AC Milan return new and improved for the 2010/2011 season. With a new manager, several new players, and a new boost of confidence, Milan look and sound as if they are ready to challenge for the Serie A title as well as the UEFA Champions League, in which they are a seeded club.
As the calendar continues to move ever closer to August 29th and the match against Lecce at the San Siro, here is a look at what new manager Massimiliano Allegri's squad may look like.
Thumbs up for the Milan newcomer. After one season at both Genoa and Palermo following six years with Livorno, the talented goalkeeper has joined Milan on loan for the season. It's a season that could begin with him holding an edge on longtime Milan product Christian Abbiati, who only appeared eight times last season after a strong 2008/2009, which was cut short by a ligament injury.
Both players have had strong preseasons, but Amelia's has been arguably stronger. His crucial saves against Juventus in the TIM Trophy forced the half match into penalties, which Milan won thanks to Amelia. His performance against Lyon was also strong.
I give the edge to Amelia based on his strong preseason and his likelihood of remaining healthy. Abbiati appeared only eight times last season, having trouble returning from injury. Age also a factor. Watching both the past couple seasons, at 28, Amelia seems to have a step or two on Abbiati.
There's no question who the left back for the future is at Milan.
Antonini, 28, returned in 2008 to the club which gave him his start at the age of eight. During the 2009/2010 season, following injuries to Gianluca Zambrotta and Marek Jankulovski, Antonini established himself as the left back for Milan, making 22 appearances, playing solid defense, and displaying his talent of playing the wing as he was constantly moving up and down the wing to help the attack. He was commonly seen making excellent combination plays with Ronaldinho, either setting up or putting in crosses to the Milan attack, producing a large percentage of Milan's chances.
Of course, Antonini's fantastic season ended on a high with a goal in the 3-0 thrashing of Juventus in the final match of the season. New Italian manager Cesare Prandelli also took notice of his performances and called him into the squad for Italy's first match after the World Cup against the Ivory Coast.
There's no arguing that the Roman belongs in the 11 for Milan.
The Milan defender of eight years is the leader of the back line, and proved so upon returning to the lineup after missing all of 2008/2009 with a back injury.
Nesta has won it all with Milan and will be looking to bring back glory to the San Siro. The 34 year old surely will not want his last trophy to have been the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup.
Third time was the charm for Thiago Silva.
After not even featuring for FC Porto and Dynamo Moscow in his first two attempts at playing outside his native Brazil, the 25 year old has not only established himself as a sure thing starter for Milan, but has attracted the attention of several other large clubs, most notably Real Madrid.
Silva, however, has made clear his intentions to remain at the San Siro, at least through the end of his contract.
His consistently top class performances in his 41 appearances have made clear that Silva will be a starter at Milan so long as he remains. His stellar season also earned him a spot on the World Cup roster for Brazil. Despite not playing, he earned a start and a full 90 minutes for new Brazil manager Mano Menezes against the United States on August 10th. Silva's performance kept the US at bay in a 2-0 victory.
Besides his outstanding defending, Silva is loved on the set pieces, as he is always a threat to score on a corner kick. Both of his two goals last season were from the corner.
The Italian has had a successful first two seasons at the San Siro, following his days at Juventus and Barcelona.
His only goal came against Lazio a couple weeks into his first Milan season, as he scored the second of four goals in a 4-1 triumph.
He is no goalscorer, but Zambrotta is a tremendous defender who has made crucial stops consistently for Milan on the outside.
Like Antonini, he is also a player who can get up the wing and create chances for the attack.
Milan look to be secure on the outside of defense.
Milan have been looking for a midfielder all summer.
Finally, on August 18th, that midfielder was acquired, as Milan received the Ghana international on loan from Genoa the same day that Genoa spent $8 million US to get him from Portsmouth.
Milan's primary need all summer has been a midfielder. Many have been linked, but the 23 year old could be just what Milan are looking for.
Boateng is a strong and powerful midfielder who will fit excellently into a holding center midfielder position, allowing the likes of Pirlo, Ambrosini, Flamini, Seedorf, etc. to advance farther up the ground without leaving the defense hanging.
He is also a fast player with the ability to score the occasional goal. He could advance up on the attack often as well on counterattacks or favorable advantages.
At 23, he also provides youth, something Milan have been looking for in the midfield.
Look for Milan to be a much livelier team with Boateng in the squad. The former Portsmouth player will revitalize the weakest link of the Rossoneri lineup the past several seasons.
