Six key battles for starting place in Giampaolo’s Milan XI

Giampaolo AC Milan Krunic Hernandez

It will come as a welcome boost this season that Milan are likely to have strength in depth as Marco Giampaolo boasts two solid options in most positions.

With three weeks to go until the transfer deadline passes, there is still plenty of time for the make up of the squad to change, and so perhaps some of the touted battles below will become redundant.

SEE MORE: Five talking points from Milan’s win over Feronikeli in latest pre-season test

Nevertheless, as the squad stands now, there promises to be competition for places and while it’s a good headache to have for any coach, Giampaolo will face some tough decisions.

Andrea Conti/Davide Calabria

A continuation of their scrap from last season, Conti will be hoping that after a full pre-season, he is getting back to full fitness and is ready to challenge Calabria for a starting spot at right-back.

As noted by MilanNews, via Gianluca Di Marzio, the former Atalanta ace has been linked with an exit, but his agent has previously publicly insisted that his client’s intention and desire is to stay with us.

If that’s the case, it may well be that Calabria remains first choice as he arguably ticks more of the right boxes for Giampaolo, offering a bit more steeliness defensively to go with the energy and tenacity to get up and down the right flank to offer width and an attacking option.

However, if Conti can get back to the player we saw in Bergamo, it will surely be difficult to ignore him.

Verdict: Calabria.

Leo Duarte/Mattia Caldara

Given he continues to make mistakes even in pre-season, the hope is that Mateo Musacchio will eventually drop down the pecking order when it comes to finding Alessio Romagnoli’s ideal defensive partner.

Summer signing Leo Duarte will present a more immediate threat while Caldara will hope to fully recovery from his injury in autumn and push for a starting berth next to the Milan captain and finally give us a sustained look at the much talked about potential partnership between the two Italians.

Long term, it surely has to be Caldara who should get the nod if he can prove his fitness, but depending on how well Duarte settles and adjusts to Italian football, he may well be difficult to displace in the starting XI assuming he can firstly get ahead of Musacchio.

Verdict: Caldara.

Theo Hernandez/Ricardo Rodriguez

As noted by Calciomercato, Milan are said to have splashed out €20m on Theo Hernandez to sign him from Real Madrid, and so with that level of investment in mind, it would be a shock to not see him start.

Further, he impressed in his brief appearance in pre-season before picking up an injury, with Ricardo Rodriguez stepping in after his setback.

This is surely one that isn’t up for debate though. Hernandez’s energy and tenacity off the ball suits the demands of Giampaolo when out of possession, while his urgency, intensity and threat with the ball at his feet make him an all-round better option without the experience to match.

Verdict: Hernandez.

Lucas Paqueta/Hakan Calhanoglu

After his late return to pre-season, the expectation was that Paqueta would be used in rotation alongside Suso in the trequartista role.

However, he was deployed on the left of the midfield three on Saturday in keeping with his position from last season, with even Giacomo Bonaventura getting the green light in the No.10 role ahead of him.

That would suggest that he could be in a direct scrap with Calhanoglu for that position, albeit the Turkish international could perhaps play on the right side of three with Bennacer in the middle. It’s difficult to not see Paqueta play a leading role in this side moving forward though to provide that extra quality in midfield.

Verdict: Paqueta.

Suso/Giacomo Bonaventura

Suso has gone from facing question marks over his ability to adapt to a new role in a more central position to emerging as Milan’s best player in pre-season.

With that in mind, coupled with Giampaolo backing him publicly, it seems difficult for him to leave now despite Fiorentina being the latest side to be paired with an interest, as per La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Bonaventura impressed in a brief appearance at the weekend which was a positive sign as he looked capable of playing the No.10 role well with good vision and execution of his passes. Ultimately though, considering his ongoing recovery to full fitness, he’ll have to settle for a bench role as Suso has shown really promising signs thus far to emerge as a real threat playing in between the lines.

Verdict: Suso.

Rafael Leao/New signing

The 20-year-old grabbed an assist on his debut, and looked very lively as he offers a different dynamic in the final third with his pace and movement to stretch defences and to offer a more direct option.

However, it’s likely that he isn’t the last signing to strengthen Giampaolo’s attacking options with Angel Correa continuing to be heavily linked, as noted by GdS.

It’s a fundamental position as it essentially links Suso and the midfield to Krzysztof Piatek, and so while Leao is perhaps still a little raw and continuing to develop his all-round game, a more experienced option such as Correa will be needed before the deadline to start just behind Piatek and give Giampaolo another player perfectly suited to his style of play.

Verdict: New signing/Correa.