Coach Massimiliano Allegri has sent his strongest message yet about his willingness to change whenever necessary in order to improve the results achieved by the club. Following a tough week involving three difficult matches, including the Champions League draw with Real Madrid, Allegri has made it clear he will not shy away from making adjustments when he deems it fit. The Coach had some criticism for young Seleção star Alexandre Pato and decided to bench the attacker for the Bari trip. Pato responded by firing the third goal for Milan and securing all three points since Bari were able to close the gap to 3-2 towards the end of the match.
It was not just that Pato scored after coming in for his compatriot Robinho, but rather the manner with which he took his goal displaying exquisite skills and neat footwork before unleashing an unstoppable shot with his left foot to the bottom corner. Pato showed he is still Milan’s best attacking option to partner Zlatan Ibrahimović as Robinho failed to shine and was guilty of wasting a couple of easy scoring opportunities. Coach Allegri did not limit his surprising changes to Pato but also chose to rest Andrea Pirlo and did not yield to pressure to start veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi after his valuable double against Los Galácticos in Europe. Rossoneri Vice-President Adriano Galliani was forced to quell any talk of a potential departure for Inzaghi during the January transfer window as the goal poacher is unhappy with his lack of playing time. Many expected Inzaghi to start once Pato was benched yet the former World Cup winner was on the bench and did not even come on as a substitute.
As if Allegri picked the Bari clash to make a statement, he also picked veteran defender Mario Yepes to partner Alessandro Nesta ahead of the younger Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who could play as either a right-back or centre-back. These choices, while they might seem minor to some, were a clear statement by Allegri to the players and the critics to indicate that he is calling the shots and to prove he is capable of ushering change in retaliation to those who claimed he has been inflexible. The tactician also chose to keep the out of sorts Ronaldinho on the bench in another desperate move perhaps intended to warn the Brazilian maestro he needs to work hard to get back to his best.
The major concern for Allegri following the weekend win has to be the ease with which Milan have been conceding goals, the club shipped in six goals in three matches with each of Juventus, Real and Bari scoring twice. All of these goals could have been avoided if the Rossoneri were better at closing down space and if they did not afford opposition players ample time inside the penalty box. Milan’s defensive frailties are well documented at this stage but they are not down to just the defensive line. The aging and slow midfield must also shoulder part of the blame and Allegri’s attempt to field three tough tackling midfielders in Massimo Ambrosini, Gennaro Gattuso and Mathieu Flamini at the same time did not seem a success in creating greater confidence in the Rossoneri defence. Yepes at 34-years-old is obviously the wrong choice to partner another veteran in Nesta, who also happens to be 34, since the defence looked even slower than usual. The return of Thiago Silva is mandatory in order for Milan to continue to challenge in Serie A and perhaps have a run deep into the latter stages of the Champions League. In his absence, Sokratis should be given the opportunity to prove himself since the other option, Daniele Bonera, has been sidelined with injury as well.
Another concern for Allegri is the form of Brazilian Ronaldinho. The tactician has failed to get the best out of Ronaldinho and perhaps his lack of experience compared to Carlo Ancelotti is showing while former Rossoneri boss Leonardo had the advantage of being Brazilian and knowing Ronaldinho better. Things must be kept in perspective since this is Allegri’s first season in charge of a prestigious club and he is struggling to reign in big egos such as Ibrahimović. The Barcelona striker has been vocal at times and has not restrained himself in training as shown by two separate incidents with teammates. In his latest tirade, Ibra claimed he feels most comfortable playing with Inzaghi as opposed to any of the Brazilian trio since he can move freely while partnering the veteran. The Brazilians tend to restrict him since they are mobile and by nature roam freely around the penalty area in order to create space and scoring opportunities. This is unlikely to cause any issues at the moment but if Ibrahimović continues to be vocal then he could create friction by distancing himself from some of his teammates.