MILAN - Five things to know about AC Milan ahead of the start of the Serie A season:
AC Milan is once again the team likeliest to challenge Juventus following a season of transition. After a complete overhaul of its squad, Milan started the last campaign poorly and looked more like candidates for relegation. However, Milan's youngsters began to play well and, with the addition of Mario Balotelli in January, stormed up the standings to secure third spot. If the team continues this season in the same fashion as the second half of last campaign, Milan will once again be a force to be reckoned with.
Bringing Mario Balotelli back to Italy was certainly the greatest coup Milan achieved last season. Finally the team had a star player and one that could score goals — two things sorely needed following the off-season departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And score goals Balotelli did — 12 in 13 games to be precise, helping lead Milan to the Champions League qualification round. Balotelli's penalty-taking skills are second to none, having never missed a spot kick, and he has formed a lethal partnership with Stephan El Shaarawy that is set to benefit both Milan and the Italian national team.
AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has never really won the hearts of the team's supporters and is not a media favourite either. There has been persistent talk of a change amid reports of a fractious relationship between Allegri and club owner Silvio Berlusconi. Allegri clung on despite the difficult times at the start of last season, however, and he won grudging respect for managing to turn the team's fortunes around and get the best out of a young and inexperienced squad. But more will be expected of him this season following two trophyless years.
AC Milan fans were left stunned last off-season when the old guard and several stars departed the club en masse, leaving a squad composed mainly of young unknown players. It appeared as if the club's gamble was set to fail spectacularly as Milan collected only eight points from its opening seven matches. However, the team started to gel as the youngsters grew in confidence, with Stephan El Shaarawy bursting onto the scene in style, and Milan climbed steadily from 16th place to third. Milan has continued to focus on youth and it will be interesting to see what the youngsters can achieve with an added year of experience.
Milan has been widely expected to bring in a couple of players this off-season to add experience to its youthful squad. However, it has been relatively quiet in the transfer market, with its biggest signing to date being Matias Silvestre from Inter Milan. It has been linked to a number of players but the likes of Adam Ljajic, Mamadou Sakho and Keisuke Honda are perhaps waiting to see if Milan gets through the Champions League playoff round. It drew the first leg 1-1 at PSV Eindhoven. Failure to qualify for the competition proper could have a serious impact on its domestic fortunes as Milan would then struggle to attract important players.
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