Serie A Preview: AC Milan v. Internazionale

Date: Sunday, November 23, 2014

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

League Position: Milan (7), Inter (9)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

Always an important occasion, this season’s first installment of the Derby della Madonnina comes at a critical time for both Milanese sides. With just one point separating them from each other, and a few more separating them from spots in Europe, new manager Pippo Inzaghi and even newer Inter manager Roberto Mancini should have little trouble firing up their squads this Sunday. Read More

Serie A Preview: Sampdoria v. AC Milan

Date: Saturday, November 8, 2014

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

League Position: Milan (7), Sampdoria (4)

Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa, Italy

Well, so much for being hard to beat. It’s back to the drawing board for Pippo and Co. as Milan face a tough trip to Genoa to take on a solid Sampdoria side. Mihajlovic’s men are seeking to prove they’re for real in the hunt for third place and it will take more ideas than the Rossoneri have had seemingly all year to break them down. Read More

Serie A Preview: AC Milan v. Palermo

Date: Sunday, November 2, 2014

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

League Position: Milan (4), Palermo (15)

Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan, Italy

We’re right around where we want to be, but it still doesn’t feel that great does it? The feeling that we should be more comfortably where we want to be is hard to shake, and will definitely be something we may look back on with regret later this season. That said, Milan have made themselves hard to defeat this season as one of the only four one-loss teams left in Serie A. What we need to do now is get back to scoring goals and we’ve got a real opportunity to do just that with Palermo coming to town. Read More

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.

 

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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.

 

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