AC Milan: Why Rossoneri Can Be a Surprise Package in the Champions League

Charlie Melman@@charliemelmanCorrespondent IIAugust 24, 2012

MILAN, ITALY - AUGUST 19:  Robinho (L) of AC Milan celebrates scoring the first goal during the Berlusconi Trophy match between AC Milan and Juventus FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on August 19, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A popular view among pundits when discussing the future of AC Milan has been that, after some high-profile sales and the retirements of many key players, the club is in decline.

Upon the departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG, club owner Silvio Berlusconi had this to say (via goal.com), in typical dramatic fashion:

We did not want to sell Thiago Silva or Ibrahimovic and turned down the first offer. We then thought about the Financial Fair Play, which would not have allowed the deal to go through next year, so we had to accept it with weeping hearts.

Obviously, then, a difficult period of mediocrity is on the cards for AC Milan, a club steeped in history and whose fans have gotten very used to success in recent years.

And the team is certainly weaker in some areas than it was last season, in terms of both quality and the leadership that comes with experience.

In addition to Silva and Ibrahimovic, arguably the club's best attacker and defender, Filippo Inzaghi, Gianluca Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta retired; Clarence Seedorf is off in Brazil; Mark van Bommel is back with PSV; and Antonio Cassano has crossed the city to play for Inter.

If you want to make a run at the Champions League title, this is certainly not the list of departures that you would like to see, and the rationale of balancing the books is yet more worrying.

It is important to remember, though, that the summer has not been all doom and gloom for Milan and a very strong squad remains.

In fact, many players who showed great potential last season might finally be given chances to show their talents on regular bases and, perhaps, establish places for themselves in the first team.

Hindered by injury and the presence of Ibrahimovic, Alexandre Pato never really rounded into form last year, but we all knew what kind of talent was bubbling under the surface.

Unfortunately, he's picked up another knock. But, given Inzaghi's No. 9 shirt as a sign of his new role on the team, Pato can make everyone forget about Ibrahimovic very quickly if he can stay fit and feed off the service of his teammates.

The surrounding cast is more than decent, despite the aforementioned departures, and contains many players who could blossom in Massimiliano Allegri's system if given time to develop.

Ignazio Abate should lock down the right flank, and while still a bit raw at the ripe old age of 27, Djamel Mesbah had his promising moments both in Serie A and in Europe. Luca Antonini, of course, is still around to play wherever and whenever he is needed.

Where Milan's bread is truly buttered, however, is in the midfield. For almost every slot, the Rossoneri have a player who can fill the role and is versatile enough to interchange with his teammates.

Kevin-Prince Boateng is equally brilliant in attacking or defensive positions and is a worthy successor to Seedorf's No. 10 shirt. Sulley Muntari is a physical presence in the center of midfield. Antonio Nocerino figures to play a large role this season after scoring the second-most goals on the team last campaign.

At the head of it all will be the superb Riccardo Montolivo, who has long shined for a lackluster Fiorentina side and impressed for Italy at Euro 2012 with his vision and ability to retain possession of the ball.

And on the wing there remains the still-terrifying presence of Robinho, who is not coming off his best season but still has the skills to provide a dangerous threat to any defender he comes up against.

Pato and shiny new addition Giampaolo Pazzini should greatly benefit from the havoc Robinho causes in opposition defences.

All this adds up to a very competitive team, one that can legitimately make a run in the Champions League, if not bring the cup back to the red half of the San Siro.

With the undeniable talent at Massimiliano Allregri's disposal, a run to the quarterfinals, where Milan succumbed to the juggernaut of Barcelona last season with a supposedly superior team, is certainly not out of the question, despite the various cutbacks we've seen this summer.

If nothing else, the mere perception of the Rossoneri as a club on a slight decline must play into their hands. With less pressure than a superstar-laden team had last season, the burden of expectation will be lifted, and, perhaps, that freedom will lead to unanticipated success.

Teams across Europe will at least give a certain amount of respect to the name of the club, but, if they are not careful, its players could sneak up on them and bounce them out of the Champions League.

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