The 2011/12 season has not been kind to AC Milan. The defending champions have managed to win only one match so far and languish only six places from the bottom of the table. A similar kind of start was witnessed last season too, but then they snapped out of it pretty fast.

A look at the games played at the beginning of the last season as compared to this season shows a very interesting aspect – Milan have failed to score goals this time around. This season, Milan have scored only 5 goals in as many matches as compared to last season’s 7 in the same number of matches. So this begs the question that what has changed at Milan that has led to this mini goal-drought.

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The Aquaman Arrives

 

With the entire summer gone over the arrival of the much-hyped Mr X, Rossoneri all over the globe were expecting a big name signing on the last day, an ‘ace in the hole‘ player which Uncle Fester has somehow managed to dig up but they were left high and dry. The two players that came in were Nocerino and Aquilani. While the first one was seen as more of a cover player for Flamini, the Aquilani deal was a shrewd one. Somehow, it seems that the unspent cash is stacked up for a big transfer in the January window. But then, your guess is as good as ours.

The Matches played so far..

Even though the start of the Serie A was pegged back by two weeks this year, the opening week provided enough goals to leave the fans thirsty for more. Milan took on a rejuvenated Lazio in their opening match at the San Siro. With Cisse and Klose pegging back the red-and-black early on, Milan had to claw their way back again and again. Aquilani showed how easily he has adapted himself to the Milan set-up when he created both the goals in that match. Milan came away with a single point but that came at the cost of Gattuso. The warrior was laid low by an injury and was substituted as early as the 20th minute. The inability to score the winning goal and also claim full points was forgotten pretty fast as the focus then fell solely on the match against the current UEFA champions, Barcelona.

In an epic battle that followed, Milan came away from the Camp Nou with a draw and, more importantly, with a confident attitude. It seemed that even when the Rossoneri were bogged down by so many injuries, the team had the willpower and the skill to achieve results on hostile territory. The jubilation of that draw soon faded as they lost their next match to Cavani. Yes, they lost to Cavani and not Napoli. Granted that Napoli is on the rise this season and that Cavani is presently in the form of his life, but the inability to come away from San Paolo with a win or at least a draw has hurt the legions of Rossoneri worldwide. The injured list now resembled a who’s who list and for sometime it looked that the injured 11 will cancel out the playing 11, if ever such a match was to be played.

The forward line minus Ibrahimovic…

The next match against Udinese saw the first of two goalkeeping howlers from Abbiati – normally a calm and assured presence at the back. As a result of that, Milan drew their match against Udinese. That match saw the first start of El Shaarawy, who marked his presence with a goal in his very first match. The injury to Ibrahimovic was now showing as Pato and Cassano failed to score once more. It is not that the Swede always scores when he is on the pitch, but with him, Milan become a different side altogether. His physical presence helps his fellow strikers to exploit the space left vacant by the charging defender. A simple jab or pass is then enough to score a goal. That is what has been missing from the Milan forward line this season. Pato, at best, plays well off a target-man and Ibra performed that role to perfection. The injury to Robinho also came at a bad time and it remains to be seen for how long the Samba star will stay out of the squad with injury.

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Ibrahimovic - injury concerns once more

 

Milan then hosted Cesena, a team which had beaten them last year at a similar time. But this time around, Milan was able to win their first Serie A game of the season, courtesy a superb goal by Seedorf at the beginning of the match. The Dutch maestro has played non-stop this season and has featured in all the matches that have been played so far. While that is an encouraging sign, he is not getting any younger, no matter what experiments are done on him at the Milanello labs. It is incorrect on part of the coaching staff (read Allegri) and the fans to expect him to perform every time he takes the field. Allegri’s insistence on playing Seedorf every time and not replacing him with a much fitter, much hungrier Aquilani has not been well received among the fans. Even in the last game against Juventus, everyone expected Aquilani to start against his former club, but Allegri had other plans.

Seedorf, Inzaghi and Squad Rotation

A half-fit Gattuso can be played anytime anywhere but not a full-fit Seedorf. While the former brings in an extra aggressive edge which not only gets the fans to boo the opposition but also spurs on his teammates; the latter is only good at holding the ball in the midfield for a limited amount of time after he passes it to his opponent. Nobody likes to see a legend fade away like this, but then the manager needs to take a strong step to see that such a player does not adversely affect the team. However, Allegri is no Mourinho and Seedorf is not Raul. It was wise last year to play Seedorf day-in, day-out as Allegri needed the veterans to deliver, but it is a dangerous thing in football is to live in the past. Allegri needs to get over his ‘play veterans and let the youngsters warm the bench‘ mode fast if Milan is to be a title contender this season. But a virtuoso performance from Seedorf might see him play all the time.

Squad rotation is an important aspect of any football team, but it strangely seems to be absent in case of Milan. A case in point is Inzaghi. The Milan legend has been left out of the Champions League squad as he was injured, but even after a full recovery he is still to find a starting place this season. If a legend like him isn’t playing in the Champions League, the least the coach can do is utilize him fully in the domestic scene.

Alas that is still to happen, even though Super Pippo has scored truckload of goals in training and is fit and raring to go. An argument in favor of Allegri would be that Inzaghi plays best when paired with a center attacking midfielder or a player capable of creating spaces and supplying the through ball for him to run into. One player in the current roster that boasts of such capabilities is Aquilani, but it’s highly improbable that Allegri will start both the Italians together. In hindsight, that will mean Milan playing with only one man upfront – an unlikely formation given Allegri’s likeness for playing two strikers.

