Club Focus – Milan – It’s all about preparation

Following a disappointing end to last season which saw Milan settle for third place in Serie A and finish the campaign without any notable victories besides the double achieved over struggling Juventus, the tifosi were hopeful of some big-name arrivals to Milanello. However, as has been the policy under President Silvio Berlusconi in recent seasons, the Rossoneri have opted for more economically sensible and cheaper options by signing veterans or players on free transfer.

Milan signed Mario Yepes, who is 34-years-old, on a free transfer while bringing in Genoa goalkeeper Marco Amelia on loan for one year with an option to buy half his contract in a co-ownership deal with il Grifone at the end of the 2010-11 season. Amelia will challenge veteran Christian Abbiati for the starting role in goal throughout the season while Yepes adds experience and serves as a cover in case of injury or suspension to key duo Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva. The signings of Amelia and Yepes might not be inspiring and will not silence the critics, but considering the costs involved the deals could turn out to be bargains. Amelia was once good enough to act as second-choice ‘keeper for Italy, and he might prove to be a great signing if he demonstrates that sort of ability again. Milan did make one notable signing this summer in another deal conducted with Genoa as the Rossoneri secured the services of Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is only 22-years-old and can operate as a right-back or centre-back.

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Papastathopoulos can offer cover for Nesta and Thiago Silva but in all likelihood he will be starting the Serie A season as the first-choice right-back, pushing Gianluca Zambrotta to left-back or perhaps the bench following Luca Antonini’s emergence last season. Zambrotta had a better than expected World Cup as he did not embarrass himself or commit any glaring mistakes. Zambrotta provided extra impetus to the Rossoneri when he came on as a substitute on Saturday against Arsenal in the Emirates Cup so Papastathopoulos will not find it easy to cement his position in the starting XI unless Coach Massimiliano Allegri opts to start the Greek on the right flank. The Greek is certainly a welcome addition since he has the potential to improve but more significantly time is on his side unlike veteran Yepes, who will merely offer emergency cover.

A thorough analysis of the defensive unit reveals Milan have enough cover in goal and all four defensive positions, despite age being a concern when it comes to Nesta and Zambrotta. The Rossoneri could commence the season with Abbiati in goal and Papastathopoulos, Nesta, Thiago Silva and Antonini offering protection in front of the veteran goalkeeper. Milan will have ample cover with the experienced duo Yepes and Zambrotta while Ignazio Abate could easily revert to right-back as he was used in that position by former Coach Leonardo on a frequent basis.

Milan failed to make a splash in the transfer market, but their biggest deals came in the form of keeping two players on the club’s payroll, namely Ronaldinho and Thiago Silva. The Brazilians were instrumental to the Rossoneri revival in late 2009 and to the solid push in early 2010 to compete with Inter, before the challenge stuttered as Ronaldinho faced a dip in form and Alexandre Pato as well as Nesta suffered from injuries. Ronaldinho was heavily linked with a move to Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer to join David Beckham, or with a return back home to join Flamengo.

Allegri seems satisfied with the current squad and gave the team an average rating following the Emirates Cup, which saw the Rossoneri end both matches with Arsenal and Lyon with a 1-1 tie. The Coach did however seem intent on signing another midfielder despite convincing veteran Gennaro Gattuso to stay for another season, and hinting Frenchman Mathieu Flamini could see more playing time. In the case of Gattuso the player has lost much of his pace while Flamini has failed to become a regular since joining from the Gunners.

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