Back in December, Milan midfielder Nigel De Jong suffered a ruptured Achilles which ended his season. It was a bitterly disappointing blow for the former Manchester City general, who had become an integral part of Massimiliano Allegri's midfield trio.
The Dutchman has since been in rehabilitation in an effort to return to full fitness, and continued to establish himself as the Rossoneri’s star performer of preseason thus far with another impressive display in a 2-1 win over Valencia Saturday in Spain.
In what the opening game of the International Champions Cup, Milan worryingly struggled to gain control as the home side maintained their pressure throughout.
However, given the purpose of a preseason schedule is to prepare for the new campaign, it was undoubtedly a beneficial workout for the players as the Champions League qualifiers loom next month.
-Constant signing made permanent
Taking into consideration the absence of a number of key international players, it was a solid if not extravagant performance, which will stand the Rossoneri in good stead for the remainder of the tournament and the upcoming Audi Cup.
Nevertheless, after being crowned the Player of the Tournament in the Trofeo TIM, De Jong capped off an encouraging week with another solid performance, as well as the goal of the game with a wonderful curling effort.
With the summer arrival of Andrea Poli, the competition for places in midfield has further increased. Coupled with the hopeful emergence of Bryan Cristante to add creativity as well as authority in the middle of the pitch, Allegri undoubtedly has a few selection headaches ahead.
However, De Jong’s resurgence has become the main positive to take away from the opening games of the summer, with his experience and winning pedigree certainly welcome next season.
The Dutchman would likely have been spurred on by the words of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who revealed on a recent trip to Milanello that his hope was for the duo to both enjoy successful recoveries from their respective Achilles injuries.
While De Jong has made an initially impressive comeback to first-team duty, he will hope that it will act as the catalyst for a strong season at the heart of the Milan midfield.
“We need to improve, but for the moment I’m satisfied. Now we will prepare for the Audi Cup in Munich next week, and then we will travel to the USA,” Allegri told reporters.
With the release of the Serie A fixtures set for Monday, coupled with the identity of Milan’s Champions League foes set to be unveiled on Aug. 9, the focus remains on improving fitness levels.
While it is difficult and somewhat unfair to deliver an assessment on the first full preseason game, it was clear that there is room for improvement particularly when considering the Rossoneri’s premature return to the competitive football.
Nevertheless, it is reassuring to know that Milan’s Dutch destroyer is on the path to making a full recovery, as he eyes a permanent return to first team action this year.
With Riccardo Montolivo expected to be the focal point of Milan’s midfield, who else makes up your ideal trio next season?
For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty