State of the Union: Milan [Part 1 of 2]

As the January transfer window closes, Milan have their squad set for the rest of the season. How has the squad progressed this season? We’ve invited MilanObsession’s Elaine, TalkingBaws assistant editor Gino De Blasio, and Football Italia’s David Swan to answer questions on the status of Milan.

The format will be in two parts, with the second part found here.

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Has the season met expectations so far? Does Max Allegri deserve the credit for the turnaround?  

Elaine:

I think the season has exceeded expectations, at least my expectations. Having lost 14 players, most of them experienced, quality players, and then replacing them with some virtually unknown players from lower divisions and leagues, I did not expect us to be in 5th place in the league at this point. I would definitely not give Allegri the credit for our turnaround. First of all, the change in form happened when Berlusconi took a vested interest and provided his weekly motivational talks as well as a single formation and more consistent lineup “suggestions” to Allegri. Secondly, were it not for Allegri’s mindnumbing merry-go-round lineups and formations in the first place, I believe the team would have hit its stride much sooner. If anything, Allegri is responsible for a turnaround being necessary in the first place.

Gino:

I was very critical of Max at the start, I still am. He plays a lot of players out of position but you know what, the players just get on with it. Simple. One thing you don’t see is the current crop of young players disagreeing nor Ambrosini with the coach; he’s galvanised them so that can only be a positive they can work from. The flip side is that by playing the players “out of position” he’s discovering new makeshift talents. Who’d have thought Kevin Constant could boss the wing as much as he does? Its a mix but Allegri does deserve a lot of the credit. The situation was bad come October, now we are first week of February with a squad that is six points off third, still in the Champions League and discovering that extra strength that only a “stubborn” Tuscan can bring to the table.

David:

I thought Milan would be roughly where they are now, maybe a bit closer to third place, but otherwise it is difficult to say that this season has been a surprise. I think it just took time for Allegri to work out his best team – the problem he has is that there are not 11 stand out candidates to make an obvious first XI, or at least an obvious first seven or eight. There’s probably about four at most. He has a lot of mediocre players who are all very similar and bring similar ‘qualities’ to the table, so the first part of the season was him trying to find a combination he is happy with. I reckon if we were to pick what Allegri thinks is his best team right now, we’d get at least eight right – you couldn’t say that in October.

Pete:

This season was always going to have a particularly steep learning curve, as Max Allegri was forced to do all of the tactical innovation that he had failed to do in the previous two years in the first two months of the season. This included the worst start to a Milan season in the better portion of a century. The club finds itself 3 points behind Inter Milan (which in and of itself is enough to say the season has not met expectations, but that wouldn’t be fair) and just six points off of the desired third position. After the rough start with 7 points in their first 8 matches including some forgettable matches and the “Curse of the San Siro turf”, the team found their identity. This came as a result of some baffling tactics from Max Allegri. 3-man back lines, false-9s, and the general “pound the square peg into a round hole” strategy of play. Ironically, for all the adaptation Max used, the strategy that suited the team most, and that provided the most consistent results was the 4-3-3, which only required a slight adjustment pushing the forwards wide, and replacing Kevin-Prince Boateng with Giampaolo Pazzini. To the skeptic, even the blind squirrel finds the nut sometimes, and Max stumbled on a formation that worked because he’s exhausted most of the options that didn’t work. To the Allegri enthusiasts, Max won the hearts and minds of the dressing room and turned the squad around. But there is another factor that weighed on the turnaround, and that is the presence of Silvio Berlusconi. Silvio gave the squad one of his patented pep-talks (no, not that sort) and the squad responded, winning their next match. If the big boss can’t motivate you, than you can’t be motivated, it has to be said. Berlusconi proved that the squad is capable of winning (as he and Galliani had insisted as the slide continued) and from that point on, Allegri delivered. Does Max deserve the credit? Yes. But so does Silvio.

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Is third place still a realistic goal for this squad? Would falling short of third be considered a failed season?

 Elaine:

I think third place is still realistic. The beauty of Milan stumbling at first and then finding its form is that we are on a steady climb upward, whereas other teams started strong and are now seeing cracks in their squad and they are slipping up. However, if we were to fall short of third place it would in no way be a failure for me. Considering that we have now seen at least 17 first team players leave (plus four more currently on loan) over a six month period of time, to be replaced with varied levels of quality, I feel like any finish in the top ten is a victory for our rebuilding.

