Manager Has To Manage: How Milan's Allegri Deals With His Superstar Attack

Tim Fontenault@Tim_FontenaultCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2010

Manager Has To Manage: How Milan's Allegri Deals With His Superstar Attack

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    Zlatan Ibrahimovic adds needed firepower to the Rossoneri squad.
    Zlatan Ibrahimovic adds needed firepower to the Rossoneri squad.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    They're back!

    Milan fans can rejoice, their team is once again a giant in Europe, a force to be reckoned with.

    With a new manager, six new players, and a team of both youth and veterans with the desire to bring them back to the promised land, Milan are set for a campaign that could bring glory back to a squad that has not seen a major trophy since 2007 and an Italian trophy since 2004.

    Milan won their opening match, two days before the end of the transfer market, in a 4-0 thrashing of Lecce. It was not just a victory over a promoted side who they are expected to beat, it was a championship caliber performance. The liveliness, determination, and talent that was produced in the opening match had Milan fans leaving the ground or turning off their televisions with a sobering feeling.

    On July 20th, a few thousand Milan Ultras lined up outside the Milanello prior the club's first training session. Prior to that day, Milan's only acquisitions had been Sokratis and Mario Yepes, as well as the loan of Marco Amelia. Milan fans wanted more, so they brought their demands straight to the gates.

    Slowly but surely, the club began to act in the market.

    In the middle of August, Milan worked out a clever deal in which Genoa bought Kevin-Prince Boateng from Portsmouth and immediately loaned him to Milan. Milan have an option to buy him at the end of the season. People were happy knowing that Boateng brought youth to the midfield and would be a valued player, mostly in reserve, but Milan fans wanted more.

    The week leading into the first game, all the talk was about the courtship of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the out of favor striker from Barcelona. Milan went into high gear to get the player, and named Manchester City want-away Robinho as a "Plan B."

    On Saturday before the game, Milan vice president Adriano Galliani returned to Milan.

    Ibrahimovic was with him.

    Milan brought the Swede in on loan for the season with a $30 million US option to buy next summer.

    It seems Milan have their minds made up about what they intend to do when the time comes. Ibrahimovic has already signed a four year deal with the Rossoneri.

    Sitting in the stands on Sunday, he watched his future teammates dominate Lecce and take first place in Serie A after one round of fixtures. Ronaldinho showed signs of his former self. Daniele Bonera shocked everybody. Gennaro Gattuso and Boateng played strong off the bench in the midfield. Filippo Inzaghi did what he still does at a world class level at 37 when he came off the bench, nearly scored as soon as he touched the ball, and eventually netted the fourth goal. Pato dominated the defense, breaking through at will and netting two goals. Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, and Luca Antonini were top class on defense. Christian Abbiati was called into action at times and made some great stops.

    Probably most notable of all, the club seemed happier playing under Max Allegri than it had been under Leonardo and even in the latter stages of Carlo Ancelotti's time.

    To top off an incredible weekend, Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani gave one last gift to the club and all the Milanistas, Robinho.

    Originally thought only to be a "Plan B" if the Ibrahimovic deal fell through, Milan saved Robinho from at least four more months of misery with Manchester City. One of the original big name signings for the Citizens, the Brazilian has been miserable since his arrival from Real Madrid, but is excited about joining AC Milan and fellow Brazilians Ronaldinho, Pato, and Thiago Silva.

    Milan may have only made minor additions to the defense and midfield, but they will be productive signings as those additions will give Milan the depth they need to play two games a week. Milan are truly contenders in both the Serie A and the Champions League. They are arguably the favorites in Serie A currently. With the best attacking unit in Europe, it is not farfetched to say that Inter's reign of terror at the top of Serie A could well end this year.

    A few weeks ago, I made my preview of the Milan starting 11. With the transfer window now closed, I have updated my lineup. It is attack-minded, but also does not leave the defense out to dry.  This lineup could well bring trophies back to the great AC Milan.

