Olympiacos vs. AC Milan: How Milan Will Line Up for International Champions Cup

Anthony LopopoloFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2014

AC Milan coach Filippo Inzaghi waves during the presentation of the upcoming 2014-15 season at the AC Milan headquarter in Milan, Italy, Thursday, July 10, 2014. In background are midfielder Riccardo Montolivo  and forward Giampaolo Pazzini. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

They are advertising the game in Toronto with the following refrain: Balotelli is coming.

Milan will open its North American tour on Thursday in Canada against Greek champion Olympiacos. The main attraction was always Mario Balotelli. But take a look at Milan's roster and notice 16-year-old Hachim Mastour.

Mastour has joined the rest of the first team on this stint, and he is perhaps the most exciting player that Milan have to offer. Mastour is a hype machine. In Italy he has dazzled in friendlies and with the youth team, but this is different. That he is even with the team in North America, let alone playing with them, is a sign of confidence from the club.

In Toronto they will have to do without their best midfielder Nigel de Jong, who is on vacation following the Netherlands' third-place finish at the World Cup. Defender Cristian Zapata will also be absent. 

Coach Pippo Inzaghi is a man who will field players who merit playing time, but in pre-season training he has been pretty democratic. He has spent time with most of his roster in Italy, and he is prepared to work with Balotelli "the way I do with other players," Inzaghi said (h/t Daily Mail).

Everything about Milan right now is calm and serene, a massive difference from a few months ago, when Clarence Seedorf was manager and when the club were trying to get rid of him.

Inzaghi has said that he wants his team to attack, and he will likely put out a team that does exactly that on Thursday and throughout the tour.

Stephan El Shaarawy is coming off a year of injuries, but at 21 years old he is one of the few players who sparkles on this squad. It is quite something to see up-close the pace that he has while on the ball. The comparisons with Kaka are not far off at all.

With El Shaarawy will be Keisuke Honda, one of Milan's eight players who featured in the World Cup. Honda is still a questionable asset for Milan. He has not truly fit in since moving to the Rossoneri in January, but this is his first pre-season with the team that he supported since he was a kid, and it is not wise to give up on him just yet.

In midfield there will be a bunch of youth products on display. Andrej Modic is a talented Bosnian midfielder, and Alessandro Mastalli has also played with the first team. Bryan Cristante is the one player who has made the permanent jump to the senior squad, and there is a chance for him to play in Toronto, the city in which his father was born. Cristante has a Canadian passport, and he could have played for the Canadian national team. 

There is a lot of talk about his future with Milan and whether he will get the playing time he deserves. Last year Cristante spent most of his time on the bench, despite scoring a goal like this:

Alex and Adil Rami are the match made in defence. It is an untested partnership, but it's the best Milan have had since the departure of Thiago Silva.

And that's the point. They are not coming with brand-new signings worth tens of millions of euros, like Real Madrid or Manchester United. Milan are coming here almost to rehabilitate their brand, which has taken a massive hit in recent years. They are here to advertise what they have, and maybe bring a few more fans on board. They started their journey in New York, and they will pass through Toronto, Pittsburgh and Charlotte.