Club Focus – Milan – Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure

We probably should not be at all surprised. An atrocious pre-season, albeit capped off with a penalty shoot-out victory over Juventus, presented some serious warning signs for the coming campaign. Yet, upon the start of the new season, the Rossoneri were able to produce a win to kick start the campaign. More important than the three points however, was the performance – which unlike those in pre-season, offered some fantastically positive points to take away.

The attack has long been considered a weakness of the squad, something which has translated into matches time and time again. As such, it was pleasing to see variety in the attacking third of the pitch, even if the only sources were Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato. This will undoubtedly prove a problem in the matches against the better sides – Siena are unlikely to be a top-10 outfit in Serie A this year – so Leonardo cannot rest yet. Pato was utilised in the position he claimed was his best, playing as a second striker. He was given plenty of freedom to roam, often appearing on the left and right hand sides. It allowed him to find space, but there were times when he should really have been in the centre so that his good work would have a greater effect. The damage he can cause when in the middle was there for all to see – nobody can possibly complain about a two goal return, but less time spent out wide will increase his productivity.

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For this to occur, the team requires width. The system utilised on Saturday is not conducive to providing readily available wide options. The full-backs are the only options, and this means they will have a lot of running to do throughout a 90 minutes. Milan’s Brazilian Tactician is not satisfied with his current options in this area, as shown by his desire to sign a player in this position. Right-back does not appear to be too much of a pressing issue, as despite his age and his defensive skills on the wane, Gianluca Zambrotta is still good enough for the club. The problem lies on the left hand side. Marek Jankulovski is getting worse defensively with each passing season. Siena’s goalscorer, Abdoul Ghezzal, was allowed to wander to within two yards of goal, drifting past the Czech left-back in the process. A marauding left-back, in the mould of a Zambrotta at his peak, is what Leonardo would like. That way, width is provided on either side, and Pato can get back to creating problems in the centre, where he can really make a difference.

The other Brazilian superstar in the team, Ronaldinho, showed glimpses of his old self. It was not a complete return to the level of 2006, in fact it was only a small fraction of that. It certainly was not a showcase of magnificent Brazilian talent that some would have us all believe. The key word that sums up the No.80’s performance is one we have already mentioned – productivity. He was instrumental in both goals, but most significantly we saw a desire to want to make things happen. His passing was clever, creative and intelligent. The positioning was such that he could receive the ball in areas where he could best cause damage. The opposition needs to be accounted for, as he will not get this space against good teams. The former Barça man will have to work harder when teams with good defensive plans pitch up at the San Siro. Nevertheless, it was a good, if small, indication that he just might be a protagonist this season.

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However, he will need assistance, particularly from those in midfield behind him. The ball is still being moved far too slowly. It is a trademark of the team to slow the tempo and control the game, but at the moment there is not enough pace to be able to increase this quickly. Good teams will simply use the slow transition offence as an advantage, allowing the defensive unit to set themselves and prepare to deal with the threat of the Rossoneri’s Brazilian duo in attack. Leonardo really does need to get on top of his midfield, with the primary instruction being to vary the passing. We have spoken about variety from the attack, but it also needs to come from midfield for a truly effective attacking game plan. Succeed with this, and the Scudetto might not be too far out of reach.

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