AC MILAN and Massimiliano Allegri need tactical flexibility. It may be time to think of new tactics.
I want to start with Juventus, and compliment them on the positive things that they’ve done. Granted they’ve made many, many errors, signed weak players, valued quantity over quality, and somehow, at their latest juncture, seem to have some of the correct pieces in place.
I believe that Juve used their time off of actual football (06-11) to reflect on their state. They first threw money at the problem, then decided on a different approach, which went around building financial backing for their club by purchasing a new stadium (regardless of what you think of it, the stadium will generate far more revenue for the club than otherwise available). They will reap the rewards of this. They bought young players who range in quality Pirlo, Vucinic, Vidal and at the other end, Pepe . However, by and large, Juventus has followed the mantra, If you throw enough crap at the wall, some is bound to stick. Tactically they came out with the correct game plan against Milan.
What Juventus did to us: run us dogged. We chased the game the entire game. From start to finish, Milan looked inferior to Juventus, and it has less to do with quality than it does with organization. Last season, what Allegri did to be successful was to put an extra man in midfield. If you remember our previous setup under Leonardo, either the 4-2-fantasia (which we weren’t able to do with as much effect as we would have wanted due to the dwindling legs of the players in the formation [Ronaldinho up top, Huntelaar/Boriello, Ambrosini, Gattuso, Pirlo]. The three man midfield was often being overpowered when he would adapt with a 4-3-3. We simply didn’t have the strength of midfielders in 08 to play the formation we wanted to play. Allegri switched us back into a more familiar 4-3-1-2 (under Ancelotti who used this formation to great effect, and adapted it to the 4-3-2-1 christmas tree we all associate with him) which allowed Prince to press the midfield forward, and produced more running than we had in previous years. The effect was that we controlled more possession, forced oppositions to lose the ball deeper in their half, and created more goals and conceded less goals than the rest of the league.
Returning to the Juventus match, we had 3 midfielders in the middle of the field since Prince often found himself drifting wide to support the attack instead of pressuring and shutting down Pirlo, who had all the space in the world to attack. This in essence changed our 4- man midfield into a 3-man midfield with KPB chasing shadows. Pirlo, once he got the ball, had options to play the ball wide, and to get around our notoriously narrow defense. This is the tactic Barcelona should have used to defeat us. By using only one highly mobile striker, Vucinic [also see Di Natale in the Udinese game] Juventus’ 5-man midfield was free to pass around and switch play, essentially dictating not only the position of the ball, but our attacking options once we got it back. Furthermore, since there was so much width to the Juventus play, our fullbacks had to spread out to cover the wingers, which allowed Vucinic to exploit the space around MVB and made Thiago and Nesta look pedestrian. Only Thiago had the pace to cope with Vucinic, and it became apparent that our midfield was unable to cover our exposed defense, which was ostracized the moment Bonera entered the center of defense.
As a whole, tactically, Milan this season are inflexible. Against Barcelona, our game plan was to play our back line high, and set our players, save Pato and Cassano, as far back up against the D as possible. We didn’t break formation, instead of a diamond midfield, we flattened more into a line, with the focus being on keeping players out of the middle. This exposed us on the flanks. Barca didn’t take advantage of this. But Udinese did. Lazio did. They both eked out draws with far less quality than Barcelona possesses. Through the first full month of the season, Allegri has shown an inability to fix the problems that plagued us last season, our lack of wide options. Emanuelson can be deployed as a winger, but remains to play as one. We’ve fashioned Nocerino into a sort of right-winger who I’ve seen sending in more crosses this season than Gattuso did all of last season. This would be fine, but for one issue, that Nocerino has not completed one of these crosses and nothing has developed from this.
What Allegri needs, is tactical flexibility. He has shown very little this season. His tactical shifts have been questionable at best (Ambrosini in the Juve game, every time Emanuelson comes on as trearquista despite looking out of place). We have a lack of pace in our midfield. Fine. We can address this in the transfer window, for the time being, we need to stop complaining about the signings we made and have to make lemonade out of lemons. His weakness is width. We can fashion a solution. Allegri is a capable tactician, who I’m afraid, was not challenged enough during his first season as manager. Napoli were unfinished, Inter limping after the Benitez reign, Juventus were 10 signings away from where they are now, and Udinese were three stars more than they were this season [ yet they still have gotten off to a far better start this year than last year ]. The only real task he came up against was Tottenham, in which he attempted to change his tactics for the away leg, and barring some bad luck, may have gotten his result. But besides that, the 4-3-1-2 was used week in week out.
We’re going to have to adapt, and that means new formations, and new ideas. Could we try a 3-man back line with Nesta, Mexes and Silva? That requires a dynamic midfield, Nocerino, Emanuelson, and KPB can provide some running.
Perhaps a 4-2-3-1?
Abate, Nesta, Silva, Taiwo (play him before he’s Vila part two)
Robinho, Prince, Cassano
This may or may not work, but the issue that I feel personally, and I think others share, is that Allegri seems complacent. He can’t do anything about our transfer market anymore, and it’s clear that the plan is for our team to have a blend of Old and New, which is why next year, a lot of our loaned talent is sure to return, Merkel, Strasser, Paloschi, Albertazzi, as well as the introduction of De Siglio.
We have a long-term plan for the squad, which I don’t think should really be questioned, but in the short-term when we don’t get results, fans get anxious.
However, we’re in a very similar position we were last year, except that we don’t have to play many of the “big” teams. This is not a call for panic, this is a call for reasonable policies. Once Allegri masters the ability to adapt, he will provide more consistent results for our squad. Frankly, we needed different tactical approaches for different games. We need to combat a 5-man midfield not with a diamond, but with two holding midfielders to stem the flow of passes and better protect our back line. We need to learn to recognize the weakness of our width and find a way to tactically prevent oppositions from terrorizing our outside backs only to have unmarked men run from the midfield through our defense, as happened with Napoli. These changes are well within our grasp. Hopefully, our willingness to make necessary alterations will return us to the summit of the table.
Forza Allegri, Forza Milan.