Pirlo: We can challenge Inter
Andrea Pirlo believes this could be the year AC Milan break their bitter rivals' stranglehold on the Serie A title. Inter Milan are favourites to clinch their fourth scudetto in a row, while there are mixed thoughts about how Leonardo's men will do after seeing their coach, star player and captain leave in the summer.
Milan have also had a terrible pre-season, losing most of their matches, including a 4-1 defeat by Bayern Munich and a 2-0 loss to Inter. Confidence in the Rossoneri camp has been restored somewhat by a victory on penalties over Juventus in the Trofeo Berlusconi, however, and Pirlo has insisted they will be serious contenders this season.
"At the moment they (Inter) are starting as favourites," he told Sky Italia. "We are also happy to be starting in the background. We will have all our time to prove the opposite."
"We finally managed to have a good game against a great team, and in the end we also managed to win from penalties. But the important thing was to have a good performance. We have always been optimistic, despite the lost games, the trips and everything.
"We knew this team has a great potential. Had we had all the players available, we would have proven it. Against Juve, despite some injuries, we were almost complete and we proved that we can have our say.
"We're going to start again with even more desire, more responsibility, because we know that it might well be a difficult year. But, with extra sacrifices from everyone, we will surely succeed in having a great season."
Pirlo has been linked with a move to Chelsea this summer, after coach Carlo Ancelotti left Milan for Stamford Bridge at the end of last season. Speculation was finally brought to an end at the beginning of the month when club and player revealed the Italy midfielder, who is under contract until June 2012, would remain at the San Siro.
The 30-year-old is delighted with the decision and revealed that it was indeed Ancelotti who led the pursuit. "It was a strange summer, with all the rumours that had me almost officially at Chelsea," said Pirlo.
"But then, at the end with the club, we decided by mutual agreement to continue here at Milan. It all started at the end of the season, almost as a joke. He (Ancelotti) told me to follow him to Chelsea, it was more or less like this for the whole summer.
"Then, instead, the president came and told me I wouldn't go anywhere. I don't know if I would have gone. There were a lot of things to consider, above all Milan. But at the end, the aim was to continue here.
"If the club wanted to send me away, it would have been one thing, but I understood that their wishes and mine were to stay. So, it's better like this."
It has been a summer of change at the San Siro as not only did Ancelotti, Kaka and Paolo Maldini depart, but there has been continued speculation the former Milan coach would carry out a raid on the Rossoneri squad. Pirlo and Alexandre Pato were the favourites to join him in London.
Reports also suggested Silvio Berlusconi was set to sell the club, with vice-president Adriano Galliani and a United Arab Emirates consortium among the interested parties. Pirlo, who has been at Milan for eight years, admitted all that played a part in him seriously considering leaving.
"There were a lot of departures, several rumours too, also contrasting ones on the future of the team, of the club, even my future," he sad. "But at the end I understood the club didn't intend to let me go. So, it was a nice thing for me."