Somethings are forewarned. For others, we close our eyes when it matters.
There are many unsolvable mysteries that are going around in the minds of Milanisti.
Why is Milan the most injury-prone team in Europe? Is Silvio Berlusconi really interested in funding the team anymore? Is Massimiliano Allegri really a clueless manager and do those Panchina d’Oro and Oscar del Calcio mean nothing? Why did the club sell Thiago Silva for less when a deal was in place a couple of weeks earlier for a higher amount?
To all of those questions, one will say, “Bugger it!”.
But the season progress or the lack of it is evident. The warning, if you call that warning, (selling or discharging 8 regulars from a 1st XI squad is akin to dismantling a structure brick by brick) has been blaring all summer. Those of the fleeting disposition withdrew their season ticket money and probably banked under the latest club to be sponsored by a Sheikh. Those who didn’t, wanted to probably confirm their worst fears even while maintaining a brave face.
The circumstances of the season is quite damning. Two home losses in first three games – the first time since 1930 and even then the conquering clubs were Juventus and Fiorentina. Sampdoria and Atalanta, were promoted to Serie A this year and last year respectively. More than the defeats, it has been the listlessness that is pervading much of Milan’s play is concerning. It seems almost that these players rush up with the ball, and then don’t know what to do in the final third.
Now pause and take a moment. Did any of these players play differently in the last 2 seasons under Allegri? They actually played Zlatan-ball. Rush up and give it to Zlatan. There were a couple of players who would create the final passes and they were Seedorf and Cassano. Both have left. The one man who would loft those accurate passes from the back – Thiago Silva is not there either. The man in midfield who would block those goal bound shots – van Bommel, well he isn’t there either. The snatcher in midfield – Rino is out on pasture at Sion. The other snatcher – Sulley Muntari is out injured for half the season.
So what is the way forward? The most obvious one is to sack Allegri and opt for Tassotti maybe or some other old manager (Lippi?). Will that resolve the problems? Not likely. Despite all of Allegri’s tactical misgivings, this particular stretch also requires to understand some other aspects.
The Injury Spectre
Of the first XI, 4 players are out injured. If fit, the following should be automatic selections – Pato, Montolivo, Zapata and Mexes. There may be some misgivings about Mexes but when Bonera is the alternative, the preference goes for Mexes’ unpredictable solidity over Bonera’s predictable mediocrity. With the departure of Seedorf, Ibra and Aquilani, it is Montolivo who remains the only creative outlet. The problem is he had the Euros and then didn’t get much time to acclimatise with the team. In the first match of the league, he played as a deep-lying midfielder as Ambrosini was injured. With Ambro returning and de Jong signed, Montolivo can play further up. Zapata is again one of those things you don’t really know. Is he fit? Is he carrying an old injury? Why isn’t the most high profile defensive capture of Milan not yet on the field. Pato divides Milanisti right down the middle. But admit it, there isn’t a better goal scorer in the Milan ranks if (and it is the biggest if of all) he is fit.
Now put these 4 men in the starting XI. Will that make the team competitive? Yes. Will the listless play disappear? No.
For that we come to Allegri’s tactical choices. Milan have bossed the possession in both their matches. But there has hardly been any movement which creates scoring chances inside the box. The old habit of waiting for Ibra-brilliance to get goals will not work. The runners from midfield – Nocerino and Flamini are not getting those second and third balls because there is no one up there to hold on to the ball and then lay it on for an advanced runner. Boateng doesn’t have the creativity of a trequartista to consistently provide final balls for someone like Pazzini.
Now De Sciglio has proved to be a capable right-back. Pushing Abate up and trying two wingers – Abate and Urby – is one option. Pazzini is at his most dangerous when there is continuous supply of crosses. Robinho can be the jack of all trades alongside Pazzini. So with Pato unfit, a 4-4-1-1 would probably be the best option, which can become a 4-2-3-1 when Milan are pushing matches at home.
Alternative XI(4-4-1-1): Abbiati; De Sciglio, Zapata, Mexes, Antonini; Abate, De Jong, Montolivo, Urby; Robinho; Pazzini
Pato, Boateng, Nocerino can all fit into this broad mosaic either in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1.
The two biggest requirements of Milan were to get a left-back who would not veer towards comical clearances and a defensive anchorman. Bakaye Traore was the supposed anchorman. But his prowess didn’t extend to Serie A level, leave alone Champions League level. With Ambrosini fit only for a match a week at best, Nigel de Jong becomes Milan’s most important player. They will be lucky if he stays card-free and injury-free. Without an anchorman in the midfield, it would not be possible to guard a defence as porous as Pato’s bones. Getting Muntari back to assist de Jong is the best possible situation. Milan
When the club is not performing, the speculation on the manager is the biggest. Allegri has had 2 seasons at Milan and finished #1 and #2. It is unlikely that he would have diminished his credit with the fans on the basis of that. Some would like to say that Milan’s best performances in last year were despite Allegri. That simply is not possible in a league as tactically exhaustive as Serie A. But the Milan of last 2 years is not visible in this current squad. This Milan is less technical but more pacy.
The Mister has to utilize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses based on what players he has got. The idea should be to create a team based on grit, stamina and pace. But above all there has to be a clear plan in place to unlock defences. That has been missing in all 3 Serie A matches played so far. The Champions League will test all of Allegri’s abilities to make the team perform beyond the drudgery of the last 3 matches.