When you've played 267 Serie A matches since 2001 for AC Milan, there should be no doubt about your place in the midfield.
At 31, Andrea Pirlo is one of Milan's most experienced and most important players. One of the greatest free kick takers of his generation, Pirlo has been the most consistent of Milan's midfielders over the past couple years.
Despite continuing to age, he has been a regular in the lineup, making 30 league starts last season and appearing in all eight Champions League matches, which is where he scored his lone goal, the famous 30-yard strike that caught Iker Casillas off guard and helped Milan to a 3-2 win over Real Madrid in Spain.
The vice captain will need to step up and take control in the midfield once again this year if Milan are to be successful. The addition of Boateng is crucial to the midfield, but Pirlo still needs to step up and be the leader. The play in the midfield will determine Milan's success, and Pirlo's success will determine the success of the midfield for the most part.
When Paolo Maldini retired at the end of the 2008/2009 campaign, Massimo Ambrosini was waiting in line to become Milan's new captain.
During this past season, Ambrosini performed well, appearing in 30 matches in Serie A, scoring a goal, and appearing in all eight Champions League matches.
Ambrosini may not be a member of the Serie A XI, but he is still a consistently solid midfielder at the age of 33. While many argue that Milan's age hurts them, I think Ambrosini's experience and ability to still play at a high level, as well as his excellent leadership, will prove a tremendous asset to Milan this season.
That is what people are saying after the two-time World Player of the Year scored 12 Serie A goals and three Champions League goals last season, leading all Milan players with 15 total goals.
Ronaldinho's first season at Milan was much like his final season at Barcelona, plagued with injury. Last season proved to be much more successful. He seemed to be enjoying his soccer to an extent we had not seen in some time, maybe since winning the Champions League with Barcelona in 2006.
Besides scoring goals, Ronaldinho was also the master of creating chances for Milan, assisting 16 goals last season in Serie A, three in the Champions League.
He may be an attacking midfielder, but expect to see Ronaldinho playing most effectively on the left wing, where most of his 16 assists came from. As mentioned earlier, 'Dinho and Antonini mastered the wing play last season, moving the ball between each other very well before playing the ball into the box.
Ronaldinho still seems unable to avoid the nightlife, however. A situation arose late last season where the Brazilian was found to be throwing a late night party the week of a crucial match.
If Milan are to be successful, they will need Ronaldinho to play at a level much the same, if not higher, then last year.
Upset about not being added to Brazil's roster for the World Cup, expect a hungry Ronaldinho this season, as he will be looking to prove that he still has what it takes.
If he scores more goals like he did against Juventus in the TIM Trophy, expect great things from the Gaucho.
Milan called Marco Borriello back in 2008 after several loan spells with Empoli, Reggina, Sampdoria, Treviso, and Genoa all between 2003 and 2008.
Good thing they never sold him.
Borriello had a strong campaign for Milan last season, netting 14 times in 26 appearances in Serie A and scoring once in four Champions League matches. This success follows an injury plagued season in 2008/2009 upon his return, which saw him net only once in seven matches in Serie A and in his only UEFA Cup match.
Borriello is not afraid to use any means necessary to put the ball on net. He has scored with his feet, his head, laying out for the ball, and from the scissor kick. His aggressiveness and ability to score goals from any angle (just watch his goal from Milan's 4-0 win over Siena last season) and with any part of his body make Borriello one of a kind, and give him an edge over Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the eleven.
Alexandre the Great.
There can be no disputing his place in the starting 11. Anyone who thinks otherwise, I would love to hear your argument.
The soon to be 21 year old joined Milan in 2007, made his debut in 2008, and has rarely disappointed. He is truly a tremendous threat on the attack, scoring a combined 41 goals in all competitions in 92 matches for Milan.
If not for a March injury last season, Pato would have ended up with closer to 20 Serie A goals than the 12 he finished with.
However, it is not the 12 goals that will be most remembered last year. It will not be the fact that he worsened his earlier injury while scoring a goal against Udinese which cost him to miss the rest of the season.
It will be a brace he scored in October against Real Madrid. His two goals, the second coming in the 88th minute, gave Milan its most inspiring win of the season, 3-2 over the Galacticos and former Rossoneri star Kaka.
Did I mention he is only going to be 21 and made his debut for Milan in 2008, and he is already on the verge of superstardom?!
