AC Milan: How Will Filippo Inzaghi Use Keisuke Honda Next Season?

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AC Milan: How Will Filippo Inzaghi Use Keisuke Honda Next Season?
Felipe Dana/Associated Press

Keisuke Honda endured a frustrating half-season with AC Milan prior to representing Japan at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

His indifferent form at club level led to some consternation amongst the Japanese media about his potential effectiveness with the Blue Samurai, as they attempted to make it out of what was considered one of the weaker groups in the tournament.

Now former Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni backed Honda both prior to and during the tournament on the back of his disappointing season.

It has been stressed often that Honda had to deal with multiple factors that would have the made the transition from Russian football to Italian difficult.

Of course, the Russian league goes on hiatus in the winter months, and Honda had to forsake that break and come in to Milan's side from the beginning of January. 

His participation in the Confederations Cup last summer means he has played non-stop football for almost a full year, given his commitment to Japan at this year's World Cup as well.

Such a demanding schedule would make any player weary and tired, and Honda had to deal with being proclaimed a "savior" for the Rossoneri, who were about to replace their under-fire manager Massimiliano Allegri with Clarence Seedorf.

It initially seemed that this managerial change could benefit Honda, who prefers playing in a central attacking midfield position, given that Seedorf favored a 4-2-3-1 formation.

However, the midfield role he was often given was on the right side of the midfield, with Kaka and Adel Taarabt making up the rest of the attacking three.

Honda's form suffered greatly, and he saw precious little playing time. Even when he did play, it was out of his self-proclaimed effective role.

Under Zaccheroni, however, it was a different story.

Honda scored in friendlies against Belgium, Ghana, Uruguay and the Netherlands, as well scoring against Italy last summer in Brazil.

He remains the central option in Japan's set-up, often at the expense of Manchester United man Shinji Kagawa, who has experienced similar struggles assimilating to the rigors of English football following his time in Germany.

With Seedorf being replaced by Pippo Inzaghi heading into next season, the question must be asked of what Honda's role will be under the new management.

Early indications suggest that Inzaghi will implement either a 4-3-3 with two wingers flanking a striker, or a 4-3-1-2 with a playmaking midfielder supporting two strikers. 

Either way, Stephan El Shaarawy figures to be a central figure in attack as either a winger or a striker.

The Mario Balotelli transfer saga will continue until he is either sold or the transfer window closes (at which point it would likely be rekindled when the winter window was approaching).

Honda's experience playing as a right winger last season could come in handy in the first formation, while he would seem tailor-made for the second formation.

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Much remains unclear as Inzaghi and Milan prepare for summer signings after the World Cup is over.

Jeremy Menez has already arrived, Adel Taarabt may be retained, and potential targets include Hellas Verona winger Juan Iturbe and Torino winger/striker Alessio Cerci.

The future at Milan seemed bleak for Honda at the conclusion of the season, but he may have been handed a lifeline with Seedorf's dismissal.

As one of the few Japanese to exit the World Cup with reputation intact, he should not be short on confidence heading into pre-season training with Milan.

Transfers will be struck and decisions will be made in the coming months, and Honda's role with Milan is one of the many big questions Inzaghi must answer soon.

One thing seems clear, Honda will not enter the upcoming season burdened by the same level of expectation that dogged him this past season.

The lack of heavy expectations from the Italian media and fans may yet prove to be just what Honda needs to reignite his career in Milan.

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