THE EURO FILES: Don’t rule out AC Milan’s Serie A title hopes as former Chelsea duo Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic target silverware

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It might be tougher for Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fikayo Tomori to finish this season with a league title at Milan, than it will be for Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham to do so at Bayern and Real Madrid.

But don’t rule it out as the wide-open Serie A kicks off this weekend.

Stefano Pioli’s Milan side lost Sandro Tonali to Newcastle in the summer but they have kept 90m euros-rated winger Rafael Leao and added United States internationals Christian Pulisic and Yunus Musah from Chelsea and Valencia.

Pulisic, who was so impressive at Borussia Dortmund but lost his way at Chelsea, is still only 24. The plan is to play him down the right, or in the middle behind Kylian Mbappe’s favourite centre-forward, 36-year-old Olivier Giroud.

Loftus-Cheek, signed for 15m euros from Chelsea, is not the only midfield recruit. Tijjani Reijnders arrives from AZ, and Bronx-born Musah moves to Milan already speaking perfect Italian because grew up in Castelfranco before moving to London with his parents where he signed for Arsenal.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (middle) joined AC Milan from Chelsea during the summer as he departed English football

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Ruben Loftus-Cheek (middle) joined AC Milan from Chelsea during the summer as he departed English football

Christian Pulisic (left) also made the move from Stamford Bridge to join AC Milan this summer

Christian Pulisic (left) also made the move from Stamford Bridge to join AC Milan this summer

Loftus-Cheek (right) will be hoping to secure the Serie A title with Milan this season

Loftus-Cheek (right) will be hoping to secure the Serie A title with Milan this season

He surprised everyone when he decided to leave them for Valencia when he was only 16. ‘I’m really happy that players such as Bukayo Saka are playing in the first team but I felt Valencia had an exciting plan for me,’ he told Mail Sport last season.

That ‘exciting’ plan was to play him lots and then sell him quickly. Sure enough after 56 league starts for them across three seasons he got his move.

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Milan have also signed the one-footed, but lightning-quick Samuel Chukwueze from Villarreal, and with Pulisic and Leao they will certainly be the league’s fastest team. Will it be enough to help Loftus-Cheek and Tomoriwin a Scudetto?

They have a better chance than Roma’s English pair Tammy Abraham and Chris Smalling. The former’s cruciate knee injury will keep him out until next March and Jose Mourinho’s Roma team will have done well to still be in the title race by then.

They will be strong defensively with Smalling making most people’s Serie A team of the season last year, but over reliant on Paulo Dybala in attack after an underwhelming summer in which Leandro Paredes and Renato Sanches signed, in part it seemed because there was little competition for their signatures.

Mourinho, with one year left on his contract, saw all this coming, which is why he was angling for a new challenge towards the tail end of last season. His final year could be a tough one especially if he has to endure the neighbours doing better – Maurizio Sarri’s Lazio have signed Taty Castellano, the Argentine forward who scored four goals in one game against Real Madrid last season for Girona.

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Juventus could benefit from their European ban, but their chances seem to hang on the unlikely renaissance of Paul Pogba.

Inter have signed Yann Sommer from Bayern Munich to replace Manchester United’s Andre Onana and Borussia Monchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram. But they have missed out on other targets and their capture of 34-year-old Marko Arnautovic doesn’t scream ‘champions-in-waiting’.

AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli have built a strong squad by keeping hold of some stars and bringing in new talent

AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli have built a strong squad by keeping hold of some stars and bringing in new talent

Current Champions Napoli have done their chances of repeating last seasons’ success no harm by keeping stars Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, and signing Gabri Veiga for 36m euros from Celta Vigo.

But it’s Rudi Garcia in charge now after Luciano Spalletti left and he inherits a side without now-Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae.

In the first season since Diego Maradona’s death Napoli’s 2022-23 success added some romance to a league soiled by Juventus’ points penalty for corruption but they have never won back-to-back leagues.

No one has retained Serie A in the last four years – another omen that gives Milan’s Anglo-American project a chance.

Santi Cazorla rejects mega-money to make boyhood return

It was the perfect antidote to the news that Neymar has quit European football aged 31 for an £80million move to Al Hilal. Santi Cazorla has joined Spanish Second division side Oviedo, the club he played for as a boy.

Neymar is perhaps the first footballer to have his goal bonus replaced by an Instagram one – it pays out every time he posts something promoting Saudi Arabia.

There’s also a fleet of luxury cars and a private jet in the deal worth £2.5million-a-week to him.

Cazorla, in contrast, will receive the minimum wage of 93,000 euros, at his own request because it was the only way Oveido could afford to sign him.

Santi Cazorla has joined Spanish Second division side Oviedo, the club he played for as a boy

Santi Cazorla has joined Spanish Second division side Oviedo, the club he played for as a boy

The 38-year-old could have stayed in the Middle East after playing for Al Saad last season but decided to move back to his boyhood club

The 38-year-old could have stayed in the Middle East after playing for Al Saad last season but decided to move back to his boyhood club

The 38-year-old has also signed his image rights over to the club and insisted that 10 per cent of revenue from his shirt sales go towards the club’s youth system.

He played last season for Al Sadd in Qatar and could have stayed in the region as the money kept pouring in. Instead he’s gone for the romance and the glory of trying to win promotion at the club who spotted him when he was eight and nurtured him until he was 15 and left to sign for Villarreal.

The former Arsenal midfielder won a Euros with Spain in an injury ravaged career. If he gets Oviedo into Spain’s top flight it will be his greatest achievement and one of the stories of this season.

Deco prepares to build on Alemany’s Barcelona success 

Talented sporting director Mateu Alemany turned the sow’s ear of Barcelona’s finances into the silk purse of a league title last season, but the club have decided they want Deco to replace him.

Not wanting to have to answer the former Barcelona midfielder, Alemany has quit the Catalan club and that could be good news for Spurs who can now recruit the 60-year-old who was also the architect of the last decent team Valencia had.

Sporting director Mateu Alemany has quit Barcelona and could be lined up for a move to Spurs

Sporting director Mateu Alemany has quit Barcelona and could be lined up for a move to Spurs

Barcelona have decided to bring in former midfielder Deco (pictured) as his replacement

Barcelona have decided to bring in former midfielder Deco (pictured) as his replacement

It’s not the first time Alemany has walked away but – he did so at the end of last season – but this time it’s for keeps with Deco taking his first director of football job having ceased operations at his D20 Sports agency from where he had moved Raphinha to Barcelona.

Deco is close friends with president Joan Laporta and has also worked closely with Jorge Mendes in the past. His appointment is only likely to increase the influence of Mendes at Barcelona.

Alemany (right) enjoyed success in his role after the club lifted the LaLiga title last season

Alemany (right) enjoyed success in his role after the club lifted the LaLiga title last season

The deals the club are trying to get across the line before deadline day include Ansu Fati out, and Joao Felix and Joao Cancelo in. All three are represented by Mendes.

Deco and Xavi were good friends as team-mates and still get along as Xavi was at pains to point out in his press conference on Friday.

But the dynamic at the club has definitely now changed. Xavi was the exclusive football brain behind the club’s decisions before, with Alemany trying to deliver what the coach asked for.

Now it’s Deco constructing Barcelona’s future. Let’s see for how long Xavi remains happy with that.

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