Serie A season preview: AC Milan
Milan finished eighth and 45 points adrift of champions Juventus last season and there are a considerable number of lessons to be learned from the disappointing year. Essentially, Milan can ill afford to experience another year like it, both from a football and financial point of view.
With no European football, the economic implications are significant, but more importantly the image of the club continues to be damaged with failure on the pitch. Under Pippo Inzaghi, the spirit and identity of Milan must be restored, and they must impose themselves on teams on a consistent basis.
Predicted starting lineup
With transfer speculation continuing to link Milan with late moves ahead of the deadline, the lineup could yet change.
However, it is expected that Inzaghi will adopt a 4-3-3 system this season, with Stephan El Shaarawy now emerging as the club's focal point following the sale of Mario Balotelli.
Youngster Bryan Cristante will likely deputise for injured captain Riccardo Montolivo for the early part of the season, and it is hoped that his form will make it impossible for Inzaghi to leave him out of the starting lineup moving forward.
Projected lineup and formation
Milan (4-3-3): Diego Lopez; Mattia De Sciglio, Alex, Adil Rami, Pablo Armero; Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel De Jong, Andrea Poli; Stephan El Shaarawy, Giampaolo Pazzini, Jeremy Menez.
With Inzaghi's arrival, hopefully a new style of play and a reinvigorated squad that is desperate to succeed and end the club's decline.
Although it should be treated with caution given that Inzaghi's predecessor, Clarence Seedorf, also promised a new philosophy, the 41-year-old has suggested that he wants an aggressive and offensive Milan that looks to dominate games.
Given the general makeup of the squad, experience is undoubtedly one of the main strengths. Individually, all of the players have been involved in Serie A and in Europe over a number of years, and they must use that to the team's benefit.
In addition, several players have spoken of the team spirit Inzaghi has instilled since his arrival. Considering the fact that this is not one of the strongest squads in Italy, they will need that togetherness to silence the critics.
Over the past few seasons, Milan have lacked direction in their play and continue to make defensive mistakes that they are seemingly always punished for.
The trend has continued in preseason, and while conceding silly goals is a concern, scoring them will also be a potential headache following Balotelli's sale. However, it is understood that the Rossoneri are in the market to provide Giampaolo Pazzini with competition.
During the preseason schedule, Milan have impressed in parts with their play on the ball which has involved a quicker tempo, better movement and good combination play in the offensive phase. If they can translate that type of style onto the Serie A stage, then it could lead to sustained success in the new season.
This has all been part of Inzaghi's vision, and although he lacks experience at this level in terms of coaching, he has the belief, commitment and desire to succeed at this club more than any other individual.
As mentioned above, this is El Shaarawy's year to shine. Balotelli's exit could galvanise the squad and they can give the 21-year-old the freedom to express himself fully.
It won't be anything new to the Italian international given his heroics when he initially burst onto the scene, but it is important that he learns from the dip in form that came thereafter and finds a level of consistency to continue his development.
Predicted finish: 4th
While Juventus and Roma will likely compete for the Scudetto and break away from the rest, Milan are arguably capable of directly competing with Napoli, Fiorentina and Inter.
With a relaxed fixture schedule in comparison with no European football and the promise of at least two more new signings, fourth place is perhaps a realistic finish, although they will be desperate to break back into the top three and return to the Champions League.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Twitter: @SP_Calcio.