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Season preview: what to expect of 2011/12

After years of mediocrity, the summer of 2010 was a turning point for Milan. The arrivals of Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Boateng and Yepes proved enough for Milan to catch up to Inter in terms of quality. Well, the arrival of Rafa Benitez didn’t hurt either. During the winter transfer window, Cassano, Emanuelson and van Bommel were brought in to give the final push to Milan’s title ambitions. Van Bommel did more than that, quickly becoming a fixture in front of the defense and the most reliable player on the team next to Thiago Silva and Abbiati. This summer, Milan had yet another positive transfer window, so let’s take a look at what the coming season may look like.

Arrivals and departures

The most notable player to leave was, of course, Andrea Pirlo. Many consider this move a mistake, as it deprives us of creativity in midfield and the fact he joined the growing danger that is Juve is not to be disregarded either. But more on that later. The Aquilani deal is as good as done and we can expect him to be presented to San Siro on Saturday. Provided he stays relatively injury free, he has the ability to claim a starting spot in Allegri’s 4-3-1-2. With Aquilani taking the trequartista role and Boateng dropping back into midfield, we can expect the two of them to be the driving force for Milan this year. The other two important signings are reinforcements in the most critical areas of the team – a starting left back and a substitute centre back, Taiwo and Mexes can only make the best defensive line in Italy even better. The jury is still out on young Pharaoh and Paloschi was once again loaned out, along with Strasser and Merkel.

Tactics

Milan is expected to line up in the following formation:

Very similar to last year’s winning team, only with improvements in critical areas. The left back problem has been solved, although be warned, it may take some time for Taiwo to really start firing on all cylinders and due to injuries, we probably won’t see him or Mexes until October. Aquilani behind two strikers will provide something we were missing last year – through balls in short spaces, Boateng’s weak point when he was holding that position. Prince will have the duty of completing the midfield line, adding both skill and power.

Schedule

Milan has a pretty balanced fixture list, the most notable danger being the derby in the 37th week which may just turn out to be a head to head showdown for the scudetto. Other than that, the part that stands out are weeks 6 and 7 where Milan play Juventus and Palermo right in the middle of the Champions League group stage. All in all, we can be content, there are no long periods of tough fixtures that could drain the players.

Champions League

The team is not yet a Champions League contender, that much is clear to everybody. Whether we can hold our own against the likes of Real Madrid and Man Utd is yet to be seen, while Barcelona is completely out of reach unless they happen to have an injury crisis of Biblical proportions. Hopefully we’ll make a better run than last year and we won’t lose to a goal from Peter Crouch, but I’d say keeping their eyes firmly on the scudetto is the best thing the team can do.

The competition

The big three is starting to stand out again in Italian football. Inter has sold Eto’o but that is no reason to write them off. As long as they keep Sneijder and maybe sign a striker, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Their problems may lie in the fact Gasperini insists on a formation many of them have never played in, so there’s a good chance they will drop point due to tactical inadequacy in the first months. Juventus on the other hand has gotten considerably stronger, Pirlo, Vidal and Vucinic are all proving to be excellent acquisitions, now if Conte gets a proper left winger or switches to a 3 man midfield they could prove to be even more of a danger than Inter. If he remains stubborn and keeps playing Vidal or Marchisio on the left side, Juve will face last year’s problems all over again.

Napoli have managed to keep their important players and add Gokhan Inler to their midfield, so expect them to have another quality season near the top of the table. Roma has reinforced as well but…they’re Roma. A Europa League spot is as far as they can realistically go without a major overhaul - an overhaul that includes Totti being shown the door for being a self-centered cry-baby. But I digress. Milan are still the favorites, but I wouldn’t say there’s a significant gap between us and the rest of Serie A. The title race should be a close one.

The verdict

This season should be one for Milan fans to enjoy, barring an injury crisis nothing can stop us from being serious scudetto contenders and making a decent Champions League run. The team are on their way up, the January window awaits with possible moves for Ganso or Montolivo, we are rejuvenating all over the pitch and the core players all seem happy to stay at Milanello. Good things lie ahead.