The tactical options of coach Montella for the 2017-18 season with a three-man defense and one Leo Bonucci

Vincenzo Montella and the squad during the Milan training session at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Montella during training at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Written by Michele Tossani.

Milan have made a lot of moves on the market so far, so it’s time to think about how they’re going to play next season.

New sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli and new CEO Marco Fassone have hit the ground securing ten signings with the latest addition being former Juventus player Leonardo Bonucci, who is arguably Milan’s top recruit.

Bonucci is widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the world, and Fassone and Mirabelli took advantage of the player’s broken relationship with Allegri, to bring him on.

So, after Bonucci signed a five-year deal with the Milanese club and with the others recruits aboard, the question is: how will Montella line Milan on the pitch? Montella favored a 4-3-3 formation last campaign with Suso and the now departed Gerard Deulofeu on the flanks.

Sticking with this old formation is probably the obvious option. But Milan’s boss flirted with 3-5-2, the formation he ran during his time at Fiorentina and the line-up with which the team performed well at Atalanta in the game that helped Milan get the point that brought them back in Europe.

Leonardo Bonucci and Marco Fassone at Mondo Milan Museum on the 14th of July, 2017. (
Leonardo Bonucci and Marco Fassone at Mondo Milan Museum on the 14th of July, 2017. (

So, Milan’s footballers aren’t unfamiliar with this playing formation and they have now enough central defenders to play with a 3-men line. Then, in Bonucci they bought a player that fits perfectly in a 3-men line. Although Paletta (and perhaps also Zapata) is set to leave, Montella still has the young Romagnoli and the newly acquired Musacchio knowing well how to play alongside a sweeper.

On the flanks, Ricardo Rodriguez and Andrea Conti fit perfectly in a 5-men midfield being both able to provide width and the needed number of crosses. And with Argentine Lucas Biglia also signing, Milan get a player replacing Riccardo Montolivo. Montella wanted a playmaker to stepping in the place of the team’s captain and mentor Manuel Locatelli, and he gets his man in the former Biancoceleste regista. Biglia will bring on his high passing skills operating at the base of midfield.

Franck Kessié during the Milan training session at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (
Franck Kessié during the Milan training session at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (

The big question mark remaining is about the other central midfielders.

Franck Kessié should be used as right-sided box-to-box central midfielder, a spot from where he will provide his classic runs. The left-sided central midfielder spot, however, remains to be assigned. With Hakan Çalhanoğlu signing, the former Bayer Leverkusen player could be lined up at the left-sided position in midfield providing creativity and passing. But even Bonaventura (notably the best team’s player last season) could play there so he could share playing time with the Turkish international.

But with Montella favoring talented guys and with his attacking philosophy he could still line up both Çalhanoğlu and Bonaventura. It could happen by switching the 3-5-2 into a kind of 3-5-1-1 with Jack as left-sided midfielder and with Çalhanoğlu as attacking midfielder behind a lone forward.

Vincenzo Montella during a press conference at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Vincenzo Montella during a press conference at University Town Sports Centre Stadium on July 15, 2017 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Another scenario could lead Montella lining up a more creative and offensive 3-4-2-1 system. It would be an interesting choice with both Bonaventura and Çalhanoğlu as No. 10’s, in an attempt to mirror last season Paulo Sousa’s Fiorentina. Both Bonaventura and Çalhanoğlu could fill this spot well with each one occupying their respective half-spaces.

Although it could represent an intriguing idea, Biglia and Kessié might become not really useful in a 3-4-2-1 due to their limited ability to work as central midfielders in a 2-men midfield. Lucas isn’t accustomed to play as mezzala while Franck could be forced to limit his powerful central attacks.

In the end, Montella will have some work to do but he has many options should he mold his new roster into a three-man defense side.


  1. With the current players a 3-5-1-1 or 3-4-2-1 will work with Andre Silva as the lone striker.

    I honestly don’t believe that the 4-3-3 will work.

    If we sign Abameyang or Belotti then a 3-5-2.

