tirsdag den 7. september 2010

2010/11 Team previews: AC Milan

Delayed, but better late than never, here the first of my early season fashionable late team previews/reports and it is none other than AC Milan.

Next should be either Chelsea or Roma. Maybe Real Madrid! Whatever gets me going I guess...

Will also take suggestions. Preferably from these though (my list):

Bayern München
Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid
Manchester United
Lyon (only maybe)
Marseille (only maybe)
Dortmund (only maybe)
Werder Bremen (only maybe)
Schalke (only maybe)
Sampdoria (only maybe)
Manchester City
Aston Villa (only maybe)

AC Milan

For most of the off-season it looked to be the same old of modest renewal of the aging Milan squad that their fans have had to endure in recent years. But then just before the end of the deadline they signed, first Zlatan Ibrahimovic, in a deal that made huge news mostly described as a steal from Barcelona, and then as an extra bonus unsettled Brazilian trickster Robinho from Manchester City.

The formerly oh so dynamic duo of Galliani and Berlusconi truly turning back the years.

And just like that in a matter of very few days the whole mood surrounding the club turned around and there is now as much excitement as there have been in years.

Like last year with Leonardo there is also a new coach in town, this time it's Massimiliano Allegri who impressed everyone at Cagliari but who also face enough of last season's challenges for me (before we really get going with the current) to quote something I wrote in last year's preview:


Ronaldinho is the number one in the world, in midfield (wing) he is totally wasted," he suggested.

"If he was playing on the edge of the area, he would be able to punish the opposition more and score more goals. It is the most intelligent solution from a tactical point of view."

Some things just never change and while the coach is new there is still the same old challenge of channeling Berlusconi's "insight" into something workable on the pitch.

The people who did this most successfully was of course legendary coaches Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello. They both stayed strong to their particular formulas of winning and off the pitch Berlusconi could use that succes to build his career in politics.

Even now somewhat forgotten star coach Alberto Zaccheroni, stayed true to his unique 3-4-3 system and secured a scudetto.
At the first sign of things going bad Zaccheroni was sacked though. Following a 2001 Champions League quaterfinal knockout against Deportivo La Coruna, Berlusconi in the middle of a busy election campaign took time to make it very clear on live tv afterwards that he didn't agree with many of the tactical choices that were made. "Tonight we saw that I was not wrong" was his quote, and that Zaccheroni's days as the Milan coach were numbered.

A couple of years before that, even Fabio Capello had felt Berlusconi's wrath as soon as things weren't going well and ended his second spell with the club getting sacked.
Granted things were very ugly at that point but this was the most succesful coach in the world who after winning everything with Milan had gone to Spain and just won La Liga in his first spell there with Real Madrid.
A couple of years later Capello in perhaps his finest achievement lead Roma to the title. Then Juventus. Then Madrid again. This man was far from done and obviously a great coach but also someone probably not very likely to implement Berlusconi's tactical input on to the pitch.

Sure finishing with a goalscore of 36-15 in 34 games (drawing 12-losing 3) as Capello's Milan team amazingly did in 1993-1994 was acceptable when also winning the title, but the first sign of that kind of football not transformed into great results, surely Berlusconi himself will have the best ideas of what to do instead!
Capello however I'm sure would not feel that way. Zaccheroni didn't.
Sacchi actually was also sacked, probably doing exactly what he had done before just not with the same results, ending his brief second spell with club.

One man who kept lasting though was of course Carlo Ancelotti. He won (just) one Scudetto in 8 years.
Of course his great succes in the Champions League where the team should have won 3 trophies instead of the two they did win helped a lot, but with plenty of dry spells during his long run as the coach, I strongly suspect that an important part of his quite remarkable staying power had to do with his willingness to listen to Berlusconi's insight when things weren't going well.

So with that, enter rookie coach Leonardo and his already shown willingness to play Ronaldinho where Silvio feels it's right. That's encouraging right? Well for Leonardo's staying power it is.

Of course the last two sentences proved incorrect. As described plenty in both the Pirlo writeup and the Ronaldinho one on my list, Leonardo (now without a job) quickly moved away from playing Ronaldinho in a forward role central (from what I remember he only really did it in that Berlusconi Trophy game which I had just watched when writing that) and instead parked him way out left. From my Ronaldinho entry on the best players in the world list:

While he is still a supremely skilled player he has been something of a team killer in recent years. Killer of his own teams that is.

