Football

AC Milan midfield investment necessary for success

Honda has been linked with a move to Milan (©GettyImages)
Honda has been linked with a move to Milan (©GettyImages).

Yesterday, Milan vice-president revealed that he has given up hope of signing Japan international, Keisuke Honda, from CSKA Moscow, claiming that the Russian club refuse to sell, despite the fact that the playmaker could leave for free in January. 

This strikes a huge blow to Milan's chances of doing well in Europe, and perhaps, more importantly, of being in one of the Champions League places come the end of the upcoming season.

The Japanese star is a player they really need. Having spent almost nothing so far this summer, the fans need a boost, the kind they received in January when Milan spent £20 million on Mario Balotelli. 

Not only that, Honda is also a player who would slot in seamlessly alongside the aforementioned Italian striker as well as his international team mate, Stephan El Shaarawy, giving the Milan giants a much-needed creative spearhead. 

Riccardo Montolivo probes from deep but Honda would play as the team's trequartista. This comes after the club's announcement that the team would revert to a more traditional diamond midfield this term.

Currently, however, the team is short on players who can play in this position. Yes, the club gambled on the talented Serie B youngster, Riccardo Saponara – a player who resembles a young Kaka no less – but he is raw and unproven at this level. 

It would be unwise to pin their hopes on a player who has had no experience of Serie A football, let alone the Champions League.

Of course, all this disappointment stems from the fact that this traditional powerhouse of European football has floundered in recent years, becoming a shadow of the team that has won the world's top club competition twice in the past ten years. 

The fans are used to more. It is as if the club has followed the Arsene Wenger approach of seeing Champions League qualification as the holy grail. Nothing else seems to matter.

And yet, in order to get into the Champions League, especially now that the Serie A quota has been reduced to just three teams, the team must improve. 

Only an incredible turnaround during the second half of last season saw them qualify by the skin of their teeth at the expense of Fiorentina, a far more worthy occupier of that coveted third spot. 

Fiorentina have improved their squad no end, bringing in the likes of Mario Gomez, Joaquin and Ilicic, whilst keeping hold of all their stars bar one, Stevan Jovetic - one of the few Viola players who did not have a good campaign.

Napoli too have strengthened, adding much-needed depth and quality to an already excellent squad. They replaced a world-class striker with one of similar quality and have reinforced a shaky defence. 

Time will tell how well Rafa Benitez does in Naples but what's beyond doubt is that he has the squad to compete.

Juventus, of course, are the team to beat. While youngsters like Pogba continue to develop, their core remains as strong as ever. 

They have also added stellar forwards to a side that lacked a little up front, bringing in Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente to compliment both a midfield and defence that measures up against the very best Europe has to offer.

Roma have done some very good business adding the sought-after Kevin Strootman as well as the experienced Maicon, De Sanctis, Gervinho and Benatia. 

One would expect the Giallorossi to put up a much bigger fight this year. Their city rivals, Lazio, will also hope to challenge for the top three, while Inter Milan cannot have as poor a season as they did last year.

All of this means that competition for the Champions League spaces is incredibly high and there can be no room for error. 

You cannot see Milan competing with Napoli and Juventus for the title (even if a club of their stature should be), which means the club have to ensure they are better than Fiorentina, their main rival for third spot.

And what better way to do this than to rob them of one of Europe's most talented youngsters in Adem Ljajic? 

The Serbian international had a very promising season last year, racking up 11 goals and eight assists in 21 Serie A games and, at only 21 years old, there is still plenty more to come from him. 

Once on the radar of Manchester United, he is a prodigiously gifted player, capable of playing as a trequartista or as a left winger. Indeed, his versatility is one of his biggest assets: the Serb can play all across a front three or deeper as an attacking midfielder. 

At Milan he could slot into the trequartista position or should the Rossoneri go back to the 4-3-3 of last year, he could play left should El Shaarawy suffer another dip in form, or wide right cutting in. 

He would give Milan so many options as well as weaken a direct rival. He is also available at a cut-price £10 million, given that his contract expires next summer.

Everyone knows Milan are struggling financially - and it is sad to see a great club go through a rough patch – but the likes of Honda and Ljajic are within their means. 

It is a real shame that Galliani could not offload the now fairly useless Robinho but he has hinted that there is just enough money to spend on Ljajic, confirming that the Rossoneri are interested in the youngster. 

Honda should arrive in January but he will then be ineligible for the Champions League knock-out rounds. As a result, Milan should look to Ljajic or face a very rocky season.

If both Ljajic and Honda do arrive, either now or in January, Milan would be a quite fearsome proposition in both the midfield and attack. They would have a great blend of talented youth and proven quality, as well as a good mix of pace, experience, creativity and strength. 

The defence, particularly at centre half, remains a weakness but there is a small chance that between them, Mexes, Zapata and Silvestre will regain the form that one time or another made them some of the best defenders in Italy.

Last year, Milan pushed Barcelona all the way. With the right additions and a kind draw that avoids the far superior likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona, they could possibly get to the semi-finals. 

What a boost that would be both for Milan fans and Serie A fans in general to see Italian teams doing well in Europe again. Bring in one or both of Ljajic and Honda and they can ensure they are competitive enough for what the best of both Serie A and Europe have to throw at them.

 

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Topics:
Inter Milan
Mario Balotelli
UEFA Champions League
Football
AC Milan
Stephan El Shaarawy

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