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Milan-Lazio preview: picking up where we left off

The Serie A strike is over, which means the ball can finally start rolling in Italy. The defending champions will open the season at home against a tough Lazio side. Despite losing some key players such as Muslera, Zarate and Lichsteiner, the sky-blue side of Rome may just be a more compact and experienced team this year. On the other side, Milan strengthened their scudetto-winning squad with a few very solid and reliable players. With both teams almost complete, everything points to a fierce battle on Friday.

Lazio's main problem last year was efficiency. Despite having players such as Hernanes, Ledesma and Foggia behind them, the forwards failed to impress. This year Lazio sold the unpredictable Mauro Zarate and the disappointing Floccari and brought in two seasoned veterans in their place. Miroslav Klose and Djibril Cisse are a guarantee that we will see less flair, but far more opportunism in Lazio's attack this year.

Playing Lazio in the first round may just be good for Milan because there are likely to be misunderstandings between the new teammates both in attack and in defense, especially with Marchetti replacing Muslera in goal. On the other side, Milan will have almost the same line up as last year, with changes in one or two positions, but players like Aquilani and Nocerino are very unlikely to throw the team off balance.

Allegri will have the ungrateful duty of focusing the players on the game just 4 days before the clash with Barca at the Camp Nou, a game the media is hyping up as I type this. Having the press ask you about the game next week while completely disregarding that there's a game the day after tomorrow can be a real distraction, especially for the younger players. Now if only Berlusconi would not come out before Friday to say that the game against Barca is the biggest game in the world...but I'm not getting my hopes up.

There are very few unknowns about Milan's starting line-up, the defense will consist of Abate, Thiago Silva, Nesta and Zambrotta with van Bommel in front of them and Gattuso on his right side. It's likely Boateng and Aquilani will be the remaining two starters in midfield, with Ibrahimovic and Pato up front. With Amelia, Cassano, Robinho, Ambrosini, Yepes and Antonini certain to be on the bench, it will be interesting to see who fills the last spot. One out of Nocerino and Seedorf is likely to be watching from the stands, Seedorf would be the logical choice but who knows.

An injury-stricken Milan side was held to a goalless draw in this fixture last year. Milan had problems converting chances on that day, with Flamini, Robihno, Cassano and Ibrahimovic all failing to score from one on one situations. Hopefully this time around we will manage to score relatively early and control the game without entering late drama. Milan's new industrious midfield approach should ensure 90 minutes of dynamic movement.

Lazio will look to take advantage of the fact Milan's players' minds may be at the Camp Nou already. However, with the home crowd behind them, Allegri's men should be able to forget about the upcoming challenge for 90 minutes. With a dedicated performance from the team and perhaps a good cameo from the likes of Cassano, Ambrosini and Robinho, Milan should be able to come out on top and start the title defense on the right foot.

Also, I think congratulations are in order, since this is milanobsession's 100th post!