Goalkeeper- No. 32 Christian Abbiati

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    After years of loans, Abbiati has returned to Milan and established himself as the #1.
    After years of loans, Abbiati has returned to Milan and established himself as the #1.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Christian Abbiati joined AC Milan in 1998. In 1999, he became the first choice goalkeeper. He was the main man until an injury in the Champions League in 2002 sidelined him. He lost his starting place to his in form replacement, Dida.

    Having been forced to the bench, Abbiati became frustrated and wanted to move to a club where he could compete for a starting job.

    From 2005 to 2008, the Italian earned first team action at Juventus, Torino, and Atletico Madrid on three separate loan spells from Milan.

    After his spell with Atletico, he was brought back for the start of the 2008/2009 season.

    Abbiati has earned his starting spot back since his return. He had solid form at the start of his return season, until an ACL tear in March ended his campaign abruptly.

    Upon his return in the 2009/2010 season, Abbiati regained his starting job and has carried on as the starter into the preseason.

    The addition of Marco Amelia and the strong play of third stringer Flavio Roma in the preseason give Milan some much needed depth at the position, as Abbiati, at 33 and susceptible to injury, cannot play all 51 games (taking into account all 38 Serie A games and should Milan make the Champions League final).

    Abbiati will be a top notch keeper this season, but lucky for Milan, Amelia is a capable backup who will want to prove himself on loan from Genoa and Roma can give the occasional strong performance, most likely in Coppa Italia.

Left Back- No. 77 Luca Antonini

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    Grand Finale: Antonini celebrates his only goal of 2009/2010 in a 3-0 thrashing of Juventus in May.
    Grand Finale: Antonini celebrates his only goal of 2009/2010 in a 3-0 thrashing of Juventus in May.Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

    No doubt about it.

    Luca Antonini has no worries. He is Milan's main man at left back.

    He deserves it too.

    No Milan defender was better than the 28-year-old Italian last season. He was a strong defender out on the wing and was also dangerous moving up the wing on the attack. There is a connection between himself and Ronaldinho that is very hard to find anywhere else in the world. It was the same every game last year. Ronaldinho would get the ball on the left wing, do his moves, look for a good option or even a shot. Then, out of nowhere, Antonini comes screaming down the line as a useful option. He can break outside or to the middle and create chances for himself and his teammates. He would either lay the ball off to Ronaldinho, who had 16 assists in 2009/2010 or whip in a dangerous ball himself. He assisted two goals last season.

    It is defense where he will be needed most this year. His stock as one of the best left backs in the game will only rise to new heights this year. He is a talented player who still has several years of football ahead of him.

    He took his starting spot from Marek Jankulovski. The Czech remains with Milan and could make the occasional appearance at left back for the club, but do not expect to see him unless Antonini is hurt or tired. 

Center Back- No. 13 Alessandro Nesta

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    Nesta against Napoli in 2009.
    Nesta against Napoli in 2009.Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    Nesta is one of the longest serving players on the current squad and deserves to be in a starting position. At the age of 34, he continues to be a solid defender. He impressed last season in his return from a back injury which left him out of action for the majority of 2008/2009.

    The former Lazio man may be getting older, but his talent and passion for the game remain.

    It will be important for Nesta to continue on his strong form if Milan are to be successful this season.

Center Back- No. 33 Thiago Silva

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    Celebration Time: Silva (facing Ronaldinho) celebrates his goal against Lecce in the opening match of the season.
    Celebration Time: Silva (facing Ronaldinho) celebrates his goal against Lecce in the opening match of the season.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Again, no questions asked, Thiago Silva is a clear cut starter in the middle of the Milan defense.

    Silva officially became eligible to play for Milan in July 2009, after joining the club in December 2008. The 25-year-old made an immediate impact at the San Siro.

    Making 41 total appearances last season, Silva was a crucial member of Milan's squad and established himself as a back for the future. He also proved to be deadly near the box. The young Brazilian was easily visible getting up for headers on corners and coming very close almost every time. He scored two fantastic goals last season for Milan.

