Milan needs to switch to 4-2-3-1 to best utilize its players


UNTIL LAST SEASON, Massimiliano Allegri was the most rigid coach in the whole of Europe making Milan so predictable that even a fan could guess where and how the next ball was going to be played and to whom. It was 4-3-1-2 all throughout the season with no width and pace whatsoever. But somehow it worked because the team had Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who would single handedly make the team look like one of the bests in the continent. His imposing game let Allegri hide the flaws in the side. But that was then.

This season is different and with so many players having either retired, transferred or simply released, reality has finally bitten Allegri as he has struggled all throughout the season so far meddling with everything from a 4-3-3 with a  ‘false 9’ to a 4-3-2-1 and of course his favorite 4-3-1-2. The question however must be asked that with so many pacey players why doesn’t he opt for the much used and successful 4-2-3-1?

No, it shouldn’t be implied here that Milan need to use this formation because it’s been some kind of a trend in Europe of late, but with players like Robinho, Emmanuelson, Bojan and El-Shaarawy who are naturally fast and suited to play on the wings with a striker in the centre, its high time Allegri adapted to this system with the team so desperately struggling to break the opposition time and again.

Ambrosini: “Derby comes at the right time”
Seedorf: “Milan will come out of this crisis”

First of all, considering the attack is fit and fine, Milan would have Pato, Robinho, Boateng, El-Shaarawy, Bojan and of course Pazzini at its disposal. Now, Robinho and El-Shaarawy have well proved over the past that they can very well play on the right and left hand side of the wings which in fact is their natural position as none of these are natural strikers. With Boateng as the central attacking midfielder behind Pato (if he’s fit!), Milan would all of a sudden have a very threatening attacking quad that would wreck fear into the mind of the opposition.

Pace, skill, power and great movement – these four attributes are very important if you want the opponents to fear your side, and with these four players Milan will be able to use them perfectly well. A 4-3-3, or a 4-3-1-2 will mean that either one of these four players will have to be sacrificed and that would be dreadful as they are the best players on the side and currently Milan cannot afford to do that. If Milan is to utilize them all at the same time, this system simply has to be tried and tested to see how far the team can go with it and with nothing else working, now is the time.

Also, there are enough players who can easily replace them in case some life has to be injected from the bench, with Emmanuelson capable of playing both wing,  Pazzini a natural striker and of course Bojan who can play anywhere behind the striker. Clearly, all of a sudden the team looks so rich in depth, doesn’t it?

Moving on to the midfield duo, this system clearly advocates the use of a hard hitting defensive midfielder or the destroyer who breaks the opposition attacks protecting his defense at the same time along with a creative midfielder whose job is to simply channelize the play from the defense to attack spraying the balls from the center of the field. Having signed Ricardo Montolivo in the summer, the Italian fits the bill of the creative midfielder perfectly as he is capable of building plays from the back just like Pirlo did during his time here at the club, while he can be supported by one of the numerous dog fighters beside him.

New signing Nigel de Jong obviously, will be first choice as he has played in that position for Manchester City forming a powerful midfield full of grit and steel that made the citizens so difficult to penetrate in the premier league with Yaya Toure given the freedom to bully the park thanks to the Dutchman’s defensive capabilities. With Flamini, Antonio Nocerino and captain fantastic Massimo Ambrosini in the wings, Milan has a lot of options to fill the void. What this midfield will do is also protect the defense which has been the weak link so far this season.

How Milan will look in a 4-2-3-1

Milan’ s biggest problem has been their lack of width especially on the left hand side, with Luca Antonini its best option in that position but obviously he hasn’t been Milan material. Abate pretty much does his job on the right, and is without doubt one of the bests in Italy currently, but this formation naturally lends so much width to the team (that currently plays so predictably narrow and through the centre), that the full backs will have enough time to run back in times of crisis as defending is their first and foremost job.

Right now, the fullbacks have been vested with the responsibility to create chances from the wings, in turn rendering them inoperable while defending as they have no energy to come back and rescue the struggling central defensive pairing of the team. With two wide attackers in El-Shaarawy and Robinho and the rest, there job will be simplified as they would have the natural wingers fulfilling their jobs which would any day be more fruitful.