  2. We hv many options diz session we can play 4-1-3-2 rodry- ramong- bonu-conty midfield, biglia attack bona- hakan-kessy forward Silva nd… We switch at anytime to any formation, depend on wuis on d bench, that is why Renato wil b additional advantage, diz is to inform d public dat mighty Milan has come bak again. Plz som1 shud open a platform on watsapp

  3. idk how are we going to manage the line-up when a new striker arrives. if Aubameyang or Belotti arrive we don’t have enough strikers to play 3-5-2. having Borini and Curtone as sole subsitutions is frightening as none will be able to fully replace Silva and our new arrival. benching Silva to play 3-4-2-1 is also kinda strange 38M for a sub, yeah i don’t think so.
    ————————Andre Silva———————————-

    • Dont be surprised that we used 38M to sign a sub and a potential superstar. Take Bayern, signed Renato Sanches for 40m+40m installments. Thats total 80m euro. and he is a bench player for them. But that dont mean he is not worth the money. They need time. We need someone who can put in goals game after game a consistent striker that Andre can learn from. We need 20+ goal striker that can handle the pressure. I dont think its healthy to put that kind of pressure on a 20 year old. alternative would be to keep bacca.

  4. They will all play, remember some of this new player will take time to gel with Seria A football, while some will need to rest incase of Europa , i feel Montella will have to divide the squad having Europa team and Seria A team and also give the young lad more playing time in Cup matches

  5. It will be a 3-5-2,I don’t see anything better than that with the resources we have,we gat no pure wingers to play 4-3-3

  6. Seriously, at this point we should start thinking how to intergrate the newcomers with the current squad players. Our starting 11 is the deciding factor on how well we’re gonna perform this season. Bear in mind the starting 11 should have the highest form of chemistry and duly bring the most positive results at the end of the day. The squad is now filled with players and everyone should play because the calendar is packed with Europa, domestic league and cup. Since this is the case, to form chemistry on every game, with different sets of players is our primary concern now. And we will see how Montella gonna solve this issue.
    1) 4-3-3. Montella’s personal favourite and used for most of the game last season. Since we got new regista to sort out gameplays, this might work out nonetheless. Just like most of the comments i read, this is not the formation we should go with for most of the game amidst stubborness of Montell himself.
    2) 4-3-1-2: B&G era formation, and prefered by Allegri himself. Depends a lot on long passes and storming runs up front. Accuracy and discipline is the key for this to work out. Since we got Bonucci to lead defenses, this formation can be pretty strong considering the attacking possession style of play it can go to.
    3) 3-5-2: probably works out if we sign another striker, despite other departments having sorted out perfectly. Most social media comments want Montella to adapt this winning Fiorentina formula into the current system.
    4) 3-5-1-1: should be used if the targetman is clinical and in his scoring form, cause by them we know the trquartista have been fed well by the registas and fullbacks. Downside is, the limiting attacking potential against midfielders, as they gotta stay deeper.
    5) 3-4-2-1: my personal favourite. Deceiving false 9 to let 2 strikers behind get the chance to score. Currently Bacca should fit the top striker perfectly, with suso and silva lurking behind. Problem with this one is to decide WHICH midfielders gonna play altho some of them can play behind top striker himself.

    Just my 2 cents. And yes, i wrote this coz i cant sleep.


    • Valid points, formations 3,4,and 5 are very easily interchangeable, just depending on personel deployed.
      Now this is where Auba becomes very crucial for us(note even though i still want Belotti), Auba will be that main man upfront to be supported by Silva who very well plays as SS (it would be huge risk to field Silva as lone ST).
      Very thoughtful setup you’ve lined up, 3,4 and 5 does it for me.
      another formation worth considering is 4-2-3-1 (even though i’m not a fan of a lone striker) i wouldnt mind if the lone striker is Auba.

      • that’s the thing; throughout the year i’ve rarely seen Milan deploy lone striker, until recent years (Ibra, Bacca),and we know how it went… too risky and from my observation, it’ll gonna put the strikers in a very hostile and frustrating situation most of the time, resulting in declining morality and form.

