown considerable promise and ability, especially with his passing and vision.
20-year-old Stephan El Shaarawy was given a starting role last season and absolutely flourished, scoring 16 goals and earning a call-up to the Italian national team. Fellow 20-year-old Mattia De Sciglio was given an extended role later than El Shaarawy received his, but impressed equally as much and also earned a call-up for the Azzurri.
Allegri has shown that he isn't averse to giving youngsters a chance, and given Milan's needs in midfield, he would do well to slowly bring Cristante into the first-team.
Milan will be switching to a 4-3-1-2 next season and with their current midfield corps, Allegri will have multiple options to tinker with until he finds his ideal three-man central midfield. Let's take a look at Milan's options at the position heading into next season.
Massimo Ambrosini will leave Milan, with West Ham United and Fiorentina interested, according to Sky Sports, and Urby Emanuelson, who was sent out on loan last season and was previously used by Allegri as a central midfielder, doesn’t look to have a future with Milan.
Guinean utility man Kevin Constant was used at left-back last season, making 23 of his 25 appearances last season as a defender, according to WhoScored.com. Before joining Milan, Constant was utilized primarily as a centre-midfielder and with De Sciglio's emergence and Allegri's penchant to play him on the left flank, the former Chievo man could be given a change in midfield.
Bakaye Traore did miss about two months due to multiple injuries, but even after recovering, the former Nancy midfielder made just seven appearances. He’s a serviceable substitute but at 28 years old, he looks to have reached his ceiling and will struggle to ever make an impact at the San Siro.
Mathieu Flamini made 18 appearances last campaign, and with his contract set to expire at the end of June, a new player could have to take over Flamini’s role as it remains to be seen if the Frenchman will sign an extension with the San Siro outfit.
Should Antonio Nocerino be given another chance at a starting role?
Antonio Nocerino’s stock plummeted last season. He did manage 26 appearances, including 20 starts, but was thoroughly unimpressive. He was never much of a goal-scorer so his 10 goal season in 2011-12 was likely a fluke, but it wasn’t only his goals that dried up; he looked a different player from the one whose performances earned him the No. 8 shirt.
The bad news for Nocerino is that he was subbed off, or was brought on as a sub, in six of the last 10 matches he played in, meaning that the writing could be on the wall. With interest from Inter, according to Corriere dello Sport (via Football-Italia), and considering he hasn’t been a main fixture in the squad since December, Nocerino could be sold this summer when his value will be at its highest.
Sulley Muntari is an interesting option—he has considerable Serie A experience during his time with Inter and played in 15 matches last season.
He’s got a wickedly powerful shot and though he’s more of a defensive-minded player, he has the ability to score, like he did against Barcelona in the first leg of last season’s Champions League Round of 16 match-up. He’ll turn 29 before the season starts and will be a valuable option as a spot starter.
Milan vice president Adriano Galliani recently said that Kevin-Prince Boateng will stay with the Rossoneri, according to Sky Sports Italia (via Football-Italia), despite rumors that he would be sold after a sub-par season. The Ghanaian international struggled with consistency and that has to be attributed at least in part to the constant positional changes he was subjected to.
Should Galliani’s comments hold water, Milan fans will hope that Boateng will be able to recapture some of the form that made him such an explosive presence in midfield. He will almost certainly be a starter in that central midfield triumvirate, unless Allegri again opts to field him out of position, using him as the trequartista or "1" in the 4-3-1-2.
Netherlands international Nigel de Jong missed over five months last season due to an Achilles injury, playing in just 12 matches since his signing from Manchester City in the summer of 2012. In a three-man centre-midfield, it’s a necessity to have a ball-winner in the first-team.
De Jong is just that—a no-nonsense player unafraid of putting in a crunching tackle, who will help shield the centre-backs, an area that Milan could still stand to strengthen. Couple that defensive steel with his 92.6 percent pass completion rate and he’ll slot very well into a Milan team that led Serie A in possession last season.
Riccardo Montolivo is one of the first, if not the first, names on the team sheet for Allegri. He had a brilliant season last year and if there is one player to shoulder the creative burden for a midfield, one could do much, much worse than having the metronomic Montolivo. He'll be the leader of Milan's midfield and will likely be the future captain of the Rossoneri with Ambrosini's departure and Abbiati having just one year left on his contract.
What would be your preferred three-man midfield?
At the start of the 2013-14 campaign, Allegri should start Boateng, should he stay, De Jong and Montolivo in the center of the pitch. Knowing Allegri's past utilization of Boateng as a trequartista, the Italian tactician will likely field him in that position at times, but most of those appearances should go to Azzurrini starlet Riccardo Saponara, who transferred to Milan from Empoli back in January.
De Jong is a safe passer of the ball and will help keep possession well, but in terms of creative output, he won't offer very much. Boateng's presence in midfield will help relieve some of the burden on Montolivo, who could be more effective with the opposition also needing to focus on the energetic Ghanaian.
If those three are the starters, then Flamini, should he be resigned, Muntari, Traore, Constant, Nocerino, Emanuelson, Cristante and possibly even Bartosz Salamon, a natural centre-back capable of playing as a midfielder, would be options off the bench.
Ambrosini appeared in 20 matches last season so his departure will leave a void. Nocerino's playing time will likely be cut even more and if Flamini doesn't resign, his leaving means an additional 18 games will need to be made up for.
When Poli is signed, he will certainly take up some of those. Unless Allegri decides to use Constant as a midfielder, Emanuelson is brought back and Salamon receives time, there should still be some room for another player to receive chances.
How would you like to see Bryan Cristante used next season?
That player should be Bryan Cristante. His skills best align with that of a deep-lying playmaker and bringing along a player with his potential and skill set could give Milan another dimension off the bench that they didn't really have last season.
While it's highly unlikely that Cristante will have a fraction of the impact De Sciglio or El Shaarawy made last season, due in part to age and lack of experience, he has a ton of potential and bringing him into the first-team sooner rather than later could cause him to experience a meteoric rise. Montolivo will be attracting the majority of attention in midfield and should the two be on the field together, Cristante could have some time and space to carve out chances.
He's made just one appearance for Milan in all competitions and it came in 2011 in a UEFA Champions League match against Viktoria Plzen. It remains to be seen just how Allegri plans to use Cristante, but considering he has the talent to become a special player, playing him as a substitute could pay dividends for both Milan's play on the pitch and Cristante's future.