Gino:

Look at the summer exodus. Ten experienced, some world cup winning, players leaving. What does this mean? Massive changes and the whole team felt it. We struggled to find an identity, confidence was overall low. Its almost as if we didn’t have belief. Now that we are within touching distance of third, can take full points of those above in return legs and with a stronger mental set up. What is key is managing the players physical needs (not like that Berlusconi!), but also everyone’s expectations. In October we were in the abyss, now, we are touching distance away without really a playing identity. It wouldn’t be a failure, but I think with the positivity around the squad and good run of results a little dissapointing if we don’t get third – but not the end of the world.

David:

They shouldn’t stop believing in it – it’s not like there’s anything else to play for this season – and the position has improved dramatically from three to four weeks ago. Personally I think they’ll fall short – they’ve caught up during a period of easier games, so a lot will depend on what they do against the teams around them. If results are anything like the corresponding games in the andata then they have no chance. The Barcelona games are going to cost them a chunk of points in the league, and ultimately third place. Given the quality of the squad, it wouldn’t be failure to finish below third. I can see three better squads, and four better first XIs, than what Milan have currently. Those who want Allegri out will try and convince us all it’s a failure, but it’s not like there’s another coach that would do better.

Pete:

Certainly, third place is a realistic goal. Milan will probably need about 70 points to finish third place. Having gotten 37 points in  22 matches, this means that Milan need 33 points from their next 16 Serie A matches, an average of just over two points per match. For comparison, Milan are averaging just a shade under 1.7 points per match thus far, so the climb remains. Milan have the quality in their ranks to achieve this goal, especially with the addition of Mario Balotelli. When looking at the overall quality of the squad (despite claims this is the weakest side in 25 years – looking at you Zvonimir) they still rank in the top five of Serie A. Arguably, they’re one of the 3 deepest squads. I believe that only Juventus have more depth (although the loss of Mesbah has certainly affected my view) especially after the January market. If Milan were not to reach this goal, I don’t believe it can be considered a failure, because this season is not so black and white as “success” or “failure” when you’re looking at the larger picture. Would the loss of €20-30m in Champions League revenue be catastrophic? Not as much as it would have been last season, or in previous years. The wage bill is (reasonably) under control now, and the financial situation of the club is much more favorable than any time in the last decade. Obviously making the money is preferable to not making the money, but it’s not as integral as in other years.

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Do you think it’s possible for Max Allegri to play his way into another season? Do the Guardiola rumors, and now the Prandelli rumors speak to the management’s desire to move past Max? 

 Elaine: 

Berlusconi and Galliani have repeatedly and firmly said that Allegri has a contract through 2014 with Milan. After they sought out Guardiola, of course. Some of Berlusconi’s comments make it seem that he wants another coach, but he’s a politician, so I don’t think he even knows what he really wants ore means to say sometimes. Galliani has also openly criticized Allegri on multiple occasions, so I’m sure that moving to another option has been discussed, but for whatever reason, they’ve opted not to. Certainly other Serie A coaches were sacked this year with better results at the time, so it would not have been unusual in any way. But I am not a fortune teller, I cannot predict the future. And even if I could, those two men would still surely find a way to change it. So yes it is possible for him to stay, and yes it is also possible that they are looking to replace him with a better known, more successful and charismatic upgrade.

Gino:

The real question you need to ask yourself is, who is good enough for the role and available to hire? With Guardiola at Bayern and Prandelli out until August 2014 I think Allegri has done enough to justify seeing the second phase of the project through. If we can strengthen our defence in the Summer, and I say this cautiously, I don’t see Ogbonna coming for that price tag until we offload some dead weight, then we could be title contenders. If that is the case, then Allegri has every right to develop some of the younger talent and fight for the title again, one more year is what he deserves. Does that mean he’s the best choice? No, but he understands where Milan needs to be in terms of this “year zero” we’ve been told about, he’s encouraging the youth system to grow and he has the players confidence, why tamper with that in a delicate moment of club growth. I think Allegri is also serving a greater purpose generally within the Milan echelons, his focus and has been re-construct and prime the club for a new era. Yes, the game is more physical and his signings are indicative of all of that. I think he should get one more year to see what he can do with this current crop but with a better defence; he’s earned that. Do I see him as a long term solution, no! Remember, Berlusconi went for Ancelotti feeding Fatih Tarim to the wolves because he saw Ancelotti as the candidate for a long term solution, eight years. He would do it again, so Max shouldn’t sit so comfortably.

