Cagliari v Milan Post-Match Comments

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: I don’t think Milan played poorly against Cagliari. I don’t think there’s need to panic, and I don’t think that between Monday and Friday of this week that the situation Inzaghi has found himself in has changed. The stakes remain the same.

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The race is wide open for third place. The footrace for the Scudetto is out of reach for Milan, and never really was a feasible outcome. That being said, the lack of a strong candidate for third is both a missed opportunity for Milan – draws at two newly promoted sides can go either way, but I can’t escape the feeling Inzaghi’s side should have taken full points from at least one of the two encounters at Empoli and Cesena. 

So what exactly is the verdict for now? Sort of exactly what we expected. Inzaghi isn’t a magician like Clarence Seedorf, who waved his magic wand used his magical antidote to remove the bad habits built up over the better portion of a decade of “half-assery” from the Milan board. Back up to the summer, Milan compete in an open race for third place, sound about right? Best case scenario sees Milan finish where they are right now. So why the doom and gloom?

Yes, Milan’s midfield is poor. Yes it’s disconnected from the attack. Yes, Alex has these moments that make Zapata look like a world-class athlete. Yes, any sort of set-piece has a greater than average chance of going in the net against Milan. Yes, the squad is disjointed and uneven in several areas. Yes, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy have made little to no progress this season in their developments. Yes, Hachim Mastour is stuck in the oblivion between the first team and the primavera, not really being apart of either for an extended run. Compare these issues to the issues of last season, and you’ll see while things are far from sunshine and rainbows, the larger existential issues facing Milan simply aren’t as prevalent and aren’t pushing down on the players themselves as was clear through last year especially.

But against Zeman’s Cagliari, a hit or miss offensive side granted: one with the knowledge and coaching to go out and put goals in the net, Milan were reasonably in control defensively. This isn’t to say that Ibarbo shouldn’t have scored his open net goal, nor his several one on ones, or many of the other gilded edge chances Cagliari had. What I do want to point out is that they didn’t go in, which regardless of the luck of Rami’s boot making the last ditch challenge, or De Sciglio’s slide on Ibarbo near edge of the box, they (by and large) worked. Defense is about keeping goals out, and since this side looks built on a house of cards anyway, regardless of how it happened, keeping the score down to one goal is a start to build on. Let’s be honest, this Milan side will not be relying on the clean sheet.

So the issue then seemed to be in attack, rather than defense, at least for now (the midfield has been picked apart already this season – see previews and other post match reports). What was the issue with the Milan attack?

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Stephan El Shaarawy isn’t scoring goals, which is a problem for a lot of supporters. Against Cagliari (like any other game) the time was just right for SeS to break his goalscoring duck, but it didn’t happen. That’s not to discount his play this season, which I’ve been pleased with. His first touch is terrible this season, but after the amount of injury layoffs he’s had of late, it’s reasonable to expect that to come with time. His work rate, movement and speed are still at the level you want to see, and it’s becoming more and more clear over time that the issue with El Shaarawy is a mental issue. I’m not saying Pippo has the solution, but if theres someone I would suggest could fix this..

Honda – Can’t be on all the time. Excellent defensive contribution, I think his understanding with Abate is particularly effective.

Menez – We knew this was coming, the crash after the start of the season. Give Torres some more starting time as Silvio Berlusconi wants and we’ll see the Menez beast rise from the ashes of the PSG bench. Not to mention Niang, who will probably be sold/loaned without a whimper in January or June. Now we hit the part of the season where playing time is heated (no injuries, one competition for now), and Inzaghi will have to add balance to his attack, or risk losing Menez (and less importantly Niang) to their own heads and egos.

 

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Serie A Preview: Cagliari v. AC Milan

Date: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kickoff: 3:45 PM ET (USA) / 20:45 CET (ITA)

League Positions: Milan (6), Cagliari (12)

Stadio Sant’Elia, Cagliari, Italy

I guess it’s a pretty good sign when we are back to being disappointed with a draw against Fiorentina, although with their woes at striker and our solid organization for most of the match it really should have been three points for the Rossoneri on Sunday. Next up is a trip to Sardinia to take on Zeman’s feast or famine Cagliari side, fresh off a 4-0 drubbing of Empoli. Read More

Serie A Preview: AC Milan v. Fiorentina

Date: Sunday, October 26, 2014

Kickoff: 2:45 PM ET (USA) / 20:45 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (4), Fiorentina (11)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

After one of the most complete performances of the young season, the Rossoneri welcome a Viola side desperate to kick their campaign into a higher gear. With the full squad (barring Montolivo) available, Inzaghi and company have the momentum and the man-power not to let that happen. Read More

Serie A Preview: Hellas Verona v. AC Milan

Date: Sunday, October 19, 2014

Kickoff: 9:00 AM ET (USA) / 15:00 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (5), Hellas (6)

Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, Verona, Italy

The international break is over and Milan take on the other Veronese side after dispatching Chievo in the last round. Hellas present another challenge entirely, and you have to believe Inzaghi’s men will need to improve upon the efficient but still uninspiring form that saw them past the Flying Donkeys.  Read More

Serie A Preview: AC Milan v. Chievo

Date: Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kickoff: 2:45 PM ET (USA) / 19:45 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (6), Chievo (15)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

After a bright start the Rossoneri are now winless in three straight including a loss to rivals Juventus and two lackluster draws against promoted sides. Another favorable opponent on paper is headed Milan’s way, and coach Inzaghi has demanded a marked improvement in his side. Several players are still fighting to prove themselves both to the manager and fans, and they’ve got another chance to do it on Saturday evening, at home, in a big match, even if it’s not against a “big” opponent. Read More

Serie A Preview: Cesena v. AC Milan

Date: Sunday, Septmber 28, 2014

Kickoff: 9:00 AM ET (USA) / 14:00 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (7), Cesena (13)

Stadio Dino Manuzzi, Cesena, Italy

Never a dull moment with this Milan side. After an atrocious first half that many would claim to have seen coming based on the line-up, the Rossoneri fought back to secure a point at Empoli and had numerous chances to claim the three points that certainly should have been theirs. To drop points to a newly promoted side is disappointing for sure, but the mid-game adjustments of attitude and formation should give us hope that Pippo is capable of both inspiring this side and willing to show some flexibility. Read More

On Inzaghi’s 4-2-3-1

In 2012, I suggested Max Allegri should consider moving to a 4-2-3-1. But this looks just like a 4-3-3 with 3 central midfielders. That is basically what a 4-2-3-1 is, except that two of those three central midfielders are tasked as holding midfielders (one of which may/should make driving runs into space). abB07Roahg

One of those three midfielders is given a role behind the striker, which some players interpret as a “free role” in the formation.

Now in 2014, I’m not sure I would suggest the same to Pippo Inzaghi. That being said, he’s likely shifting to the formation in the coming days, and it’s worth considering first what the side might look like before exploring what the results of such a shift would be. For nostalgia’s sake I’m going to illustrate it with a this11 diagram.

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Poli can be switched with Muntari, and probably will be; Honda can play centrally, but if Menez plays centrally than Honda does fine on the right wing (I know he typically plays centrally, but for now, he’s in form and playing well in the position while helping Abate be more effective – don’t play with it). De Jong is almost a lock for this formation until Montolivo gets back with the sale of Cristante, there is no one else to hold the midfield and distribute the ball. I’m not sure accommodating Torres into the starting lineup is the best course of action, but Torres’ psychological condition must be taken into effect, and he should be given a chance to have the side designed around getting him chances in the box. You’re a bit stuck with Torres anyway, so you may as well try to bring out the goalscoring prowess that’s buried under layers of psychological distress and physical aging.