Because of what I presume must be poor physical condition, cause he is still only 29 which is a decent football age, he just doesn't have any movement without the ball anymore.
That he doesn't work when his team isn't in possession is not anything new of course. That's never been his role in the first place. But when he never makes runs or has movement off the ball he is generally just too easy to mark.
Then when he 4 or 5 times a game he will make a run he will often be too out of breath to do anything effectively once he gets the ball.
Too often it has seemed like he wasn't able to keep up with the tempo at the highest level anymore, which when you think about it is pretty sad for a 29 year old who among millions of people is still one of the utmost talented this game.

Personally I'm convinced that a significant part of Barcelona's historic improvement from the last season under Rijkaard to first season under Guardiola was the black hole that had become Ronaldinho wherever he was on the pitch now being gone from the lineup.
His extreme case of non work simply limited the team in too many ways. With the ball he reduced the movement of the whole team and without it, for starters, something like effective pressure on opponent possession could never be very effective.

Even last season in what was his debut season for Milan it was when Ancelotti started benching him that results finally improved for Milan and they started a rapid climb up the table. Coincidence? I think not!

So why is this clown even on the list? Why is this season different?

It really isn't that much different from what I can tell. I still see many of the same negative things from him and him now being given a whole left-wing to occupy in a 4-3-3 by new Milan coach Leonardo, where he can then mostly stand still or sometimes go for walks, he still hurts his team's balance consistently throughout games.

But what can't be denied is that he is an extraordinary playmaker when he gets the ball out there.
He doesn't really have the energy/pace/whatever to dribble much anymore, but he'll make great passes that very few can even think of. Short, forward, long, diagonal or cross, he'll do it all and with two other forwards to look for and a player like Seedorf coming from behind often ending up somewhere near him, he's been quite effective lately and he leads Serie A in assists. It's when Milan doesn't have the ball where the real trouble starts but with it and Ronaldinho, parked out on the wing, he has actually become value.

Leonardo seems to have just accepted that off the ball Ronaldinho just isn't good enough anymore in order to not be, a way too easy mark so to speak, so he has placed him so far out left field that he really is beyond normal marking unless you wanna man mark him for some reason.
For long periods of the game he is just out there almost glued to the sideline and yeah most players wouldn't be able do much of anything from out there especially not when they're slow and not much of a threat to cut well inside, but Ronaldinho he'll somehow make things happen from out there.
Say one great first touch, follow it up with some genius pass and the man (the clown) has created a dangerous situation, and that without much effort at all.

He is too skilled not to be on the list :(

In short the Ronaldinho of the last 3-4 years simply hasn't had either the strength, acceleration or most importantly the needed off the ball movement to be able to function central where space is tightest.
Then with almost all his value being when he has the ball, in order for him to get it enough to justify him even playing, he has been placed way out left, beyond normal marking where the other players can find him with relative ease. Then hope for the best.

Make no mistake about it Allegri now has a better team than what Leonardo had but how he solves the Ronaldinho question and how it relates to the rest of the lineup+Berlusconi's enjoyment voyering the whole thing, I still think is the most important challenge he faces.

What has made the situation even more tricky is the extra bonus gift from Silvio in the form of Robinho. One Allegri admits that he didn't expect but of course now has to deal with.

Him and Ronaldinho has played the same position for years. It was Robinho who took over there on the Brazil national team.

Is getting Robinho a sneaky Silvio ploy to get Ronaldinho where he wants him on the field, in the middle behind the huge striker upgrade that is Ibrahimovic, both scoring goals?

That extremely attacking lineup which I don't think there is any doubt Allegri is under pressure to showcase sooner rather than later, would have Robinho on the left, Ibrahimovic in the center, Pato as right forward and right behind them (I'm sure switching a lot with Robinho which would be a must I think) the clown prince, Ronaldinho himself.

The two midfielders that leaves room for would then I'm guessing be Pirlo and Ambrosini.

Last year under Leonardo we often saw a very unbalanced Milan side with 3 forwards that didn't participate in defensive play and a midfield then, when not ran over, standing very deep to avoid just that, getting run over. A lot of teams then basically had a acres of space on their way to the Milan final third.

