2010/2011 UEFA Champions League: 10 Reasons AC Milan Can Win The Cup
After winning the Champions League in 2007, AC Milan started to fall down the pecking order in terms of European dominance.
The seven time champions have failed to advance to the quarterfinals since 2007 and even failed to qualify for the 2008/2009 tournament.
Now once again, Milan are contenders for Europe's most prestigious club honor.
Despite facing heavy competition from some of Europe's most elite clubs, Milan have to be a favorite to lift the cup. Newcomer Robinho has already said he could picture a Milan-Barcelona final this year.
With a new coach, new players, and a new attitude, Milan have what it takes to lift their eighth European Cup.
The following is 10 reasons why the Rossoneri can win the Champions League.
1) Late Transfer Window Victories
One of the many criticisms of Milan has been the lack of splashes in the transfer window since the Calciopoli scandal in 2006.
Milan have made a couple of purchases, most notably Alexandre Pato, Ronaldinho, and Gianluca Zambrotta, but have done very little otherwise to help the club. When Kaka departed for Real Madrid, no replacement was brought in for the playmaker.
Milan made a couple of small moves earlier this summer, when they brought in Marco Amelia, Sokratis, Kevin-Prince Boateng, and Mario Yepes. All of these players will be reliable off the bench for Milan, but nothing was done to help the struggling starting lineup.
One of Milan's most annoying problems was the lack of a strong attack. Milan lacked a strong attack. Pato's injury in March took a toll, as he was on pace for nearly 20 goals. He finished with 12. Ronaldinho and Marco Borriello were the leading scorers with 15 overall goals each, meaning it took 2 players to score the amount of goals Diego Milito of Inter Milan in all competition last season.
When Milan failed to fix the need of a strong attack this summer, Milan fans were infuriated. They expected another difficult season.
It was the last weekend of the transfer window that changed their minds.
In the span of 4 days, Milan was able to buy both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho, 2 of the most talented forwards in the world.
At the last minute, Milan became the one of the winners of the transfer window. Milan fixed a major problem in the front and could quickly fix the goalscoring struggles of last season.
The way to be successful in the Champions League is simple: score goals. Score lots of goals. When it comes to aggregate scoring, that is obvious. Milan have had trouble with that recently, especially in last year's Round of 16 when they lost to Manchester United 7-2 on aggregate.
With a strong attack, Milan could cause troubles for talented defenses and shoot their way through to glory.
2) New Manager
AC Milan are now turning to their third manager in three seasons.
Carlo Ancelotti departed the club for Chelsea after eight seasons and two Champions League titles. Leonardo was the man to replace Ancelotti, but struggled in his first managerial job and left by mutual consent after last season.
Now Milan turns to Massimiliano Allegri. Though he is young, 43, this is, unlike Leonardo, not Allegri's first stop as manager. He began his managing career in 2003 and was the Coach of the Year in Serie A in 2008/2009 with Cagliari.
The club already seems to enjoy having Allegri as a manager. He seems much more lively than either Ancelotti or Leonardo and the club are enjoying their football. We saw that in training, in preseason, and as the season began with that 4-0 thumping of Lecce.
Players inside the Milanello are praising the enthusiasm of the manager and are excited to have him on the sidelines.
Just from the club's performance on the opening match-day against Lecce, you can tell there is a vibe about the team that has not been seen in a long time.
Allegri will have all his players playing their best football, making them a deadly force in Europe.
3) Pato Will Break Out This Season
Pato is already an excellent player, but has failed to receive notice outside of Italy.
At 21, Pato is rapidly approaching 50 goals and 100 matches for AC Milan and is beginning to establish himself as a player for the future on Mano Menezes's Brazil squad.
Injuries bothered Pato last season. He played only 23 Serie A matches last season and netted 12 goals, meaning he would have been closer to 20 goals had he kept himself out of the training room.