Milan fans will be glad to know that Pato has pledged himself to the club, despite heavy courting from Chelsea and Real Madrid. He has said that he is focused on returning trophies to their rightful place in the San Siro, and to the rightful San Siro team.
With his speed, talent, and goal scoring prowess, Pato is clearly the top attacker in Milan's arsenal and its best player on the pitch. Soon, it is possible we will be talking about Pato as one of the greatest in the world, if we are not already.
These are players that will need to rise to the occasion when called from the bench.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Forward)
This is the most obvious name on the list.
Huntelaar did not live up to expectations many would say, following a move from Real Madrid in the summer. However, we are comparing seven goals, mostly off the bench, in 21 league matches to the 76 goals in 92 appearances for Ajax in three and a half seasons, in a much less competitive league, and on a team where he was truly the only attacking option.
Given the chance, Huntelaar will be a productive attacker. However, I do not see him necessarily being immediately called upon to start. Maybe a couple matches here and there and towards Champions League matches when regulars need some rest.
Huntelaar will get his time. He just needs to be patient and good things will happen for him.
Nice of him to go by simply Sokratis. I grew tired of looking up his last name.
Papa (a much shorter version of his last name, also a nickname) was one of the three players to join from Genoa and the only one who was bought. After a great season with Genoa and a solid performance for Greece at the World Cup, it seemed now or never to find a solid future replacement for Nesta.
Sokratis may be that man.
Though he has had a good preseason, I don't expect him to start. He is primarily a center back and it is hard to split up Nesta and Silva after the chemistry they built last season, along with the success they had.
However, he will be seeing quite a bit of time. Managers tend to use defensive subs often, especially when in the lead. Milan intend to be in the lead late in matches often this season and will want fresh legs on talented defenders out there.
Like at most new jobs, Papa will work his way up the ladder, though he is figuratively only on a two-step stepladder. There may be a time, like with Huntelaar, where he will be needed as a starter, but not yet.
Until that time, Milan can rest comfortably knowing that they finally have a solid defensive replacement for late in matches.
Mathieu Flamini (Midfielder)
Flamini was bought by Milan last summer after a strong loan spell from Arsenal the season before. He proved to be capable of playing both midfield and defense as needed.
But Milan's main focus must be attack.
Flamini is a strong midfielder who has done well, but he is not one to always find himself in goal scoring areas, though when he does it's a sight.
With the younger and more lively and versatile Boateng, Flamini may fall back into the role player position.
Discipline is a minor problem, as Flamini is constantly being booked, but one cannot help but praise his aggressiveness, heart, grit, and determination.
He did well as a starter for Milan last season, as the midfield suffered injury after injury, but Boateng provides a much brighter spark for the club and will surely be in the lineup come the 29th, but Flamini is a loved player at the San Siro and will do his part in the second half, or as an occasional starter, to put Milan in the best position to win.
Clarnece Seedorf (Midfielder)
The guy can still play.
He is 34, but far from done.
Just not a guy you will see everyday in the lineup announcements.
Seedorf is still a great player and will continue to be until his legs can no longer carry him. It will be hard to ever forget, if for some reason I wanted to, the fantastic strike against Chievo Verona in the 89th minute last season to give Milan a 1-0 victory.
He can always come into a match in the second half and make his presence felt. It would be as if Pirlo or Ambrosini never left and were playing with even more energy than at the first whistle.
Seedorf should find himself to be a favorite sub of Allegri's from the get-go.
Christian Abbiati (Goalkeeper)
Mario Yepes (Defender)
Filippo Inzaghi (Forward)
Gennaro Gattuso (Midfielder)
Oguchi Onyewu (Defender)
Ignazio Abate (Midfielder/Defender)
Dominic Adiyiah (Forward)
Daniele Bonera (Defender)
Though they are only members of the Primavera squad at the moment, these players have all featured for AC Milan in the preseason and have performed impressively. Something Milan has done a poor job of is fueling from its Primavera squad. Normally, these players are loaned out (remember Antonini, Abbiati, and Borriello), but these are players to watch, if not this season, then in the future as potential first teamers who could help the aging squad.
Alexander Merkel (Midfielder)
Giacomo Beretta (Forward)
Simone Verdi (Forward)
Rodney Strasser (Midfielder)
Andrea de Vito (Defender)
Mitja Novinic (Midfielder)
Nnamdi Oduamadi (Forward)