What Will AC Milan's Ideal Starting XI Look Like Under Filippo Inzaghi?
Pre-season training has begun in earnest at AC Milan, with Filippo Inzaghi attempting to leave his mark as manager of his former playing club.
Guarded optimism surrounds the Rossoneri, as Inzaghi appears to be serious about installing a new program aimed at returning Milan to the summit of Italian football.
Indeed, Inzaghi has spoken of his desire to implement a mentality similar to that of Diego Simeone's impressive Atletico Madrid side the past few seasons.
"Last season in Spain nobody thought Atletico Madrid could beat Real Madrid and Barcelona to the Liga title," he stated to reporters (via Football Italia), "I didn’t call Diego Simeone, but I watched Atletico and its organisation. I will try to bring my own methods. I like 4-3-3 or 4-4-2."
That mentality, of course, relies heavily upon his players buying into his system. The personnel at Atletico is no match for the talent on hand at Barcelona and Real Madrid, and there is no competition financially either.
Regardless, a winning team was forged by an inspirational manager succeeding in bringing the best out of his players, and this is the model Inzaghi will aim to replicate at Milan.
While the transfer market will continue to churn out rumors until the end of August, Inzaghi seems to have a plan in mind as it pertains to transfer dealings.
Using his preferred 4-3-3 as a template (he used this with the Milan Primavera prior to becoming Milan manager), here is a glimpse at how Milan's lineup may look heading into next season.
Christian Abbiati seems set to remain as Milan's first-choice goalkeeper, at least through this coming season, after signing a one-year extension to his contract.
Marco Amelia and Ferdinando Coppola are out of contract and will not return to Milan, giving young Brazilian Gabriel a chance to prove to Inzaghi he is worthy of taking over for Abbiati in the future.
Milan have been linked to players like Mattia Perin and Guillermo Ochoa—according to Sports Mediaset (h/t Forza Italian Football) and Fox (via Goal.com)—but it appears unlikely that any goalkeepers will arrive at Casa Milan this summer.
This is certainly a position to watch heading into the future, as Gabriel's performance this season backing up Abbiati will almost certainly dictate whether Milan dips into the market for a keeper in the near future.
Mattia De Sciglio is one of Milan's brightest young talents, and he is set to man the right-back position for years to come at the San Siro.
After enduring an injury-plagued campaign that extended into the World Cup, where he was only able to play in the final group-stage game for Italy against Uruguay, Milan will be hoping he can stay fit and in form.
Inzaghi will certainly be relying upon him to prove that he is not just a Davide Santon-like flash in the pan.
Milan have Ignazio Abate in their ranks as well, but his future with the Rossoneri is unclear after he lost game time to the likes of Daniele Bonera consistently last season.
A persistent link to Genoa's Croatian right-back Sime Vrsaljko would see De Sciglio shift to left-back, but CEO Adriano Galliani poured cold water on those reports this week, according to Calciomercatonews (h/t talkSPORT).
Milan have finally wrapped up the signing of Adil Rami, which threatened to be yet another unnecessary saga dragging out over the summer.
With Alex also brought in from Paris Saint-Germain earlier on to join incumbents Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes, Milan appear to have a solid foundation in the heart of the defense.
Zapata fell out of favor with former manager Clarence Seedorf last season, but had an excellent World Cup (alongside former Milan center-back Mario Yepes, no less) and has a very good chance of retaining his place in the starting XI.
Alex seems a sure-fire starter given his experience with the French champions.
Rami was also excellent last year after arriving on loan from Valencia, and he will fight to prove he belongs in the starting side as well.
Given the competition between Alex, Rami and Zapata, it is possible that Mexes may leave, as well as Cristian Zaccardo.
Kevin Constant is a player who has drawn the ire of many Milan fans for his ineffective displays at left-back.
Unfortunately for Milan, there is no better option right now. Addressing this position should be one of Inzaghi's first tasks in the transfer market.
One move would be to simply do nothing and shift De Sciglio to left-back, while placing Abate at right-back. However, this move could backfire easily as both have been injury-prone and Milan do not want to rely upon Daniele Bonera and Constant as first-choice backups.
Domenico Criscito is a name that has been linked by the Gazzetta Dello Sport (h/t Football Italia), and there are sure to be many others before the close of the transfer window. Should Vrsaljko arrive, De Sciglio would almost certainly take over this spot.
The left-back position remains in flux for Milan.
Captain Riccardo Montolivo's injury-enforced absence through December forces Inzaghi to be creative and bold in selecting his midfield three.
Nigel de Jong, as arguably Milan's standout performer last season, is a shoo-in as the starting defensive midfielder.
The other two spots, however, are less clear.
In a perfect world, Inzaghi could blood youngsters like Bryan Cristante, Andrea Poli and Riccardo Saponara alongside De Jong as Milan prepare to bring in a new generation of players.
It is never that simple with Silvio Berlusconi as president of the club. This position looks set to test Inzaghi's resolve strongly, as internal pressure within the club may be skewed in favor of more experienced options like Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien.
The problem with playing these players is simple: If they do not bring Milan to the top three in Italy, it is far more useful for the future to play younger players and give them invaluable experience at the highest level.
The hope is that Inzaghi proves strong-minded and gives time to Cristante and Poli, who are center midfielders by trade.
Keisuke Honda, on the other hand, may be forced to learn to play in a less attacking manner than he is used to if he wants to be a part of Milan's future under Inzaghi. He is a very talented player, and the onus is on him to adapt.
Regardless, he does not seem a perfect fit for Inzaghi's vision of Milan.
Stephan El Shaarawy may be Milan's greatest hope for the future.
Great things were expected heading into last season, and he started the campaign off on the right foot with a goal against PSV Eindhoven in the final Champions League qualifying round.
To put it lightly, the rest of his year was a massive disappointment, seeing him absent for almost all of the season through injury and missing out on a place at the World Cup with Italy.
Provided he is healthy, he is a dynamic option on the left wing and has shown signs of forging a bond with Mario Balotelli up front.
Jeremy Menez is another intriguing player, having arrived on a free transfer from PSG alongside Alex. His experience in Italy could prove useful, and he appears to be more mature and professional than during his last stint in the peninsula.
It is not known whether Milan will be willing to meet Torino's asking price, however.
The mercurial Mario Balotelli has confounded football fans around the world for years now, mixing occasionally sublime play with often apathetic, meandering football.
A mooted move back to England has been widely discussed, but Inzaghi remains a believer.
"He is a treasure for Italian football and for Milan," Inzaghi stated. "I heard him eager to get going and I’ll do everything to ensure he can make the difference in this team."
Milan fans may be willing to give Balotelli another chance, but another inconsistent season may prove the final straw in the experiment bringing him back to his favored childhood club.
Giampaolo Pazzini provides an excellent backup option whenever Balotelli is unavailable.
Here is the predicted full-strength starting XI:
|RB||Mattia De Sciglio|
|CDM||Nigel De Jong|
|CM||Riccardo Montolivo/Andrea Poli|
|RW||Jeremy Menez/Alessio Cerci|
|LW||Stephan El Shaarawy|