His Champions League campaign was nothing to turn heads either. He played in 7 of Milan's 8 matches, netting twice, both against Real Madrid in October.
If Milan are to be successful, Pato will need to break out this season. Despite having Ibrahimovic and Robinho now as well, Pato is the main man on the attack for Milan. Pato has what it takes to be named among the elite scorers of the world and could potentially lift some individual hardware in the near future. He has the pace, the fitness, the skill, and the incredible eye for goal that will make him one of the best scorer's Milan have ever had.
2 goals will not be enough to win the Champions League, obviously. Pato will need to rise to the occasion this year and adapt to the pressures of Europe. If he can have a successful season and compete for the Champions League Golden Boot, Milan could be favorites to win the cup. How he works with Robinho and Ibrahimovic will also play a big part in the success. We know he can play with Ronaldinho. The mastery of their link ups is hard to match.
4) A Solid Back Line
Contrary to popular belief, I believe the Rossoneri have a strong back line.
Milan's back line of Thiago Silva, Alessandro Nesta, Luca Antonini, and Gianluca Zambrotta enter their second year together as a unit.
Silva was in his first season in Europe and proved to be a very reliable center back. He was very reliable in the defensive third and earned a place on the World Cup squad of Brazil for his efforts. The partnership with veteran Alessandro Nesta is among the best center-back duos in Europe.
Nesta, 34, is still a strong back. He had a great season in 2009/2010 after spending most of 2008/2009 in the United States recovering from a serious back injury. His role as the defensive leader inspired the likes of Silva and Luca Antonini, who both put themselves on the map as quality defenders. If he can keep from getting injured, he will have a fantastic season.
Despite the questions people have raised about the strength of the back line, I do not see any reason for the defense to struggle this year. Some have raised questions over age. Come on. Zambrotta, 33, and Nesta, 34, may be at the tail end of their careers, but they are still top notch quality defenders. Nesta is always a presence in the center of defense and Zambrotta is still an excellent fullback who can also get down the flank to support the attack when necessary.
Daniele Bonera, Sokratis, Mario Yepes, and Massimo Oddo all will be considered as subs throughout the season. Bonera and Sokratis will be useful during the Champions League, while Oddo and Yepes may provide some rest for players such as Zambrotta and Nesta in preparation for a Champions League match.
Overall, Milan's defense is still strong and is full of talent. There are a couple of reserves who can come off the bench and give support to a defense that will need improvement from last year. Milan were outscored 13-10 in 8 Champions League matches. The problem of the attack has been fixed. It is the defense, which was over tired and hurt last season, that will need to rise to the occasion and provide protection for the leads that the attack will most likely be providing.
Look for Milan's defense to step up and shut down the world class attacks they will be facing.
5) The Milanista Are Back
Milan have always brought in one of the biggest crowds in Serie A and the world. In fact, a couple seasons ago, Milan reached an incredible mark by gating over 1.1 million fans for the 19 games at home in Serie A.
Attendance has steadily decreased as Milan continues to finish seasons without trophies. The lack of new faces and flair in the lineup has been another reason that fans do not want to go out to the San Siro the way they once did. In this economy, who could blame them? They have the capability to go online or sit in front of the TV and watch the same flat, unentertaining football without paying through the roof for a ticket, transportation, or lodging for the out of town fan.
On July 20th, the Milan Ultras showed their disgust toward the lack of spending for what looked like yet another trophy-less season for the club. Thousands of fans lined up at the Milanello in protest of the owner, Silvio Berlusconi. Their message to the Italian Prime Minister was simple: buy players or sell the club.
As the preseason progressed, it seemed that Amelia, Sokratis, and Mario Yepes would be the highlights of the transfer window. The addition of Kevin-Prince Boateng also failed to cause any excitement for the fans understandably. After the sale of Kaka in 2009, Milan fans have been expecting, rightfully so, the arrival of another superstar.
They got their wish in the last weekend of the transfer window, twice.