    Silva's performances with Milan earned him a spot with Brazil at the World Cup and the notice of Real Madrid, who reportedly made inquiries about the young star, but Silva chose to remain at Milan.

    Obviously, Real Madrid would not go after a player who wasn't world class or near that level. Thiago Silva is well on his way to becoming a world class defender. A strong season this year could have him in the talks for UEFA Defender of the Year.

Right Back- No. 19 Gianluca Zambrotta

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    Zambrotta has never been afraid to go after the ball, even at 33.
    Zambrotta has never been afraid to go after the ball, even at 33.Massimo Cebrelli/Getty Images

    Zambrotta has been a regular in the Milan lineup the past two seasons since joining from Barcelona in the summer of 2008.

    You know that saying one man's trash is another man's treasure?

    Point made with Zambrotta. At 33, he is an experienced champion with still plenty of talent to compete at a high level at a world class club like Milan.

    Zambrotta is not afraid to get dirty on defense and is a strong, do or die back. He has excellent vision and is capable of creating play down the right wing.

    He is a talented leader who can mean only good things for Milan when he is in the lineup.

    Milan have several other options at fullback. As mentioned before, Jankulovski could see some occasional time on the left. It is the right, however, where, even with Zambrotta being the established starter, there is the most likelihood of seeing the different fullbacks. Sokratis and Daniele Bonera will be the most used with Massimo Oddo also a potential option.

    However, there can be no mistaking that Zambrotta will be a center piece to Milan's plans this season and will be needed if Milan are to compete for titles.

Center Midfielder- No. 21 Andrea Pirlo

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    Pirlo skips by his man against Lecce.
    Pirlo skips by his man against Lecce.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Nine years, 367 games, 40 goals, eight trophies.

    There is no doubt that Andrea Pirlo is one of the greatest Milan players of all time. He continues to be a centerpiece of the squad and is truly the general on the field. He commands the game.

    Say what you want about age, but at 31 and in the shape he is in, Pirlo is still one of the games best.

    At a time when many internationals would retire, Pirlo is aiming for a spot on Italy's EURO 2012 roster. He was named the team's captain heading into qualifying this week.

    Milan's vice-captain will continue to be a prime performer so long as he continues to play. He is a work horse and could play for several more years. He has the capability to both attack and hold back and play strong defense.

    If Pirlo can continue his excellent form, Milan will be very successful in the midfield.

    It seems that he will be mostly responsible for playing a holding position, but he is truly the point guard of the squad. He controls the tempo and is excellent at setting up for an attack run. His leadership and talent in the midfield will be vital to Milan's success.

Center Midfielder- No. 23 Massimo Ambrosini (Captain)

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    Replacing Milan's greatest captain ever is no easy task, but Ambrosini stepped into his new role with class and maturity and  proved he deserved the armband.
    Replacing Milan's greatest captain ever is no easy task, but Ambrosini stepped into his new role with class and maturity and proved he deserved the armband.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    After Paolo Maldini, one Milan's greatest players of all time, retired at the age of 40 in 2009, the captaincy passed to Massimo Ambrosini.

    Adjusting to the position of captain is no easy task, especially when your club is lacking flare and liveliness and is in need of a morale boost.

    It may not have been Milan's proudest season, but few could have stepped in and done such a great job as captain the way the 33-year-old Italian did this past season.

    Ambrosini stepped into his role and had probably his best season in a Milan shirt. He was actively present in every match. He is never afraid to get up for a ball or to go in hard and win it back. He is not afraid to attack and has excellent field vision.

    Like with Pirlo, Ambrosini will need to play general and play a holding position. He may be more of the defensive minded player than Pirlo, as Pirlo is sort of an outlet between the attack and defense. Ambrosini has always been known as more of a defensive minded midfielder than Pirlo.

    Milan cannot leave their defense hanging, despite its talent, which is why the two man holding midfield is a good idea. Both Pirlo and Ambrosini are excellent defenders, but they can also push up as support for the attack, which may not always be necessary.

    Other players can fit into this mold. Mathieu Flamini, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, and Kevin-Prince Boateng can all fill the holding midfield position very well.

    Questions have been raised over Milan's midfield, but there is nothing to worry about.

Attacking Midfielder- No. 80 Ronaldinho

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    Ronaldinho was Milan's mastermind in the opening match against Lecce.
    Ronaldinho was Milan's mastermind in the opening match against Lecce.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    After injuries plagued his first season at Milan, Ronaldinho exploded last season and had a fantastic campaign, leading Milan in both goals (15) and assists (16).

    Questions came into light about Ronaldinho's future as a starter when Robinho was brought into the club at the transfer deadline.

    Playing the four man attack with Ronaldinho at attacking mid is a great idea. It was made obvious last season that Milan are better with the two time World Player of the Year in the lineup. He is excellent through the mid and attacking thirds of the field and has excellent vision, not to mention he is still a prolific goalscorer. If Pirlo is the point guard, you could say Ronaldinho is the shooting guard.

    Milan now have the best attack in Europe, but to get the most out of it, having four of their five attackers on the field is the best option. Ronaldinho is a fantastic distributor and has the capability to have a 15 goal, 25 assist season this year, I do not doubt that. He is the master of the set piece, always producing dangerous balls from corners and free kicks.

    Ronaldinho is arguably the most vital piece of the Milan puzzle. They need him in the lineup. At attacking mid, he can do wonders. Despite being used primarily as the left winger the past year or so, the transition will not be difficult, especially considering that the Gaucho is in the best shape he has been in since before his falling out with Barcelona.

    The play-maker will have an incredible season and continue to return to the form we came to know and love in his Barcelona days, maybe picking up a few trophies in the process.

Left Winger- No. 70 Robinho

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    Much to the approval of all Milan supporters, Robinho joined AC Milan on August 31, the last day of the Transfer Market.
    Much to the approval of all Milan supporters, Robinho joined AC Milan on August 31, the last day of the Transfer Market.

    Robinho finally got his wish.

    The Manchester City want-away left England on Tuesday to join the Rossoneri on a four year deal. The signing immediately had fans and the media in an uproar, calling Milan the greatest attacking group in Europe and now favorites in Serie A and potential winners in the Champions League.

    Robinho makes that very possible.

    It all comes down to happiness. The Brazilian was not happy at Manchester City. In fact, he was miserable. He goes to Santos, he was happy. He played very well, scoring 11 times in 22 appearances, and even tried to cement a permanent deal with the Brazilian club.

    At first, I would imagine any football fan felt bad Robinho had to go back to the evil Citizens.

    Milan fans are not very sad anymore.

    Robinho has already expressed his happiness at being part of the revamped AC Milan squad.

    "Milan have a great players, a great team with a victorious history," the Brazilian said. "I hope that together with my new team-mates we will be able to help the club to several titles."

    Look for Robinho to jump at the opportunity that has been given. After scoring 16 goals in 53 appearances for City, he will be looking to prove he is a world class scorer at a big club in big competitions.

    He will do just that this season and will help Milan regain the glory that has eluded them for so long.

Right Winger- No. 7 Alexandre Pato

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    Pato celebrates one of his two goals against Lecce on opening night.
    Pato celebrates one of his two goals against Lecce on opening night.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Not many players can say they just turned 21 and are rapidly approaching 100 matches for AC Milan.

    Not many players can say they have scored 43 goals between their eighteenth and twenty-first birthdays for AC Milan.

    Not many players can say they have been a vital member of AC Milan's first team since the time they were eighteen.

    Am I making my point clear enough?

    Pato has been a gift from the Gods for Milan. He is truly destined to join the ranks of Rooney, Messi, and Ronaldo as the world's greatest scorers. Make no mistake, the time for that promotion is coming.

