Left Flank/ SES:
Building down the right side is conducive to El Shaarawy. In addition to the shift over from a squad based around Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the side with “no focal points”, Milan’s buildup direction has seen El Shaarawy flourish. In fact, in the matches in which SES has scored this season (14 different fixtures for Milan) the squad has averaged 35% of their attacks coming from the right flank of the field.
In fact, in the fixtures in which Stephan El Shaarawy has scored, all but two of them had Milan’s buildup over 30% from the right flank (today was no exception). Why is this though?
While he was not quite ready to lead the line last year, the buildup play from the left flank did not help El Shaarawy (as did his positioning which varied across the field in Allegri’s early choices). While it was necessary for Zla-Cas to leave, the shift to the right flank this year helps Stephan sit on the wing just outside of the defender’s view. This season, Milan’s buildup from the right side is significantly more.
El Shaarawy is a right footed player playing on the left wing, meaning his preferred move is to cut infield and try to track his defenders across the pitch. When he doesn’t have the ball, he drifts out wide, often exploiting the space between the center back and the right back. Too far wide and he constricts the runs of Constant, and too far infield, and he will be marked by either a holding midfielder, or a central defender (which has happened, and in some cases, he has outpaced these players although more often than nought the attack ends).
Additionally, El Shaarawy is benefitting from the rapidly developing trio of himself, Boateng and Constant down the left flank. These three are effective together not only because of the fact that all three are pact dribblers who can flick on to the other onrushing man, but because their movements compliment each other.
Both Boateng and El Shaarawy like to cut into the middle of the field. Boateng does it because he likes to switch play over to the right flank, he sends most of his long passes laterally to either Niang or Abate on the wing or Montolivo advancing. El Shaarawy, as described above, loves to cut in field as well. Both of these movements allow Kevin Constant to take advantage of his best attribute, dribbling forward with pace. If the wide defender is beaten by Constant, there is now a 2 v 1 with the center back, if the wingback challenges Constant, he has two options to dish the ball off and continue his run. So long as El Shaarawy doesn’t drift too far wide and limit space for Constant (allowing 1 defender to mark 2 men) then Constant is for the most part free to do what he pleases down the left flank of the field. His renaissance of late is partially due to this trio’s movement.
M’Baye Niang deserves much of the credit for this goal. The movement began with Riccardo Montolivo dancing on the ball after buildup from the right flank. Montolivo turned several times, finding Niang.
Niang received the ball facing away from goal in between the midfield and defensive lines, and as he turned, the 3 defenders right next to him gazed right at him. Looking at the positioning of the players, Pazzini is standing behind those 4 defenders, running past their line of vision, while El Shaarawy is doing the same, in the same direction. Since Pazzini is also moving right, there is a massive amount of space between the 4 defenders and El Shaarawy’s marker, who is now on his back shoulder after the sprint.
Niang danced on the ball, pulling the ball to his right, baiting three of the defenders, the fourth of which realized how compact the side was, and stepped to defend the lateral ball from Kevin Prince Boateng while also providing some cover for the now darting El Shaarawy. Niang pulled the ball back to his left using his right foot, and flicked a ball with the outside of his foot (which is a faster pass since there was little to no backswing of his leg giving the defenders less time to react). El Shaarawy by that point was a step faster than his defender, and rounded him shooting across his body and across the keeper.
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