The arrival of Ibrahimovic and Robinho has caused quite a stir for Milanista worldwide. Ticket sales have doubled in only the past two weeks. Since the arrival of the two players, season tickets for the Champions League have more than doubled, as more than 40 thousand fans have purchased season tickets for the tournament. Nearly the same number of fans have purchased season tickets for the 19 Serie A matches.
Adriano Galliani is very excited about the recent surge.
"The ideals between Silvio Berlusconi and the fans returned," Galliani said to the press recently. "All the signs have shown that Kaka's sale has been forgotten thanks to these two players.
"Ibrahimovic and Robinho's arrivals have seen our season ticket sales go up and we are now up to 45,000 fans. I think we can beat the 52,000 record from a couple of years ago."
The Milanista will bring a much missed sight this season, a packed Giuseppe Meazza. It has become far too common these past few seasons to be watching a match and seeing empty sections throughout the stadium. That is not Milan tradition. A crowded San Siro makes for one of the greatest experiences in football. Talk about home team advantage. The San Siro is one of the worst places to play as the away team when the Milanista are at full force.
With a revitalized team and a revitalized fan base, it will be hard for any team to repeat the triumphs of FC Zurich and Manchester United last season. It will even be difficult to pull away a draw. I'm expecting Milan to take 7-9 points at the San Siro in the Group Stage.
It is a simple concept: if you do not have confidence, then you will not win.
No team ever went into a season saying that they would finish in last and then win the championship.
Milan are confident, very confident.
We have heard the same the past several years, that Milan can compete for the title, but the goal is usually qualifying for the Champions League. Never has the idea of a Scudetto-Champions League double crossed the minds of Milan fans or players realistically over the past several seasons.
That is, until now.
Milan cannot help but be confident, with what is expected to be one of the best attacks in Europe and incredible champions on defense and in the midfield, how can Milan not expect to win?
One player who is very outspoken about his aims for the club is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The new Milan striker is going for the double at least this year.
"When you have a great team like Milan then you are favourites to win the Champions League and Scudetto," Ibrahimovic told the press. "Now that I am back in Italy I am hungrier than I was last time I was here. I always enter things to win and if I don't then I have made a mistake.
"With Robinho, Milan have shown that other teams should be scared of us. We can win everything. With motivation, hard work and will then we can win everything I am sure of this. We have the best defence and attack. If we do our job then we can just attack. But, it's all down to the coach. We have five of the strongest strikers in the world. Pippo Inzaghi is a phenomenon as well."
Speaking of the great Pippo Inzaghi, the 37 year old wonder striker has also expressed his pleasure at the arrival of the new players, before Robinho's arrival, he spoke about how even only Ibrahimovic changes things for Milan.
"When there is a respect, it is much easier to accept the coach's decisions," Mr. 300 told Sky Sport 24. "I was struck by the enthusiasm of Ibrahimovic upon his arrival, and he has come to the right club to win the Champions League."
If Milan's performance on the 29th of August against Lecce does not give a major confidence boost, then what does?
That match was a master class in domination. Nobody on the field performed at anything but a top level. If anybody had to be told they had a bad game, it would be Marco Borriello, but even the now Roma striker played well in his final game for Milan.
The movement of the ball and the play at all points on the field was absolutely magnificent, if Milan can keep up that form, the Scudetto is theirs to lose, especially seeing as Robinho and Ibrahimovic were not even on the field for Milan!
But, of course, we are talking about why Milan can win the Champions League. Well, same thing. It is about confidence and form. They have the confidence, they have the form. I do not see why Milan cannot be a favorite for the Champions League.
7) Group Favorites
Group G may be the most interesting group of the 8 in the Champions League.
The group consists of Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax Amsterdam, and AJ Auxerre.
Of the 4 teams, 3: Milan, Madrid, and Ajax, are former winners of the tournament and all 3 also have earned the UEFA Badge of Honor for either 5 or more total Champions League trophies or 3 consecutive.