Some opponents took advantage of that better than others. In many games I found myself surprised it didn't end worse for Milan and I clearly expected more games like the ones against Manchester United in the Champions League and the defeats not least against Palermo in Serie A. But no matter what though, I have little doubt it was that very unbalance that was the main contributor stopping Milan from being enough of a consistent winner to compete all the way for the title.

And what would this Allegri extreme attacking lineup part II be then?

For starters it's even more attacking than Leonardo's and it's clearly also more talented.

Ronaldinho for all his flaws is a genius with a football. Robinho is one of the most talented attacking players in the world and Ibrahimovic and Pato are two of the best. Few teams will be able to stop that kind of talent from scoring.

There is obviously very little defending though and the team is likely to find itself in situations with not enough men behind the ball too often to not concede.

Allegri of course knows this perfectly well and one early sign of change that he has implemented (mind you this is with the 4-3-3 without either of Robinho and Ibrahimovic) to try and create more cohesion and balance is that he has moved the back four up the pitch which is a clear change from Leonardo's very deep defending.

That of course has its own risks and is clearly gambling but I think it's better than what clearly isn't gonna cut it in the long run, playing without people in midfield, either deep in the opponent half or deep in your own. He is simply making the pitch smaller. Something that of course has a rich AC Milan tradition where Arrigo Sacchi build his success on that working to perfection.

For Allegri's Milan I can't see it working that well at all, you just have to look at the characteristics of the current players and compare them to a team like Sacchi's that was build for it with not least Rijkaard's physicality in the pressure game but runners like Ancelotti and Evani as well. Even Gullit (when healthy) and Donadoni played their important parts. Then behind the midfield Baresi was the revolutionary master at pushing the back four up in essential support.

On the current team, when the attacking player I see as most likely to put in a decent defensive effort that includes ball pressure is Robinho, then I don't think that is something which bodes very well.

Ronaldinho and Ibrahimovic will do nothing. Pato has the physique and it is possible that in lineups this year not as heavily dependent on his fantastic presence in the final third as they were at times last season, that he can bring an effort as well with at least some burden there lifted from his shoulders.

In a way replace that now gone burden with a new defensive one so to speak. It's hardly given it's something that could be relied on though.

In midfield players like Ambrosini, Flamini, Gattuso and interesting newcomer Kevin Prince Boateng can all to various extents do the needed job. Like midfielders should. But there are only two midfield spots left and one of those must be Pirlo's right? A player not build for Sacchi ball pressure at all but who can at least get by defensively with his positioning when playing deep.

Even if Allegri did the in my opinion criminal (and I'll get to why in a bit) and sacrificed Pirlo for one of the midfielders capable of the defensive effort, I still have my serious doubts if it would be enough and Allegri's team still not be one too often defending with only 6 or less players. It's not like fullbacks always stay back either (those orders couldn't even save Maradona's actually less attacking Argentina lineup).

No, then keeping orchestrator Pirlo in the lineup and go for that other, "even-maker" when it comes to making up for lack of defensive players, overwhelming possession=less defending to do, might be a better gamble. Even if I still suspect it's one (unlike prime attacking example Barcelona with their great immediate pressure on the ballholder) that will be countered too often to be truly successful. Interestingly enough not dissimilar to the last Barcelona side that had Ronaldinho starting.

For me the strongest Milan lineup is very obvious and one only made more so because of the early encouraging signs of the 4-3-3 tactically playing higher up and the addition of Robinho.

Stay away from the insane 4-2-3-1 that has all of the stars (Robinho,Ibra,Pato,Dinho) in one giant dysfunctional attacking basket and keep with the 4-3-3 significantly upgraded tactically, balance-wise with the arrival of Allegri on the bench and upgraded on the player front massively with Ibrahimovic over Borriello and yes also (the one thing that really amazes me that I don't see talked about anywhere and there is plenty of discussion and articles on this new Milan everywhere) with Robinho over Ronaldinho on the left.

That to me is the logical step but signals from everywhere, the club, its fans and journalists, seems to be either all four of them playing or Robinho, not Ronaldinho, as kind of a supersub joker coming from the bench.