        But i think now, considering the new squad, it’s worth the try (?)

  7. 3-5-2 Aubameyang is coming I believe ….. Belotti will not be sold to an Italian team, except if Belotti himself wants to force a move to MILAN, Torino seem really keen on holding on to him, cause looking at the offers they’ve gotten so far, they should/could have sold, but then except someone’s ready to break the bank and give them at least 80 million from the 100 million euros clause. At the end of it all though, I’d be glad if we could at least cough up 60 million for Aubameyang…. He’s proven and the fact that he’s an ex Milan player makes it all the best, I always loved AUBAMEYANG and I was sad when Milan let him go back then….. AUBAMEYANG over BELOTTI for me…. PROVEN….!!!

  8. gettin any of dis players wil help in de 3-5-2 formation, aubamenyang,belotti n morata n leases pressure off in form Andre Silva. n aslo 4 montella to be consistent wit player selection as team work z a major factor if de wil gel
    #get ur starting XI soon # no their strength # operation on beaten run# wlcm glory old [email protected]

  9. I think a 3412 will be OK when playing in Europa League and 352 will be OK for seria a while 4312 for coppa Italian cup if only our coach can master these formations good we will win every thing we play for this year

  10. A guest article…nice one. Well, Montella doesn’t believe in formations, he favours systems and pattern of play. If we play with 3 or 4 @ the back will depend on so many factors. Let’s see as it unfolds

  11. A good player is the one who can play well in any formation. Milan team now have many option in player but I doubt montella ability to fully utilize it. My opinion is give montella one year to success. Should he failed then bring in Leonardo Jardin from monaco or Joachim loew from Germany. Now Milan success is in the hand of montella but personally I doubt he can success in Milan. We can’t success with just playing with one formation and further more we need to compete in Europa league. If we play well and consistent I strongly believe with can go far to final and our opponent will be arsenal. For scudetto, I believe we still need one or two year but champion league place shouldn’t be a problem.

    • @jamario, in as much as I agreed to your post, let support the coach and remove doubtness for now, and don’t worry the team will do great this season..

  12. You either buy players for a certain formation or find a formation for the players you’ve bought. So in our case we have to find a formation that suits our squad the best. Not believing in formations is utter BS, is it really possible to toss a bunch of players in the field without any defined role and expect them to perform? lol. Anyway we have to make a sacrifice or two to get the best out of our squad, we can’t play all of the ones adored by the fans at once.
    I’m very eager for the new season to begin tbh.
    And we will truly welcome more guest articles guys…

  13. Team is still incomplete … we must have a star striker .. i wish they get morata or belloti .. nd if not them then auba will be a good option .. players wins u matches .. we hav good players this season bt a complete striker is all what we need finally .. hope fr the best

  14. I feel Ancelotti’s Christmas tree formation will be excellent. Defensively, we would be unbreakable. Attack front, we can incorporate all of them. Suso can be introduced if need additional width in a 4231 formation.

  15. Psst…the writer of this fine article is a girl. Nothing in this world is hotter than girls in Milan jerseys

  16. what matters to me is the 3points from every game regardless of the formation applied. Belotti is my ideal player to step into the attack for Milan in a 3:5:2 formation.

  17. 4-2-3-1 is our best option right now. RR,Romagnoli/mussachio(both injury prone),Bonuchi, Conti at d back. Biglia and Jessie/locatelli in midfield. Bonaventura Hakan and suso in front of d deep lying midfielder and finally Silva/new striker in front

    • Milan still need a proper winger to play 433 or 4231. Deulofeu would be nice as he already knew montella’s style (not sure barca can sell him though). Other options would be keita balde(he prefers juve), forsberg(not sure about him), bernadeschi (why not screw juve again). Cant think of other options atm

  18. Striker striker striker they cry.
    While we forget a quality playmaker.
    The football brain presence here crying for strikers is astonishing.

