Coach Leonardo might have put on a brave face following his side’s mediocre draw with Livorno, yet the unconvincing performance does not ease the intense pressure weighing on the Brazilian’s shoulders.
The Rossoneri had two weeks to make the necessary adjustments and recapture some of the pride lost following the Milan derby fiasco. The Brazilian Tactician made a number of expected changes by fielding Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Massimo Ambrosini and Clarence Seedorf from the start. He certainly sprung a major surprise by not playing Andrea Pirlo, perhaps with an eye on the Champions League opener against Marseille on Tuesday. He also wisely rested Gianluca Zambrotta while his decision to stick with Marek Jankulovski was baffling. To Leonardo’s despair, the key to the success of his formation was almost exclusively in the hands of the underperforming Ronaldinho. The Brazilian attacking midfielder looked out of sorts and he certainly seems like a shadow of the player who graced the Spanish Liga. In his current form Ronaldinho no longer strikes fear in opposing defenders and fails to silence the supporters of clubs hosting Milan or traveling to the San Siro.
Only when Pirlo replaced the Brazilian misfit did Il Diavolo start creating chances and the Italian international almost sealed the win with a free-kick that hit the bar. Even more troubling than Ronaldinho’s poor display is the fact that Milan’s bench seems devoid of any talent that can make instant impact or change the result of a match. The clash with Livorno has once again confirmed two things: the Rossoneri will look to focus on the Champions League and the club is short on quality players who can make a difference during a match. While Leonardo will continue to be criticised for his decisions, it has become quite clear that fault does not entirely lie with the Brazilian. While his Juventus counterpart Ciro Ferrara was given a number of key signings, Leonardo simply has to deal with an aging squad that really lost its heart and soul when Kaka was sold and Captain Paolo Maldini retired. Milan’s only significant moves were the late signings of Dutch striker Huntelaar and the capture of Brazilian Thiago Silva. While the Brazilian defender is gradually yet surely settling in, Huntelaar has so far struggled to fit in.
The expected return of the injured Italians Rino Gattuso and Marco Borriello will surely add depth to the squad yet not necessarily from the quality standpoint since neither players are renowned for their flair and skills. Italian international Gattuso is certainly a fighter and will battle for every ball yet his physical decline is well documented. Borriello, on the other hand, will provide muscle and a solid presence in the penalty area yet he is no creator of chances by any means. Milan’s leadership ought to delve into the market during the transfer window in January in order to provide cover for Pirlo in the playmaking role or at least acquire a forward who can create his own chances. Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato is an emerging force yet he also prefers to be on the receiving end of scoring opportunities as opposed to creating chances for others. Moving to the back-line, Czech Marek Jankulovski will soon have to be replaced and Georgian Kakha Kaladze does not seem like the appropriate alternative nor is he confident enough to claim the left-back position. On the other flank, Italian international Zambrotta can still provide some cover but only in spurts due to his aging legs. Again, as previously discussed and evidently outlined in the last few editions of this segment, the best choice for Leonardo would be to switch from a 4-3-1-2 to a 3-5-2 (or a 3-4-1-2) since it will enable the Rossoneri to compensate for the lack of quality full-backs while also covering the weaknesses upfront.
Off the field, it does appear as though Milan’s hierarchy is waging its best on a solid run in the Champions League and that translated on to the pitch with the Brazilian Coach’s choices. He rested Zambrotta and only introduced Pirlo after noticing how toothless the team’s forward line performed in his absence. Leonardo might have also gambled on the Dutchman Seedorf creating some openings yet it is clear that Brazilian hero Kaka is sorely missed. Unfortunately, the Milan squad is not deep enough to compete for Serie A, yet sadly it is not talented enough to go all the way in the Champions League either. In Italy, the likes of Genoa and Fiorentina appear to be better equipped to finish the season above the Rossoneri while in Europe there is an embarrassment of riches amongst elite clubs of England and Spain, not to mention Italian rivals Inter and Juventus. Il Diavolo will get a reminder first hand of how tough it will be to conquer Europe when the club faces Real Madrid and former fan-favourite Kaka. It would not be a shock to see Milan stutter against Marseille either since the French team is certainly primed to create surprises this season following some fine tuning to the squad. If the Rossoneri’s Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani are looking for redemption in Europe, then they must only look at the domestic rivals of Los Galacticos to realize how far behind they have fallen off in Europe. Barcelona remain the team to beat in Europe as the Catalans are spearheaded by a phenomenal star in the form of Lionel Messi who is surrounded by talented players such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
It remains to be seen how far il Diavolo’s overstretched squad can go in the European competition while also attempting to juggle domestic duties. The impetus is on the Rossoneri’s leadership to make a few purchases in January in order to strengthen the team. Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano was certainly welcoming of the opportunity to move from Spain and play for the San Siro outfit yet Milan’s management apparently balked at his price. In recent times, Milan was also rumoured to be interested in Genoa and Italy defender Domenico Criscito while Brazilian Rafinha who plies his trade with Schalke in Germany. If Milan sign those three players, a lot of Leonardo’s problems will cease and then he can show whether he is capable of bringing back the glory days. The current indications are that Milan’s leadership will not be willing to spend enough to meet the asking price for these three players. In the meantime, Leonardo must regroup and make sure his team leaves behind its league misery to focus on a fresh and positive start against Marseille in Europe.
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
Serie A slides down priority list – September 15, 2009