In a summer of constant turmoil for Milan, there has been one department of the squad were there has been little to no chatter about -- the fullbacks. There has been a real lack of rumors about incoming or outgoing players at the position, and that is somewhat stunning in the age of the 24/7 rumor mill.
It appears that the club is showing its faith in the four man unit of Ignazio Abate, Luca Antonelli, Mattia De Sciglio and newly promoted Davide Calabria to patrol the flanks. In the 4-3-1-2 favored in Milan, the fullbacks are absolutely vital as they are the only wide players in an otherwise narrow formation -- these four Milan primavera graduates must act as a reliable and effective unit. As one of the only areas of the squad that looks like it will remain intact, coupled with its importance in the formation being used, this has to be a good season for the fullbacks.
Ignazio Abate comes into the season as the most experienced of the four players, though thanks to his inability to stay healthy and his subpar crossing he has been a victim of criticism in the fanbase for quite some time. This season, Abate really needs to step up and be a leader for this squad -- with his advancing age, new contract, and amount of caps under his belt, Abate needs to have a big season just as much as Milan need a big season from him.
Abate has undeniable work ethic and pace, and these are two things Mihajlovic will demand from him. He was arguably Milan's best player in the early part of last season, racking up lots of assists in the early matches, but he has to find that type of form on a more consistent basis in order for this formation to function. Experience and a pricey new contract make Abate the first choice right back to begin the season, but he'll have to perform well to keep hold of the spot.
Across the pitch at left back, Luca Antonelli arrived in January and was a tremendous fit within the team. He quickly became a fan favorite because of his consummate professionalism, steadiness, and rossonero blood -- not to mention that memorable goal against Juventus. Milan have certainly suffered as a result of not having much starpower the last few seasons, but they also lacked players like Antonelli -- players who took the pitch every week and simply did their job efficiently and effectively. The former Genoa captain provides leadership and consistency, two elements that the squad has certainly lacked in recent years. As it stands he slots in to the starting left back role.
If there is one member of of Milan's squad who needs to have a bounceback season, it is without a doubt Mattia De Sciglio. De Sciglio's development, once so incredibly promising, has definitely plateaued the last few seasons after bursting onto the scene in 2012. His 2014/2015 campaign was probably his worst yet, marred by injuries, inconsistency, and boneheaded errors like his first minute red card against Napoli. This is no doubt a make or break season for De Sciglio. Three subpar seasons in a row would likely prompt the club to cut ties, which would be a huge shame for a player who looked like he'd be a star just a few years ago.
As long as he stays healthy and productive, however, De Sciglio can still be vital to the success of the team. His versatility allowing him to play on either the left or right side of defense makes him immensely valuable for Milan, especially with this current formation. It would not be the worst thing to see De Sciglio start the season as the top reserve for both Abate and Antonelli -- at the first injury, suspension, or poor run of form for either player, De Sciglio would be waiting in the wings, chomping at the bit with something to prove.
The final member of the club's fullback foursome, and thus far the biggest mystery of the group, is Davide Calabria. Calabria made his debut for the club at the tail end of last season and looked solid if unspectacular in very limited minutes. So far, he is the only member of the primavera squad to be promoted to the senior squad to begin the season.
During this preseason, Calabria has been a standout -- in the games against Lyon and Inter, Calabria showcased a real motor along with a solid sense of positioning. Currently slotted in as the fourth fullback in the squad, Calabria has a chance to see plenty of minutes this campaign with the oft injured De Sciglio and Abate ahead of him on the depth chart, plus his ability to play either the right or left side. If all goes well, Calabria can get his feet wet in the top flight without being relied on too heavily.
The strikeforce and midfield have already undergone significant changes this summer, while it seems inevitable that at least one centre back will arrive. The fullbacks don't seem to be getting the same transfer market attention, but as they are already established and familiar with each other, Milan don't seem overly worried about addressing the position despite its tactical importance to the team. That means the pressure is on for Abate, Antonelli, De Sciglio, and Calabria -- will it produce diamonds or burst pipes? Only time will tell.