    Injuries prevented him from being Milan's leading scorer last season and knocked him out of contention for the Italian scoring title.

    However, even with the additions of Ibrahimovic and Robinho, Pato is still my pick to lead Milan in scoring this season. When he is in the lineup, it just screams disaster for the opponent. He has developed a wonderful chemistry with compatriot Ronaldinho, which was seen in the match with Lecce with their masterful movement of the ball. The addition of fellow Brazilian Robinho will make the attacking tandem even more deadly and give the chemistry a boost. Maybe we are looking at the beginning of an age of Samba in Milan?

    It does not matter where Pato is shooting from, it is very hard to stop him. He is incredibly gifted at breaking the defense and slipping around the goalie to find the open net. He can score on the volley. He can get acrobatic. He can even score with the head.

    At 21, he is the best young forward in the game and is quickly rising the ranks into the world spotlight.

    This is his season to break out. He will have plenty of opportunity and he will take full advantage of it. A 25 goal league campaign is not out of the question for the young man. I tip him as an early contender for UEFA Player of the Year this season.

Striker- No. 11 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    Ibrahimovic was unveiled to the Milan fans at the Lecce match on August 29th.
    Ibrahimovic was unveiled to the Milan fans at the Lecce match on August 29th.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Ibrahimovic joins Milan in one of the most anticipated arrivals of the summer. The Swedish international had fallen out of favor at Barcelona, especially following the arrival of David Villa. Ibrahimovic is too good a player to be left on the bench, especially after Barcelona paid about $100 million US in total fees to acquire him last year from Inter Milan.

    Once again: one man's trash is another man's treasure.

    We proved that with Zambrotta, with Ronaldinho, and now with Ibrahimovic.

    Thank you Barcelona.

    Without even playing a match, Ibracadabra has lifted the hearts of Milanista everywhere. Could it have been his arrival which motivated AC Milan's victory on Sunday? That was a combination of things, the arrival included.

    Of course, Zlatan is a true competitor and cannot wait to debut against Cesena. With Ibrahimovic and Robinho now joining forces with Ronaldinho and Pato, look out world.

    There is no denying it, Milan have the strongest, deepest, most talented attack in Europe. The four front men can all score at will and are great distributors of the ball. It will not matter who is putting the ball in the net, as long as all of them are on form and Milan are picking up three points a night.

    With a tall, powerful scoring machine like Ibrahimovic heading the attack and with the talent around him, I would not be too worried about scoring goals and getting results.

The Bench Seven

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    Daniele Bonera was a surprise standout in his start against Lecce.
    Daniele Bonera was a surprise standout in his start against Lecce.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Milan have a lot of talent available on the bench this season. This will prove vital as the club get into later stages of matches and the season in general, when two games a week becomes common and injuries and fatigue kick in.

    On a normal night, these seven men should be the subs for Max Allegri to pick from:

    GK- No. 1 Marco Amelia

    DF- No. 15 Sokraits

    DF- No. 25 Daniele Bonera

    MF- No. 8 Gennaro Gattuso

    MF- No. 27 Kevin-Prince Boateng

    MF- No. 10 Clarence Seedorf

    FW- No. 9 Filippo Inzaghi

Conclusion

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    This could be a year of many grand celebrations for AC Milan.
    This could be a year of many grand celebrations for AC Milan.Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    Before this week, I would have picked Milan to finish second in Italy and be quarter-finalists at best in Europe.

    What a difference a week makes.

    Milan are now one of the most dangerous teams in Europe. Veterans have proven that they still have what it takes to play world class football, the club seems to be playing with a lot of happiness under new manager Massimiliano Allegri, and new signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho look set to put Milan in prime position to end Inter Milan's five year run at the top of Serie A and to go far in the Champions League, in which they have only reached the last 16 in their past two appearances since winning in 2007.

    Europe be warned, this is not the Milan of recent years. This Milan is dangerous, is hungry, and is ready to climb back to the top of ranks of the world's elite once more.

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