Why AC Milan Could Surprise in the Champions League This Season

Matteo BonettiContributor IAugust 31, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - AUGUST 28:  (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been converted to black and white.)  Mario Balotelli of AC Milan celebrates victory at the end the UEFA Champions League Play-off Second Leg match between AC Milan v PSV Eindhoven at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on August 28, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Even though Milan narrowly squeaked into the Champions League after defeating PSV in the qualification round, they could surprise a few people after landing in one of the tougher groups in the competition.

The Rossoneri will have to go up against Barcelona yet again and then face the always-tricky Celtic as well as Ajax

Celtic showed how formidable they can be at home against Juventus with their diabolical pressing. Even though the Bianconeri came out with the three points, they suffered against the frenetic pace of their opposition.

Ajax, on the other hand, had a formidable performance against Real Madrid last season in the Champions League and aren’t a side to take lightly.

Despite the stiff task, expect Milan to progress to the Round of 16, as they have a more competitive side than last year. First of all, they’ll be armed with Super Mario Balotelli, who was cup-tied last season after joining from Manchester City.

Second of all, Milan’s midfield will be vastly improved, as Nigel de Jong has come back from injury to provide the steel in front of the defense while Andrea Poli has proven to be an early-season revelation with his energetic performances.

Poli is the wildcard. He is a box-to-box presence who is tenacious in his marking and loves making forward runs, displaying his sense of positioning and finishing ability.

It'll be interesting to see how Alessandro Matri adapts to the Rossoneri wayand recent history tells us that he'll be just fine under former coach Massimiliano Allegri, who tutored him to stardom at Cagliari.

Matri will get his chance domestically right away, but it's in the Champions League that he'll have to adapt to facing much stiffer adversaries.

Up front, Allegri now has a plethora of options compared to last season. The duo of Stephan El Shaarawy and Balotelli will now spearhead the front line and let Milan fans dream. After all, the last two times the team won the Champions League, they had to pass through the qualification rounds first.

Not saying the third time's a charm, but once they can pass the group stages, anything is possible.