Club Focus – Milan – Leonardo stumbles upon the 4-2-3-1

It was not pretty, but it was so very important. Beating Chievo 2-1 does not appear to be particularly noteworthy, but when placed into the context of the other Week 9 results, it is a scoreline that could prove to be the moment upon which momentum was gained. The three teams occupying 4th place down – Fiorentina, Parma and Genoa – all lost their fixtures, leaving Milan with a chance to draw level with those in the all-important Champions League places by taking all three points.

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The Rossoneri just about managed it, but it was a struggle. We are all used to the kind of performance we witnessed. It will not change, only perhaps for the odd game, so the best solution for everybody is to accept it, for now. That will not stop us highlighting aspects that are hindering performance – namely the attack – nor following with great interest Leonardo stumbling upon one tactical solution after another. For the past four games, the team has been deployed in four different systems. Success has been attributed, to differing degrees, to each new solution, yet we must recognise more than just the position on the field that the players happen to be standing if we are to uncover the genuine reasons for success.

Having spent so long watching 4-3-1-2 fail miserably, he decided to ‘listen to the players’ and play 4-4-2 against Roma – even though Milan has not been a 4-4-2 team for almost a decade. Of course, this was always destined to fail, because the squad does not have the players to fulfil the requirements of this formation effectively. A change was enforced on the Brazilian Coach at half-time – a 4-3-3 system was implemented due to Ignazio Abate’s injury and subsequent withdrawal. The 2-1 victory seemed to have convinced Leonardo that this was the way forward, a system he had intended to introduce in pre-season, but which he stopped after just two games when he realised the squad was not really suited to this style either. Nevertheless, he felt it was good enough to get a result at Real Madrid, except it was not. Attacking play was non-existent – Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato did not receive enough of the ball, and the midfield seemed more intent on ensuring they were in a nice straight line than actually supporting the forwards. Cue half-time tactical change number two, which saw Clarence Seedorf pushed further forward to morph the module into a 4-2-3-1.

The resulting 2-3 win saw heaps of praise being lavished upon Leonardo. Adriano Galliani stated that it was due to his “courage” and “bravery” (for playing Seedorf in the same team as Ronaldinho and Pato) that the turnaround was successful – it was not. In fact, the tactical switch had only a minor effect. Of the three goals scored in the second half, one was a special strike from Andrea Pirlo and the other was a gift from Iker Casillas. The winning goal came from a lovely lofted pass from Seedorf, yet the defending was appalling – any team who leaves Pato with the amount of room he was given last Wednesday is asking to concede. They may not encounter too many teams with a better front line than Madrid, but they will certainly come across teams with greater defensive ability.

This brings us, rather nicely, back to Sunday evening’s game. Chievo – a team who can defend far better than Real Madrid, even if individually their players are inferior. Defending is about working as a unit and Domenico Di Carlo’s men gave a demonstration in this art for 80 minutes, before being overwhelmed by the pressure applied by Milan. Leonardo, for his part, continued with the trend outlined – having seen victory come with a 4-2-3-1, he decided to stick with this for the match at the Bentegodi. Seedorf was pushed up, as he was in Madrid, to give an outlet through the centre. It looked like it was going to fail – Leo even made yet another half-time change, although this time not quite as major, by switching Ronaldinho and Seedorf’s respective positions, meaning the Brazilian was behind the striker and the Dutchman was wide-left. The key to victory however – and the improved second-half performance – was an increase in the tempo – specifically movement of the ball.

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Instead of the slow and ponderous attempts at forward play that was offered in the first 45 minutes, the second saw the ball move from defence to attack at a much quicker pace. Chievo no longer had as much time to stroll back into their positions and defend effectively as a unit. The change in speed of ball movement – and it was very visible to anybody watching – unsettled Chievo initially, so much so that the Rossoneri could have scored three goals in the first 10 minutes after the restart. It is perplexing why this could not be done in the first half. The pressure from Chievo was not particularly high, or constant – it never usually is from Italian teams. Pirlo and Mathieu Flamini had ample time and space to move the ball, so quite why it took until the second half for this to be quick enough to create chances is strange. There is no doubt that the formation is the correct one at this moment. The individual behind the striker is important, because it gives the two midfielders somebody to offload the ball centrally, as opposed to all passes being directed wide, which is a ploy that any tactically aware Coach will notice and stop (even Real Madrid looked solid when this was happening in the first-half last Wednesday evening). Unfortunately, it does not squeeze the best from Pato, who is by far and away Milan’s best attacking player, but right now results are far more important than an individual, and for the first time this season Milan are getting results.

Milan Club Focus 2009/10

Pre-season


Pre-season expectation
– August 18, 2009

Week 1


Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure
– August 25, 2009

Week 2


Kaka returns to the San Siro
– August 27, 2009


How to play 4-3-1-2, a lesson from their rivals
– September 1, 2009


Reshuffle the current squad, regain the winning mentality
– September 4, 2009

International week (Georgia-Italy, Italy-Bulgaria)


Leonardo’s time to react
– September 7, 2009

Week 3


Livorno springs opportunity to end crisis
– September 11, 2009


Serie A slides down priority list
– September 15, 2009


Leonardo lurches into decision-making territory
– September 18, 2009

Week 4


Off the pitch rumours continue to swirl
– September 22, 2009

Week 5


Old legs cannot win forever, will Berlusconi follow in Della Valle’s footsteps?
– September 25, 2009

Week 6


A powerhouse that no longer strikes fear
– September 29, 2009

Week 7


Time is running out to save il Diavolo’s season
– October 2, 2009


A draw as bitter as a defeat
– October 6, 2009


The club is not for sale
– October 9, 2009

International week (Republic of Ireland-Italy, Italy-Cyprus)


In search of strikers and defenders
– October 13, 2009

Week 8


Berlusconi reiterates he will not sell as the Rossoneri prepare for Roma
– October 16, 2009


Brazilian duo see off Roma
– October 20, 2009

Week 9


Rossoneri record famous win in Madrid
– October 23, 2009


Leonardo stumbles upon the 4-2-3-1
– October 27, 2009

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