How Will AC Milan Replace Riccardo Montolivo?

Bobak AbdolmohammadiFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2014

AC Milan's Bryan Cristante, center, is challenged by Chievo defender Luca Rigoni, right, during a Serie A soccer match at Bentegodi stadium in Verona, Italy, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Felice Calabro')
Felice Calabro'/Associated Press

Filippo Inzaghi and his Milan squad are set to arrive in America tomorrow ahead of a slate of pre-season friendlies as the Rossoneri prepare for the start of the Serie A season.

Coming off the back of a tremendously disappointing season, especially domestically, Inzaghi has gotten off to a good start in terms of moulding a squad that fits his vision.

Some players who have been offloaded so far—either permanently or via a loanare Kaka, Alessandro Matri, Valter Birsa, Antonio Nocerino, Urby Emanuelson and Marco Amelia. Few tears have been shed by Milan fans over the loss of these players.

Rumors have linked Milan to a whole host of players. Jackson Martinez has been linked by Corriere dello Sport (h/t InsideFutbol), Isco by AS (h/t Forza Italian Football) and Ezequiel Lavezzi by Tuttosport (h/t Soccer Lens).

Of course, this is standard fare during the transfer season, especially at a big club like Milan. The vast majority of rumors linking the club to players are just that—rumors. Most of them come and go without coming to fruition.

In attack, the need for a player like Lavezzi or Martinez seems to be less dire given the presence of Stephan El Shaarawy, Mario Balotelli and Jeremy Menez. There is always the possibility one of these players will be signed, but only on cheaper deals favoring Milan that their clubs are unlikely to accept.

Isco would be a massively important signing for a variety of reasons. One, he is only 22 and has his best years ahead of him. Two, he would fill a void that, if inadequately filled, could spell trouble for Milan this coming season.

Captain Riccardo Montolivo's unfortunate leg break prior to the World Cup has ruled him out through at least November, stripping Milan of their talisman in midfield alongside Nigel de Jong and creating a sizable gap that will have to be addressed.

Inzaghi has spoken of his desire to play a 4-3-3 (h/t Football Italia), which would necessitate the inclusion of two dynamic midfielders to support the defensively oriented De Jong.

Without Kaka, there are several in-house options that will likely appeal to Inzaghi.

Andrea Poli flashed glimpses of his potential last season, but he was never quite able to put it all together. He did have his moments, though, including very nearly putting Milan ahead against Atletico Madrid in their first-leg clash in the round of 16 in the Champions League.

Two other intriguing options are Bryan Cristante and Riccardo Saponara. These two are young (19 and 22, respectively) and full of potential.

Without the added strain of European competition, it would seem an ideal time to integrate players like these two into the rotation of Milan players under consideration for starting spots.

Indeed, the hope for many Milan fans is to see a mix of Poli, Cristante and Saponara filling the two vacant midfield spots as they vie for playing time at the start of the season and during the second half, when Montolivo will presumably be fit and regularly playing.

Other options include Keisuke Honda, who may yet have a future with Milan if he is able to adapt a less attacking mindset, and Sulley Muntari, who is a much-maligned yet relatively effective backup option in the center of the midfield.

Michael Essien remains on the squad but has no role with Milan for the future.

The hope is that Inzaghi gives youth a chance alongside the experienced de Jong as Milan copes with the loss of their captain, and that is reasonable to expect given his time with the Milan Primavera prior to becoming manager of the senior squad.

The early signs are promising, and hopefully Inzaghi further stamps his authority on Milan's squad by giving younger players the chance to prove themselves instead of relying on static veterans.