Milan is playing too narrow and through the centre, with a very defensive minded midfield which leaves the team devoid of any quality and creativity, making the attack looks flair less. Obviously for this system to work one may argue that players like Robinho and Pato have to be fit, but Milan have enough options on the bench to fill in for anyone of their best attackers.

Milan is struggling and the key to success is to best use all their best players and this system does exactly that. The strength lies in its attack, and Allegri needs to rethink his strategies to make sure he uses his boys wisely for the best outcome for the team and the fans.

What do you think?

[For more editorials on Italian football and our beloved Milan, follow me on twitter @adityabajaj ]

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I love this formation so much. It creates a very unpredictable attack force and we have players suited to this style of play. The two width attackers helping out defensively ( el saarawy and robs) also launching lightening attacks. De jong just sits back breaking all offense with noce. Abate and de scigi as full backs maurading. Indeed we would become a strong unit with this formation. Nice one adityabajaj!


I agree mostly with this article, but we did play 4-2-3-1 against Zenit, and we saw that it worked, just that some players (Montolivo, Prince) are not 100 % and De jong is getting to know the team more and improving with every game. But also, I just wanted to point this out: ” A 4-3-3, or a 4-3-1-2 will mean that either one of these four players will have to be sacrificed and that would be dreadful as they are the best players on the side and currently Milan cannot afford to do that.” I don’t know why it… Read more »

Some Guy

Madrid clearly can afford to do that, Milan can’t. Last year, they could afford to do that, with Ibra. Now they can’t and they need all the strike force that they can get, to score and make up for horrible defending. FORZA MILAN!


All teams can afford the luxury of great players on the bench. To come on and help the team change the result if necessary, that’s what I think.


I would love to see a team lyk this in the derby.
Abate-zapata-bonera-de ziglio
De jong-monty
Pato -robinho-el sharrawy
Milan will crush inter


i think formation above suitable for milan n why allegry doesn’t try it?


Fine one; please milan go for this formation it will fit our player


To be honest I disagree slightly. Most of Milan’s problems this season has been due to slow play without direction. I think having Boateng in an advanced position and Montolivo further back is a problem for us. and I’ve never been a fan of playing 2 holding midfielders and 1 striker. I think as Milan are clearly having difficulties this season, a return to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation would see us balanced a lot better and make us a lot harder to beat. Milan has suffered every match this season by being outnumbered in midfield and defence, and i… Read more »

ysae 2 ekam a loof

I agree 100% with Eph, Boateng has been a major failure this season, His negative approach and bad footballing skills have seen Milan look like the most ordinary team in Italy and he is not the kind of player to play behind a striker, Instead of Boateng, I prefer Bojan playing a lil more high behind Pato or Pazzini, With Pato/Pazzini upfront Robinho attacking from the right and SES from the left ,Bojan is got the stamina and grit to support the front line very effectively, Now since our LB is of a major concern,why don’t we try Urby. Coz… Read more »


Nice formation (
Abate Zapata Bonera De schiglio
Montolivo De jong
Emmanuelson Boteng Robinho El sharawy

I Love Milan

I agree with everything , except for the left back situation. I beliave that Allegri should give full confidence in De Sciglio to be the starter as the terzino. Antonini is second best in my opinion , but that’s becuase there is nobody else capable , he never gets a cross right on a player. Even Emmanuelson could come handy as a left back.


It’s a shame to say this but i belive that bonera is the best deffender we have, so him over mexes….


Nice article. As fans we all can clearly see that Milan could utilize their players to their strengths and not force a system that currently does not work.

Makes me wonder why Allegri cant see that! Bizzare!

The 4-2-3-1 formation is great and we can also alternate to a 3-5-2 formation similar to Napoli and Juventus when needed. Milan actually have better defenders but for some odd reason we seem more vunerable than Napoli and Juve when defending.


Our defenders are not better than Juve’s defenders…Chiellini is a beast and Barzagli is great as well, Bonnucci is their weak link but even he has improved a lot recently…
I hope this changes in january or next season with Yanga-Mbiwa or perhaps Ogbonna…


No offense Milanista121 but Chiellini and Barzagli are horrible defenders especially Chiellini. It’s Juve’s defensively midfield palyers that makes their defense look solid!

