Patience the key to Milan progress

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Marcel Van Hoorn/AFP/Getty ImagesMario Balotelli, center, and his Milan teammates check out the pitch ahead of Tuesday's Champions League tie at PSV Eindhoven.

Milan's 2013-14 season starts in Eindhoven on Tuesday night, with Milan facing PSV in the first leg of their Champions League qualifying playoff round. With the Dutch giants at a vastly advanced stage in terms of fitness, it will be vital for the Rossoneri to control both the tempo and possession if they are to progress.

Coach Massimiliano Allegri described the tie as "critical to the rest of our season," as did vice president Adriano Galliani.

Given the significance of the outcome leading to a place in the group stages of the Champions League, it is clear Allegri's assessment is genuine. A failure to advance in Europe’s premier competition would have significant consequences for Milan, both financial and on confidence.

In contrast, Milan’s opponents will see this as an opportunity for their starlets to topple one of the biggest names in Europe and revisit the glory days, with club legend Phillip Cocu now prowling the sidelines as coach.

Three wins from three games to open their Eredivisie campaign is a clear sign that they are full of confidence, despite having the foundations of their squad ripped apart over the summer.

Kevin Strootman, Jeremain Lens, Dries Mertens and Erik Pieters were all sold, but their new-look youthful side are causing a stir in the Netherlands with their high-pressing game combined with intensity and an emphasis on attacking football.

While the Dutch side also have history in this competition, they will feel less pressure to progress. Nerves are unlikely to play a part, thus leaving them as an extremely dangerous outfit.

Nevertheless, while Milan have also undergone somewhat of a generational hand-over in the past year, they still have experience running through the squad, which will be key to their prospects.

With the Serie A campaign set to start away at Hellas Verona on Saturday, there is a clear disadvantage when considering the lack of competitive football compared to PSV.

As a result, it will be key to keep the Philips Stadion faithful quiet by controlling the tempo, with the likes of Riccardo Montolivo and Nigel De Jong stamping their authority early on.

The Dutchman has looked impressive in pre-season following his return from a ruptured Achilles and his determination and workmanlike approach will be a pillar on which Milan’s hopes rest.

Elsewhere, Mario Balotelli has been passed fit and will lead the line for the Rossoneri despite perhaps not being at 100 percent. Regardless, he will be equally as desperate to ensure he has the opportunity to take on the best in Europe this year and it would be a disappointment for the competition in general were he to be absent.

With the home leg next week, it is imperative that Milan return to San Siro in a strong position to kill off the tie. While the form book would suggest it will be difficult, Milan have the individuals and collective spirit to avoid a shock.

Will PSV have too much for a rusty Milan? Or can the Rossoneri’s experienced heads ensure they take control of the tie?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty


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