Besides providing more support to Torres, the 4-2-3-1 differs from the 4-3-3 only in changing two side midfielders and one central midfielder into three central midfielders (or two holders, one creative) means the wide players in the “3” line, have to cover extra space. This means a lot of running there. Also, there are pockets of space that these wingers leave behind as they push forward and attack: great for creating a numbers game on counterattacks, but dangerous and susceptible to counter-counter-attacks. For a side with a defense weaker than the NFL’s “we never received that” campaign, this is a serious concern. Rami and Alex lack the speed to track back quickly, as do De Jong and Poli. So in emergency situations, Ignazio Abate is going to be the man to be sprinting back and helping out. Current vein of form aside, is that a situation that seems sustainable? An intelligent coach would find a way to play a fast player centrally, say Ménez, and have him sit in between those back three (fullbacks push up, NdJ sits back – formation essentially becomes 3-3-3-1, Alex/NdJ/Rami, DeScig/Poli/Abate, SeS/Ménez/Honda, Torres) and run amok. Hell, Edinson Cavani sprinted through the Milan central defense, imagine what someone with real pace would do.

But this isn’t a new issue, lack of speed in midfield and defense, and the formation shift actually should benefit Nigel De Jong significantly. His excellent World Cup campaign came next to a holding partner (admittedly with 5 defenders) and should his partner have the right sort of positional discipline and communication, the base of midfield should see better security. Of course, security in one area means weakness in another, the flanks are prone to 2 v 1 overloads should the wingers not come back and help out the wing backs. SeS and Honda, however, have been excellent about covering their fullbacks, and this bodes well for the formation.

My real concern with the formation is the lack of a partner for De Jong in the central midfield. Poli, Muntari and Essien are the candidates for this spot, and truth be told, none of them particularly are suited for the role. Poli gets the nod ahead of Muntari, because somehow Muntari continues to play despite being in almost as bad of form as Bonera, which reminds me how the hell is this still a thing?

The move is crying out for a quality midfield player (Kondogbia/Obiang) which Milan don’t really have. But like Allegri and Seedorf, Inzaghi is going to have to learn to adapt to a formation without all the tools he needs.

 

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

On Wingbacks and 4-3-3 / 4-3-1-2 formation changes [2012]

“Dude, I think he’s doing the dice thing too much.” “That’s really all he’s got.”   Think of Seth Rogen as Max Allegri. Allegri’s dice move is his over-reliance on his 4-3-1-2 formation.  There are two important components to this formation: a trequartista and the wing backs.

Read More

Being a Soccer Fan in America [2011]

I grew up across America. I was born in 1987 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and by the time I was in third grade, had lived in Deleware, Michigan, Ohio (thrice), and Texas. The one constant for me, was my love of soccer. Like many parents in the United States today, my parents enrolled me in soccer at the age of three. In fact, based upon youth figures, soccer is the most popular sport in America for young children.

Unfortunately for America, the fascination with soccer really fades out after grade school for most kids. Many of the best athletes gravitate to another sport, to  (American) football, to basketball, to baseball, hell even some leave soccer to pursue hockey. The US Soccer Federation loves to tote the fact that soccer is the fastest growing sport in America today. This is good news, but is also fairly obvious once you consider the issues going on in other professional sports today. Of the four other major sports (Football, Basketball, Hockey, & Baseball), three of those have had long term lockouts, and two of those constantly deal with allegations of doping and steroids.. Soccer has escaped much of that critique, and I believe, as a result is viewed differently in America.

First, let me start by saying that the practice of “diving” in soccer is one of the most obvious complaints that non-soccer players like to use as to why soccer is not worth their time. In fact, diving has been so associated with soccer, that when it happens in other sports, many Americans consider it to be the fault of soccer as a whole. For example in a recent Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals NFL game, Jerome Simpson drags a player out by his foot (see left of video) and when pushed after, throws himself in the air in an acrobatic fall, drawing a 15-yard penalty as a result. I was watching the NFL game live, and 10 seconds after it happened, I got a text saying “Looks like the Bengals have been watching more soccer games haha”.

Diving is a practice that the soccer world almost unanimously agrees needs to be stamped out. There is an increased effort to stop the practice. So to consider diving to be indicative of the whole sport of soccer is just as ignorant as saying any time a concussion happens in sport, it’s because people have been following too much football.