I dont even understand how Chiellini is even in the National team.


None taken, good to see you not lashing out as most people would do.
I think Chiellini is great, I thought Barzagli was poor but he proved me wrong, but well I hope you’re right 🙂
That’s the thing, Prandelli is clever, he wouldn’t call both of them up if they weren’t great…well well…


i agree with most of the points in the article, but i still don’t find boateng good enough for position behind the striker, i’d rather prefer him with monti in mid field, and also i think allegri should trust bojan and give him more playing time. The boy is imensely talented, all he needs is the confidence and to get used to italian football environment, i think he can rediscover his true self. And the good news is that it looks like we’re planning to keep and use cristante. I trust pep to help him grow into champion next year.


please wats wrong wit mexes, d formation is fine for the attack bt the midfield needs character if such formation is to be used.


nice one and d best formation at d moment.but boateng most be given a free role if dis formation will work well 4 milan.


Bonera is not a good defender you don’t know what Ɣõu̶̲̥̅̊ are saying, acerbi i̶̲̥̅̊ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ better than bonera S̶̲̥̅Ơ̴̴̴̴̴̴͡ also mexes i̶̲̥̅̊ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ better than bonera don’t tink of comparing them bonera has no business in milan he i̶̲̥̅̊ƨ̣̣̣̇̇̇̇ an average player


milan XI that can damage opposition: abbiati; abate, bonera, acerbi, de sciglio; de jong, montolivo; boateng, el shaarawy, robinho; pato. If they’re fit and per4ming.


Aditya, I recall that other milan fans and I have mentioned in this blog to switch from 4312 to 4231 considering that milan have robinho, urby and SES who can play as wingers. It is allegri who is affraid to start experiencing the new formation in an official match. However, I have a question for you, do you think that KPB is capable to play as a trequartista? What do you expect from the next xxx-rated movie star like KPB, delivering great assists? He is visionless.

ysae 2 ekam a loof

@TWF, I do agree with you a lot, Don’t u think Bojan can play better in that Boateng’s role and maybe Urby shld move to LB. Abbiati

Abate Zapata Mexes Urby

Monty Dejong


Robinho SES

Subs: Nocerino Acerbi Boateng Pazzini Ambrosini. Guess this team can beat anyone in Serie A and go very far in the CL.

moha milano

abiati (4231)
Abate-zapata-accerbi-de ziglio
De jong-monty
robinho-boateng-el sharrawy
or (3-5-2)


@TWF : I totally agree with you, i think its just common sense that with the kind of players we have at our disposal, it only makes sense for the coach to switch to a 4-2-3-1. Seems like we all are on the same page for our team. Only wish Allegri thought that way too. About your question about Boateng : I agree on the fact that he’s not really a classic trequartista, and more of a n attacking midfielder who loves to shoot from the distance rather than passing it on to the forwards. But we don’t really have… Read more »

R kenny

Forza milan gud luck 2 us

Snoop ibra

The 4 2 3 1 formation will be great because Milan have quality players to fit in that formation


Everything spot on exept two things.
The defence has not been the weakest link, 6 goals against in 6 games is not that bad but 7 goals scored in 6 games is bad for a team like milan.
And the second thing is that antonini is not the weak link in the defence. Its the center backs.


Well i do not meam to brag or anything but since the begining of the season i mentioned on this blog that i believe 4-2-3-1 is the way to go for this new milam because it makes the most of the players characteristics. However, finding the right formation is only the stepping stone. The ay this formation is applied is where the big deal resides. That’s why i would like to add the following.. First, the team needs a bit of time and most of all stability to get used to this new tactical setup if it were to be… Read more »

Nuel A.

But why didn’t you write this article before Coach Allegri decided to try out the 4-2-3-1 formation in the Champions League? He has initiated it already, I think you should have taken it from there and not to want to paint a picture of original thoughts. I also have my reservations about Max, but I firmly believe he should get credit when due.


Awesome article mate 🙂


That’s y we don’t need a Rigid coach..that doesn’t seem to see d strength of his team..rather than imposing a formation on his players,thereby making dem play out of their wings…this is d best formation for now..