Of the 55 champions, Madrid, 9, Milan, 7, and Ajax, 4, make up almost 40 percent of the list.
Of course, the most interesting and important match-ups will be on October 19th and November 3rd when Milan meet Real Madrid. The two sides are the two most successful clubs in Champions League history. Also, who can forget that last year the two teams were paired together as well in Group C, which Madrid won, despite Milan winning the match in Spain and the two sides drawing in Italy.
In all reality, I think Ajax will put up a bit of a fight, but they will be forced to accept life in the Europa League come December. The most important thing that will come from this group is which of the two giants wins it and avoids the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Inter in the Round of 16.
Again, Milan's attack are going to be the deciding factor in this one. Both teams have excellent defense, meaning the two matches between them will come down to which attack can break the other's defense. Real Madrid have excellent scorers. Ronaldo, Higuain, Ozil, and Benzema are all top notch, but Milan have the better attack. They use the entire field. By this, I mean that every player on the field can be used in the attack. Whether its Luca Antonini coming up the wing and working his mastery with Ronaldinho, whom he has developed a special on field relationship with, or Thiago Silva on the set pieces, or Andrea Pirlo whipping in a shot from the free kick.
It is going to be very close, potentially coming down to a matter of 2 or 3 points in the group, which is why the two matches between the 2 clubs will be so important. In the end, I see Milan coming out on top. Part of the reason they did not win the group last year was their inability to rest players and still compete in Serie A matches. With more depth this year, it will be easier to make sure players are ready to play in these big European matches.
Should Milan win the group, it will make it much easier for them to advance to the quarterfinals, as they will likely avoid one of the other favorites in the Round of 16. From there, a whole world of opportunities open up for the club.
8) Drive In A World Class Attack
More than one player on Milan has been criticized in recent years about his inability to perform in big matches or his loss of form.
Ronaldinho, Ibrahimovic, and Robinho are the most notable of these players, coincidently all on the attack.
After the arrival of superstars Ibrahimovic and Robinho, Milan have a world class attack the likes of which have not been seen at Milan since the days of Schevchenko and Kaka.
Ronaldinho has clearly silence the critics who said that his days are over and the only place he could play is MLS. His performance last season, with 15 goals and 17 assists was the best we have seen the former World Player of the Year since his best days at Barcelona.
After being snubbed by Dunga for the World Cup, there is more drive than ever for Ronaldinho to perform at a top level. His first game this season has me thinking he will certainly be even better than last year, but more on that later.
Ibrahimovic has been criticized for never showing up in the big matches. He is clearly determined to prove the world wrong this season, as was mentioned in an earlier slide. He will certainly love to win the Scudetto again, but the Champions League will be his most important aim.
Robinho is another player who has been criticized for being lazy and not having the desire to win.
"I hope this season is positive for me and the club and I want to win everything with Milan," Robinho said. I hope to give my best for Milan. With all these great players around me I will be able to show my value on the pitch."
Players at the Milanello are praising Robinho and Ibrahimovic for exceeding expectations and working very hard in their hopes to contribute positively to Milan this year.
A lot of talk has been circulating about how Milan best use their attackers. Personally, I think having all 4 on the field could be fantastic, but no matter what Milan do, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
With the drive of Ronaldinho, Robinho, and Ibrahimovic never higher, and the need for Pato to break out this season, opponents should be very worried about Milan's attack. They are set to break out and with goals being even more important the more teams progress into the Champions League, they will become very hard to stop.
9) The Midfield Still Has Skill
Say what you want about Milan's midfield being "old and lacking quality," they still have some of the best midfielders in the world.
Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, and Clarence Seedorf lead a talented and experienced midfield which still among the most talented in Europe, despite being one of the oldest. Andrea Pirlo is 31 and playing some of his best football. Captain Massimo Ambrosini is only 33. Old? I do not see it. What I see is two players who are still playing top notch football. Clarence Seedorf can still play, he has proved that consistently the past couple seasons. All 3 can still get out there and provide excellent help for both sides of the ball on a regular basis.