It’s always going to be interesting when the country’s fifth favorite sport is your favorite sport. As an American soccer fan, it certainly provided different opportunities for fandom  than the big sports. For example, I grew up a Cleveland Cavaliers fan for basketball, by virtue of living near Cleveland and my dad getting free tickets as a part of his job. I became a Cincinnati Reds fan by living in the city.  Even as the MLS develops, there still isn’t quite the sense of “hometown team” that there is with the other longer established sports. While this may be considered a domestic problem that the MLS needs to address (and I agree it is) it provides the casual soccer fan with the ability to almost choose his/her team at will. Sure there are some reasons to lean towards a particular side. Say you’re of Anglo-Saxon decent, you’re probably not going to be too keen on the Hungarian teams (of whom your parent’s probably grew up loathing).

It is the prevailing assumption in America that soccer is never on television, and this is true to a certain extent. In the coming days and weeks, there will be the first live soccer match (Arsenal v Man U.) on network television (channels available to everyone, for those outside the US). That’s not to say, however, that there is a lack of coverage (well there is assuming you’re planning on watching the French or German league, and forget about finding smaller leagues such as the Dutch league on TV) as there are several channels, such as Goal.tv, ESPN, ESPN Deportes, FX, Fox Soccer, and Fox Soccer Plus that deliver multiple leagues. This makes it tough for many Americans to be fans of the smaller clubs, not only in the big leagues (as these small teams rarely make the schedule unless they are playing the big clubs), but the big clubs in the non-covered leagues, PSG, Marseille, Bayern, etc.

Soccer is still a large growing game, but it is one that is dealing with negative stereotypes. The image most people have of a soccer game is an hour and a half of boring kick-ball in which a lot of the time, there isn’t even a goal! For a country so obsessed with the NFL and how game-to-game match ups vary, there is simply not enough of the same scrutiny being applied in the soccer world. In America, unfortunately, score rules. While most neutral fans agree that a 5-5 draw is more entertaining than a 0-0 draw, that is not to say that a 0-0 draw is uninteresting, lacks tactics, or is unworthy of discussion. Unfortunately, in America, the view is that if a game ends up 0-0, then “Why the hell did I just waste an hour and a half watching stupid soccer.”

The World Cup comes along every 4 years to give the anti-soccer movement a little break, and to pull some extra fans.  The competition itself, while being a worldwide favorite, is actually massive in the United States (at least the 2010 WC was) and got more coverage from ESPN in the month of the competition than soccer got in the other 11 months (minus the promotions for the WC, which ran for months and months in advance). That’s not to say that ESPN America has fully accepted soccer, as it’s obvious every time a soccer play gets in the “Top 10″ the anchors go above and beyond to sound as ethnic and cultural as they can while still dismissing soccer and trying to sound like they’re not just reading the names off the page for the first time, “And look at this….nice goal….by E-MAN-U-EL ….. ADE- BAY – YOURA…….Tottenham with the win in this one….”

For those of us that grew up watching and playing soccer, none of the above is really a make-or-break issue. The ability to watch your team, if you have one, only determines your ability to follow your team and in some cases, the voracity with which you support the team. Before I had Fox Soccer, for example, I could only follow Milan on websites and hope the big games were put on a channel I had. It didn’t diminish my love for my club, it diminished my ability to follow and participate with the club. And that, I think is something that fans worldwide can relate to, no matter the sport.

Serie A Preview: Empoli v. AC Milan

Date: Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kickoff: 2:45 PM ET (USA) / 19:45 CET (ITA)

League Position: Milan (4), Empoli (19)

Stadio Carlo Castellani, Empoli, Italy

Milan experienced their first setback of the new campaign on Saturday, not that it was wholly unexpected. The result obviously disappointed, but for many so did the performance. As luck would have it, there’s a very quick turnaround to the next match as the Rossoneri contest the sole Serie A match this Tuesday. Read More