While I do think that's the lesser evil of the two and might work very well with the upgrade that's Ibrahimovic and a healthy Pato (healthy Nesta in back would really help too) it's still a team I have my doubts if really, to use sporting director's Galliani's own words, can compete with anyone and be one of the very best teams in Europe. Challenging both for the Scudetto and the Champions League.

The team I think has a better chance of that has younger, potentially harder working, faster and (despite flaws of his own and lack of true genius) overall better Robinho playing instead of Ronaldinho. As an extra bonus, Robinho for Dunga's Brazil, even showed, what he never really did in club football, a certain defensive effort which while maybe not looking like all that much coming from a skinny Brazilian, is more than a fat Ronaldinho could ever do, and potentially even assist Allegri's tactical defensive rescue plan for the 4-3-3 tremendously.

This in my opinion is the strongest Milan lineup:

With that world class front three, Pirlo will finally have have other options than to just seek out Ronaldinho on the left. There is actual pace and movement around him. Something he has been severely lacking the last couple of years.

Deep down I still think over a season Flamini playing the majority of games instead of Ambrosini would be best but while not even realistic in the first place, Ambrosini captain and all, Flamini did actually get more chances last season and with Ambrosini still going strong there wasn't all that much difference between them I don't think.

Gattuso almost left the club but after some reportedly emotional face to face meetings with Galliani decided to stay after all, and with that a reality he is of course as always an alternative as well.
In the last few years a very bad one since he has struggled severely with injuries and form, but with a good healthy spell leading up to the World Cup and then a long rest

there might just be enough of a bounce back from him this season to at least occasionally justifying reliving the legendary Rhino/Pirlo/Ambrosini midfield trio.

The generous gift from Genoa, Kevin Prince Boateng, should get a midfield spot though I think. He isn't always the most reliable in his actions on the field but there is plenty of talent and he brings some impressive athleticism that's been really lacking from the Milan midfield in recent years.

Good old Seedorf will probably be his main obstacle and in many ways that he still performs at a good level is impressive, but by now his starts should be diagnosed more carefully I think, and with the new arrivals the team is much less dependent on him as one of the first alternatives to make creative things happen as well. Which is a very good thing.

The young talented Greek with the cool name Sokratis Papastathopoulos (another generous gift to Berlusconi from Genoa president Preziosi who just keeps giving - Bocchetti actually was almost another hmm) seems equally adept at central defense and right-back and is therefore a very good signing for depth. That he is young and less injury prone doesn't hurt either.

He probably won't win the right-back spot right way, especially not at notoriously hierarchical Milan, he might not even be first alternative to Zambrotta then, that could (wrongly) go to classy looking but usually lets you down Bonera, but with plenty of injury problems both central and right, his services should be needed and they're good upgrade over the likes of hopeless Oddo and Abate who just wasn't comfortable playing fullback.

The left-back clearly belongs to Antonini with the only washed up alternative now being Jankulowski.
The other, Kaladze and his high salary, is finally offloaded, to guess where? Yes Genoa once again!

In central defense Nesta despite the unavoidable injury problems had a very good season where he saved the unbalanced team on more than one occasion. After all his horrific injury trouble him actually managing coming back and playing regularly was great news not just for the club but for football. He isn't the unbelievable and unbeatable defender he used to be but in glimpses at least it's still there.

Beside him Thiago Silva has all the gifts needed to be a top defender for years and with more and more experience he should only get better.

Final Verdict:

While possibly making great progress solving the balance issues of the Ronaldinho 4-3-3 that had plagued Leonardo, promising coach Allegri was suddenly gifted the keys to an incredible attack presenting new dreams but also more challenges. And more pressure.

The huge positives are both more depth and much more talent in the squad but truly deciding just how well the club will compete with the very best in the Champions League and Inter in Serie A, will be if Allegri can find that elusive right balance.

My guess is, that has to be done avoiding consistently playing the 4-2-3-1 with all four attacking stars and instead stick with the tactical and talent-wise improved 4-3-3 benching preferably, not Robinho but rather Ronaldinho.
Will Silvio even allow such a thing? If they win he'll live with it. Otherwise it's his way, or eventually goodbye Allegri.

Ingen kommentarer: