Two weeks have passed yet it is quite hard for Milan’s players to deny the residual effect of the trouncing at the hands of Inter. Rossoneri captain Massimo Ambrosini, who just renewed his contract till season 2010/11, has publicly blared that the club is still reeling from the lopsided defeat in the Milan derby.
The midfielder’s admission by no means covers the extent of damage inflicted on the morale of the players following that crushing loss to Inter. With the media agitation continuing to target il Diavolo’s poor showing against la Beneamata, the match versus Livorno could not come any sooner for Coach Leonardo. The Brazilian Tactician desperately needs to get a positive result on Saturday in order to relieve some of the pressure off his players and to answer his growing chorus of critics. Ambrosini’s comments about preferring to play a few days after the trouncing certainly prove that the players wanted to put the result behind them as soon as possible.
The upcoming match against Labronici will give Leonardo the opportunity, albeit an enforced one due to Marco Borriello’s injury, to finally play Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from the start. The former Real Madrid striker has been lobbying for a starring role the past few days. The Dutchman declared that he wants to prove his worth in Italy after spending much of last season warming the bench with Los Blancos. He marked his second-half appearance with a late goal for the Netherlands in the friendly against Japan and despite having few opportunities in Spain, Huntelaar was still able to score eight goals in 20 appearances.
While Brazilian Alexandre Pato will obviously partner Huntelaar, the other areas of the team will pose more concerns for Leonardo. Right-back Gianluca Zambrotta played twice for Italy and, thus, will be playing his third game in a week despite his waning physical attributes. Zambrotta’s form has been in constant decline following World Cup glory and he can no longer cover his position properly during a full 90 minutes let alone play with the same intensity three times over a one-week period. Gone are the days of his trademark forays back and forth on either flank for the Azzurri and his club. A bold yet wise decision would be to rest him on Saturday since Livorno will serve as the perfect opportunity to test alternatives in the full-back position and even to alter the team formation from a 4-3-1-2 to 3-5-2 given the circumstances of the past week.
To begin with, central defensive pair Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva should have fresh legs since they were not on international duty. While his return to competitive football was a disaster as he scored two own goals for Italy, Georgian defender Kakha Kaladze at least had a run and should be available for selection. Given Milan’s limited options, it would suit the team tactics more if they played with a three man defense marshaled by Nesta. This will provide ample time for Zambrotta to recover while also eliminating unimpressive Czech left-back Marek Jankulovski from the whole equation. The tifosi must be hoping that Leonardo was watching the Azzurri so as to take cue from Marcello Lippi’s use of Andrea Pirlo in a more forward position in the midfield. Moving Pirlo further up the field yields many benefits as witnessed by Italy’s improved performance in the 2-0 win over Bulgaria. He can create the occasional gem, such as his assist on Fabio Grosso’s opening goal for la Nazionale, and he will waste less energy tracking back leaving those duties to more physical players such as Frenchman Mathieu Flamini. Alongside Flamini, a buoyant captain Ambrosini should start given Rino Gattuso’s injury and the fact he renewed his contract with the club so he ought to be raring to go. The other two players to fill the midfield spots will pick themselves automatically in the shape of midfielder Clarence Seedorf and the enigmatic Brazilian Ronaldinho.
Both the Dutchman and Ronaldinho have much to prove. While Seedorf did not put in a dismal performance against the Nerazzurri and actually was one of the very few decent performers, he will be looking to silence once and for all those detractors who blamed him for stalling when asked to replace the injured Gattuso (Kindly refer to previous segments of the Milan Club Focus for clarification on this issue). As for Ronaldinho, even Coach Leonardo questioned his commitment prior to the Siena game following which he put in a decent performance and received glowing reviews. The onus is on Ronaldinho to once again deliver a committed display. If he continues to float during matches then Milan’s best remedy is to bench him and use him as an impact substitute in the last 20 to 30 minutes when he will have more impetus to prove himself.
Many of the supporters will have reminisced when witnessing a team of Milan legends face their Real Madrid counterparts in a tribute match for the deserving Stefano Borgonovo. The likes of Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta would have tightened up the current defense while Roberto Baggio would offer the unpredictable and supply Marco van Basten and George Weah with scoring opportunities. The Rossoneri fans would certainly delight in turning back the clock and in having those great players fly the Milan colours. For the sake of keeping score, Milan edged out Los Blancos 2-0. Ironically, the two sides, albeit using their current lineups, will face off in the near future and no-one can bet against Leonardo gleefully accepting a 2-0 win to vindicate his role as il Diavolo’s boss. Surely, he would have picked Leonardo the player over the Coach despite the former’s indiscipline.
Milan Club Focus 2009/10
Pre-season expectation – August 18, 2009
Leonardo breathes as Brazilians relieve pressure – August 25, 2009
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
Livorno springs opportunity to end crisis – September 11, 2009