AC Milan: Who Should Inzaghi Select at Right Wing?

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AC Milan: Who Should Inzaghi Select at Right Wing?
Thibault Camus/Associated Press
Given Milan's current right-wing contingent, Jeremy Menez looks to be the favorite.

Milan's preseason tour isn't shaping up to be a proper tuneup, as the club has looked woeful in the International Champions Cup, losing both Group B matches and registering a goal differential of minus-7.

Much of the team's struggles lie in defense, but the attack hasn't been much better, as the Rossoneri managed just one dubious tap-in against Manchester City after being held scoreless by Olympiacos.

Entering the 2014-15 season without the defensive reinforcements that are so abundantly necessary—the club allowed 1.29 goals per game in the 2013-14 term, their highest average since the 1996-97 season—Milan will have to rely on their offense for results.

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Head coach Filippo Inzaghi is expected to employ a 4-3-3, a formation inherently geared toward attacking football and the same formation he used during his two-year stint with the Primavera.

Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli will occupy the left-wing and centre-forward spots respectively, but there seems to be an open competition at right wing.

Earlier this summer, Jeremy Menez was brought in on a Bosman transfer from Paris Saint-Germain and will enter the 2014-15 season as one of the few players on the roster capable of cutting it on the right flank. He didn't see much playing time on a stacked PSG side, but the former Monaco standout has Serie A experience with Roma and the skill to beat his marker.

Aside from Menez, M'Baye Niang is back from his loan spell at Montpellier and should be available, as the rumors linking the 19-year-old Frenchman with an exit have seemingly subsided. Niang notched four goals and two assists in 19 Ligue 1 appearances, per WhoScored.com, but his inexperience is evident, as he consistently struggles to deliver the final ball.

Shuji Kajiyama/Associated Press
Could a positional change be what Honda needs to get on track in Italy?

Keisuke Honda offers a different, narrower choice, as he'd tuck inside and open space for Mattia De Sciglio to foray forward, while El Shaarawy would shade over more centrally and partner Balotelli.

Honda labored through his debut season, and deploying the Japanese maestro in another unfamiliar position could lead to more of the same. He's a quality footballer but really drops off when he doesn't mind his favored No. 10 role.

Hachim Mastour deserves a mention after an impressive preseason, but any more than a smattering of appearances in his debut season would be rushing the 16-year-old wunderkind.

It's an uninspiring unit to choose from: a bench-warmer, albeit for a powerhouse; a green prospect who would benefit from another loan spell; and a talented trequartista who must adapt to a new position without having fully acclimatized to his new league.

Milan still have the opportunity to add another face to the competition and, according to talkSPORT, they are actively pursuing arguably the best right-winger on the peninsula, Alessio Cerci.

Via WhoScored, Cerci netted 13 goals and created another 10 for Torino last season and could immediately slot in on the right as an inverted winger.

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press
Ayew hasn't spent much time on the right, but the Ghanaian has been consistently excellent on the left for Marseille.

The Italian international hasn't been the only left-footed right-winger the Rossoneri are said to be mulling a move for. Calciomercato.com claims (h/t Football Italia) Milan are also targeting Newcastle's Hatem Ben Arfa, while L'Equipe claims (h/t Football Italia) Marseille's Andre Ayew is on their radar as well.

Ben Arfa has tremendous innate ability, but he's incredibly inconsistent and struggled to win a starting spot for the Magpies last season, coming off the bench more than he started.

Ayew starred in what was an otherwise disappointing 2013-14 campaign for Marseille, but WhoScored's positional data shows he made the vast majority of his appearances as a traditional left-footed left-winger.

You'd have to think Cerci or Ayew would jump to the top of the depth chart, whilst Ben Arfa would have to earn his spot after an underwhelming 2013-14 showing.

The question now becomes which, if any, player the parsimonious Milan front office will shell out for, and therein lies the problem: The board is reluctant to sanction any spending before first selling some of its current players.

However, save for Mario Balotelli, there isn't much of a market for any player Milan are willing to sell, and letting the team's best player leave could further add to the team's downward spiral. 

The talkSPORT piece cites a £16 million asking price for Cerci, while Transfermarkt places both Andre Ayew and Hatem Ben Arfa's market values at just over £10.5 million.

Considering the difference in transfer fees wouldn't be too large, you have to favor the 27-year-old Cerci over the similarly aged Ben Arfa. Ayew will turn 25 midseason, so he could offer a couple more seasons, but given Cerci's familiarity with Serie A and Milan's relationship with Torino, for me the Italian international represents the better and more feasible signing.

Milan Transfer Targets vs. Current Right Wingers
Player League Games Played Goals Assists Shots/game Pass Completion Key Passes/game Dribbles/game Crosses/game
Ayew 25 6 3 2.3 78.8% 1.1 1.2 0.3
Ben Arfa 27 3 3 1.7 84.5% 1.1 2.5 0.7
Cerci 37 13 10 3.3 74.1% 1.6 1.8 1.3
Honda 14 1 2 2.1 84.2% 1.2 0.9 0.5
Menez 16 2 1 0.9 86.1% 0.4 0.5 0.2
Niang 19 4 2 2.5 67.7% 0.9 1.3 0.2

WhoScored.com

We see Cerci bests the field in six of the eight above categories, and there are wholly reasonable explanations for why he didn't finish first in passing and dribbles per game. His superb assist tally reflects his high-risk, high-reward passing, and he completed more low-percentage crosses than the others. With respect to dribbles, Ben Arfa is a savant, and Cerci is simply outmatched. 

Because Inzaghi won't utilize a conservative, difficult-to-break-down system, which a team with a subpar back line often needs, it's important to set the attack up to outscore the opposition. That means a major acquisition is in order.

Menez, Niang and Honda can all excel in select roles, but whether any of them can adequately partner El Shaarawy and Balotelli remains to be seen.

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The aforementioned trio could very well be the options Inzaghi has at his disposal if the club refuses to make available the funds needed to sign a new player.

Any transfer would be a bitter financial pill to swallow for a team looking to trim costs in the wake of missing out on Europe. However, if Milan ever hope to regain Serie A supremacy and field a team worthy of calling itself one of Europe's elite, signings need to made, and impactful signings cost money.

Whether it be Cerci or Ayew, Inzaghi would do well to shore up his right wing, or else we could be looking at a similar problem to the one that plagued the left-back position last year: fielding a player who doesn't make the grade for a team with European aspirations.

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