  19. 3-5-2,

    ————— Gigio

    —— Musa – Bonucci – Roma

    Conti – Kessie – Biglia – Cano – RR

    ——— Silva – Bacca/???

    rotation / backup,

    ————— Storari

    — Gomez – Zap/Paletta – Ely

    Abt – Loc – Mnt/SS – Jck – Ant/MDS

    ———— Suso – Borini

    – : –

    – Jack can cover many post,
    – Suso w/ speed & goal instinct can be good SS/WS,
    – Loca can cover Kessie & Biglia,
    – Monty & Sosa as backup & motivator,
    – A.Dona & Enzo as water & ball boy

  20. I think we shld step up with a 343 with bona and silva up front




  21. @ink, is biglia not a good playmaker, what of bona, hakan, loca? It’s not about buying more players now, it shld be about blending dis crop of players to deliver! 433, 4312, 3412, dis are very good options! But most importantly winning mentality and flexibility…..

  22. 4-2-3-1. Duna; Conti-Bonucci-Romagnoli-Rodriguez; Biglia-Kessie; Suso-Calha-Bona; Auba. I’d rather drop Mussachio & Silva than Suso& Bona the former would need to adopt while the latter were the teams beast players over the last couple of seasons. I think most people want to change formation solely because of Bonuccis arrival and the excitement of seeing all the new faces sloting in in a new formation. I understand people naturally love new things but lets also consider that if Bonucci is so good in a 3man defence formation Calha Musacchio Bona Silva etc migh be less suited to it or at least needing to adopt while 4231 is a very commonly used formation and we might even fancy switching back to it next year when we hopefully qualify for the CL. Juve hardly played with 3 at the back in Europe last season and they are now looking like building more on a back 4 than a back 3. I think 4231 is more accommodating and Bonucci can do almost equally well.

    • 1) musa is much better footballer than roma. No way roma should start ahead of musa. Please dont let missplaced sense of sentimentality cloud ur judgement.
      2) auba might not come
      3) no way 40m rated st should be benched

      • Not precisely meaning that those should be starters instead this formation could be more familiar/suited to our more important players including Silva and Musacchio. Anyway I wouldnt mind getting a winger or two instead of Auba and leave CF position to Silva Bacca Borini. I didnt watch Musacchio as much as Romagnoli so I put the one I know better but if Musacchio is better then lets put him! In any case I think both a more familiar with a back 4 which is my point although such level defenders shouldnt find it very hard switching from/to a back 3. My main concern is the likes of Suso and the fact a 3 defence is not the best used in Europe.

        • Fair enough points mate. Though i gotta say, many top teams use 3 CBs nowadays and the results are excellent: dortmund and bunch of other bundesliga teams, conte’s teams along the years, even montella’s very own fiorentina. Also, i think its very risky for milan to play with only 1 st, unless ur st is of highest calibre like lewandowski or auba

  23. Line up is simple




    Lucas Moura


    And that’s it!

  24. A 3-5-2 seems to be the preferred choice with our current roster, but we are missing one top striker and one sub striker, assuming Bacca doesn’t stay.

    We can switch between different three man formations by switching between the two mids supporting our deep lying playmaker, with Jack+Hakan the most offensive and Kessie+Loca (or even better, Sanchez) more physical for playing Rome away for instance.

    It’s hard to see Suso fit in, although some people here would argue he can take one of the supporting mid positions. I wouldn’t mind keeping him if money is not an issue, but it seems the best solution for both sides is to part ways. He wouldn’t mind having a starting role at Tottenham or something, and we would appreciate the 25 mil.

  25. To be honest, formation do not really matter when you have versatile players. Though we still need one formations that suits better and another plan B formation for stubborn defensive opponents. The major thing right now is creative playmaker. Milan has been suffering a very good playmaker once pirlo left. Biglia, kessie, loca, Sosa are good ball playing midfielder but not natural playmaker. We need one player with flair, deft touch, good decision making and pass accuracy… Someone with flair like pirlo or Rui costa.. I know player like this is hard to scout this day.. I think Sanchez can still boss the midfield.
    Guys, what do you think?



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