Milan suffered more penalty misery on Wednesday evening against Barcelona, who triumphed in the shoot-out after their Joan Gamper Trophy encounter ended 1-1 in normal time. On Sunday, i Rossoneri had lost to Juventus on penalties in the Trofeo Berlusconi, prompting Coach Massimiliano Allegri to insist the players must try harder in the 90 minutes to win games.
Allegri’s concerns may ease once Alexandre Pato returns, the young Brazilian having been rested in order to ensure he is ready to face Lecce in the opening weekend of Serie A. He is recovering, albeit slowly, and Milan would rather he gets over the latest injury niggle than risk rushing his comeback. Pato admitted he is not yet 100% fit, but the striker confirmed he has no concerns over his ankle and is merely being patient in order to be in the best shape possible ahead of Lecce’s trip to the San Siro. He nevertheless remains a doubt for Sunday.
The Coach could also be boosted if Vice President Adriano Galliani succeeds in bringing in Barca’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a long-term loan. At the time of writing, the two Clubs are in deadlock over the Swedish striker’s future.
On a more positive note, centre-back Alessandro Nesta featured during the first half of the Barca clash, easing any concerns about his physical condition following the minor surgery on his right hand. Nesta’s return will bolster the Milan defence and reunite the veteran with Brazilian Thiago Silva, a partnership which proved solid last season.
It’s welcome news for i Rossoneri, who will be looking to set the pace this season after stuttering badly at the beginning of the last campaign, which arguably cost them dear.
Against Barcelona, the Coach gave the clearest indication yet of what is expected to be his line-up in the league’s first match. Marco Amelia will start in goal, while Daniele Bonera, Nesta, Silva and Luca Antonini will make up the back four.
Allegri gave loan signing Kevin-Prince Boateng his debut in the friendly and the Ghanaian showed glimpses of what he is capable of, and perhaps enough to secure a starting role in the heart of midfield against Lecce. This would push veteran Clarence Seedorf to the bench, leaving skipper Massimo Ambrosini and Azzurri midfielder Andrea Pirlo to patrol the centre. Ronaldinho will have the freedom to roam and supply the attackers with his trickery in the final third.
Marco Borriello, who continues to be linked with a move to Barca as part of any Ibrahimovic deal, is exptected to be the central striker, with Pato providing attacking width on the right side if fit enough. Filippo Inzaghi is likely to join the disappointing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the bench, though Inzaghi has given Allegri food for thought after a fine performance against the Catalans, which included an expertly taken, stunning volley for Milan’s equaliser.
Inzaghi showed once again he still has the knack in front of goal, and could prove as ever to be the perfect impact player for i Rossoneri as the Club hopes for an extended run in the Champions League. The 37-year-old former World Cup winner is the all-time leading scorer in European competitions and the first player to score in all club contests recognised by UEFA.
On Sunday Allegri will make his official debut as Milan Coach. The fans will be hoping it signals a fresh start for i Rossoneri, though only Amelia and Boateng of the summer signings – both loanees – are likely to start. Of course, the tifosi may yet see another loan signing in the shape of Ibrahimovic. The rumours regarding the Swede will only cease once the transfer window is closed, the saga epitomised by coverage of Wednesday’s game, which gave Ronaldinho’s return to the Camp Nou fewer column inches than Zlatan gossip.
Expect fluid football under the new Coach, who likes his teams to be solid defensively but capable of slick and expansive movement of the ball in the final third. Though there hasn’t been much of an overhaul personnel-wise, this may work in Milan’s favour on Sunday as they face a newly-promoted Lecce side likely to feature several debutants. As long as i Rossoneri keep their focus, they should have enough in the locker to make a winning start.