Defense and Midfield

Defensively, Milan is yet to hit the sweet spot and the combination of Nesta and Silva needs to click as soon as possible. This season, Milan has been blessed with not one but two fullbacks who can not only support the team while attacking but also falls back to support the back line. Taiwo has been a gem of a player for Marseille but has found only one start so far for Milan. On the other side of the pitch, there is Abate – a right midfielder by choice but one who has played at right back due to Milan’s lack of players in that position. Playing out of position, Abate not only excelled but also made the right back position his own since last year.

Bereft of proper central midfielders since Pirlo’s departure, Milan has been blessed with players who can excel down the flanks. On the left, there is the combination of Emanuelson and Taiwo, whereas on the right there is Nocerino and Abate. All the four players has never started a game simultaneously this season and it remains to be seen if Allegri will exploit this weapon capable of decimating any team on the wings. Even if such a formation is fielded, it is likely to be played only in the domestic scene, as in the European competitions, Milan plays a very narrow formation that leaves them vulnerable on the wings but provides them ample cover in the midfield.

Is 3-5-2 a possibility?

Looking at the present roster, 3-5-2 is very much a possibility for Milan this season. The back three can be formed from Nesta, Silva and Mexes, once he returns from injury. The five in the midfield can comprise of Taiwo on the left, Abate on the right and Van Bommel at the center. Two players then can sit on top of Van Bommel as they look to link up with the top two strikers. These two players can be Aquilani and Boateng/Nocerino. The top two will comprise of Ibrahimovic and either of Pato or Robinho or Cassano.

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Will this formation be seen this season?

 

Defensively, this formation will give little away to the opposition as the back three can cancel out any attack. Van Bommel acts as a defensive screen in front of the back three and should the player or the ball pass him, then they will contend with the likes of Nesta, Mexes and Silva – all three players expert at reading the game a fraction of a second early. The back three can remain in and around the penalty area which in turn will mean that the opposition now has to deal with extra bodies in the box. If the opposition now attacks down the wings, they have to contend with two very agile and fast players like Taiwo and Abate. These two players can fall back and attack with equal zeal giving Milan a perfect defensive formation.

The midfield is the tricky part as they have to control the game and create goals. Aquilani is adept doing both and Boateng’s talent is already known. A swift counter-attack will lead to either of Aquilani or Boateng/Nocerino playing the ball to the wings, which will then see either Taiwo or Abate providing a cross into the box. Also, Aquilani has the knack of taking long-rangers which could come handy as the forwards can look for a rebound. The game now falls on to the top two strikers, whose sole aim will be to score. Ibrahimovic and Pato have played as the top two strikers last season and their combination is one that the Rossoneri looks up to. Pato can stay up for the entire period of the match whereas Ibrahimovic can drift between Aquilani/Boateng and Pato. That way, Allegri gets to play his two striker formation but will need to reshuffle at the back and center of the field.

A few tactical changes here and there might present a much stronger team before him. 3-5-2 is almost a lost formation considering no team deploys it, but then again a ‘horses for courses’ policy is always better than playing deadwood players over and over. Will Milan play in a 3-5-2 this season? Your guess is as good as ours.

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3 Responses to “AC Milan’s Corner: Analyzing The Disappointing Start To The Season”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Ty says:

    Excellent article but you are totally underestimating the impact ROBINHO had on MILAN last year and the incredible lack of dynamism, creativity and yes goals that is sorely missing from the ROSSONERI so far this year. IBRA was AWOL during MILAN’s crucial late run to seal the SCUDETTO last year, ROBINHO stepped up big time (late game winner against BRESCIA anyone) even though PATO & IBRA keep getting more press. The truth is, for all the talk on IBRA dependency, MILAN are for all intents and purposes are ROBINHO’s team his return can’t happen soon enough.

  2. Sam Dieudonne says:

    Great piece but as Ty pointed out, not enough love shown to Robinho and his dynamism. For all of his misses he creates a vast amount for others to tuck away. We’ve been missing ultra predictable of late. Ibra of course (when properly motivated) can decide any outing on his own. His recent declarations have been unpleasant but I have it down to displeasure over the ugly but expected Juventus defeat.

    As for the 3-5-2, we might hypothetically have the personnel but I don’t see it as a formation that suits Milan. Our midfielders aren’t mobile enough. None of our current crop of midfielders are particularly fast, barring Boateng. Van Bommel’s responsibility as a DM would increase and he isn’t getting any younger. Abate still seems shy offensively and for this to work he’d have to be a cog. Taiwo also hasn’t fully settled & must be given time I reckon we’d be left exposed if we try it now. A young energetic side such as Napoli can pull it off effectively but I can’t see such an approach working for Milan.

  3. Amlan Chaudhury says:

    This article was written keeping in mind Robinho’s unavailability. Once he’s fit and good to go, of course he can be an asset to this team.

    The formation 3-5-2 is a suggestion keeping in mind the injuries we suffered and the crop of fit players in hand. The back three need not run that much as they can stay very much in Milan’s half. MVB just in front of them would provide the cover. Granted that he’s not getting any younger, but he’s currently the best we have in that position. That way, the backline wont be stretched and Milan will be able to keep the formation at the back, which is very important against teams with fast players. The oldies are kept at the back so that we have experience where it matters the most. The defense will be playing zonal and not man-to-man so question of being over-run or dragged out of position.

    Pato/Cassano is given as one of the top two and not as a wide player as there is a chance to get lost in the wings. Also, in the wings we are having Taiwo and Abate – better to keep the running to those and the rest for quick 1-2’s to the wings. Nocerino and Aquilani will be just behind the top two and should Ibra fall down in the midfield, we will still have Pato on top as lone striker. That way, the flanks are not exposed at the top also. The midfield is the crucial part as the communication between MVB, Nocerino and Aquilani would be of utmost importance.

    The basic idea of 3-5-2 here was that the top 4 and MVB keeping their position and the only free players being the guys on the wings.