In fact, the only player I would have hesitation with in the midfield is Gennaro Gattuso. He is consistently injured and when he was in last season was not playing at the level he once did.
Mathieu Flamini and Ignazio Abate have both had sparks of quality since arriving at AC Milan and if they can prove to play consistently could be very helpful for Milan as the season wears on and a rotation of midfielders becomes something they may need.
Kevin-Prince Boateng played well as a sub in his debut for Milan against Lecce. He could be very useful late in matches and Milan need to hold a lead. He can play very well as a holding midfielder.
Though only one made the roster for the Champions League, Milan have a bright future when it comes to the midfield. Rodney Strasser is on the roster for this campaign and could be productive if needed in the Group Stage. Alexander Merkel is also a player who in coming years can help Milan in the midfield as players retire.
Overall, with Pirlo, Ambrosini, and Seedorf leading the midfield which also consists of Flamini, Abate, Boateng, and Gattuso, Milan have a very talented midfield. Though it is not the quality of a midfield with Xavi and Iniesta like at Barcelona, combined with the attack and defense, it is a very strong midfield.
Ronaldinho is back.
Initially following his move to the San Siro from Barcelona, Ronaldinho struggled. The two time World Player of the Year suffered from injuries and poor fitness and form as he managed only 10 goals and 8 assists. Even just watching him play, you could tell this was not the same Ronaldinho who led Barcelona to the 2005/2006 UEFA Champions League title.
Last year was much better for the Brazilian. He saw a return to form and netted 15 goals along with 17 assists. He was able to stay healthy and played much better. His performance was important in helping Milan defeat Real Madrid in the Group Stage of last year's Champions League, but that was not the only game.
Ronaldinho was fantastic throughout the season. His passing made him deadly on the wing. His eye for goal last year made him all the deadlier. Whether it was on the free kick, off the penalty spot, or just in the flow of play, Dinho was able to come through with some great goals last year.
With even more attacking options, he may not have a 15 goal season, but expect as many or even more assists. Very few people in the game can put in as deadly a ball as Ronaldinho, and even fewer can finish with the quality of Pato, Ibrahimovic, and Robinho.
Watching the Lecce match, I was in complete awe as I watched Ronaldinho put on a master show. He was without a doubt the best player on the field. Yes, Pato scored two goals, but Ronaldinho was the catalyst of the victory. His assist to Pato in the 29th minute was absolutely magnificent. He just froze the defense and once again found his target perfectly.
If Ronaldinho continues on the form that he found last season and has so far shown this year, he will be one of the most dominant players on the field and would play a crucial role for Milan this year. With a healthy, in form Ronaldinho, Milan can absolutely compete for the Champions League.
New faces. New manager. New look. New Milan.
This AC Milan team is for real. They can absolutely revive their winning ways and win their first trophy since 2007.
Make no mistake, Barcelona have to be the favorites going into the UEFA Champions League this season, but with the changes Milan have made and the form of returning players such as Ronaldinho, Pato, Pirlo, Ambrosini, and Nesta, Milan are primed for a run at the trophy they have won 7 times.
It will not be an easy road, but Milan have a strong attack, a solid midfield, a tough back line, a new level of confidence, a smart manager, and once again they have the support of the Milanista worldwide who are ready to return in mass numbers to the San Siro to make life miserable for opponents.
While I always believe top priority should be the Serie A, I believe this is a Milan team that, if it puts its mind to it, can do great things, and potentially bring home both the Scudetto and the European Cup.
Only time will tell. Come September 15th, when Milan take the field against Auxerre, we will embark on a journey to find out whether or not Berlusconi's purchases and changes at the club can once again make Milan a contender.
In this analyst's opinion, yes, they can.