David:

It’s obvious Berlusconi wants to get rid of him for a big-name coach, but I don’t think Galliani does, mainly because Allegri was ‘his’ choice. I’m not sure who else is out there that could replace Allegri – Guardiola is gone, there’s no other clear choice that would satisfy any need for a big name, so Max has a good chance of being at the club next season. Prandelli will almost certainly leave after Brazil 2014, so if he is there next season he’ll just be back under pressure.

Pete:

Is it possible for Max to play into another season: Yes. Would that be beneficial: Possibly. Max has given time to the youngsters of Milan, albeit sometimes by necessity and forced circumstances. Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy have grown immensely under Allegri’s wing, and in recent matches, M’Baye Niang has come into his own with a run of form ahead of Robinho. He is being told to play the youth, the skeptic argues, but Max is still doing what he’s told, and if he gets the results, he certainly deserves to stay, his brand of football notwithstanding. What would change that situation for me (and I believe for Milan as well)? If a “better” option of coach were available. This is why Berlusconi was publicly willing to discuss his pursuit of Pep Guardiola. Allegri knows he’s not the long-term coach of Milan, and I highly doubt that he will get another contract extension past his expiry of 2014. And who becomes free in 2014? Italian national team manager and Mario Balotelli tamer Cesare Prandelli. If Adriano Galliani isn’t looking past Allegri (on multiple occasions, Silvio was ready to sack Max, only to be dissuaded by Galliani), than Silvio certainly is. If the opportunity for a coach that Silvio sees as worthy of leading the “new-cycle Milan” presents itself, Silvio will not hesitate to throw Max under the bus.

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Part Two !

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About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

16 Thoughts on “State of the Union: Milan [Part 1 of 2]

  1. RossoneriFido on February 4, 2013 at 9:14 AM said:

    I do not give Allegri credit for anything. Silvio is the one who told him to stick to the 4-3-3.
    He is still terrible in selecting his best 11. Although even though the best 11 is pretty much obvious now to everyone. Like sticking with Bonera for example.
    I do believe the third spot is in our grasp.
    Even though we will lose some points due to the CL matches, but our rivals Lazio and Merda are still in EL too.
    We are way powerful and confident now than before.
    As for keeping Allegri I can only accept keeping him under two conditions:
    1) No better coach is available
    2) He did not fail reaching the third spot objective.

    Last but not least Forza Milan

  2. I think everybody needs to give a little bit more respect and credit to Allegri. If anything, he has shown a willingness to work and improve the system instead of trying to break it (which would have been the easier option). Allegri has a few drawbacks and I am sure he will be the first to admit it (which is what endears him so much to Galliani) but the fact remains that he is doing his job in supporting youth and trying to nurture it fruitfully. In my opinion, part of the reason Balotelli and Santon were undervalued at Inter was that they were thrust into the spotlight too early. Allegri is consciously trying to avoid similar things happening to SES, Niang and De Sciglio by limiting their exposure and tempering expectations. Allegri’s greatest asset is his frankness and humility (not surprising given his rise through the lower leagues). Never has a loss been followed by criticism (not even in dark depths of the first weeks of this season when nobody would have blamed him for criticizing the club’s transfer policy) nor has a win been followed by outright praise.

    There are few weaknesses in Allegri’s approach but they can all be rectified over time. He has taken a lot of stick for the unthinkably horrible results at the start of the season, so why not stand by him when things are on the up. At this point of the season (at the time of writing we are 3 points behind Lazio and third place), if there is any coach who has earned another year on his contract it has to be Allegri simply for being able to digest and live under constant pressure and scrutiny. How many of us can keep coming to work motivated knowing that despite your best efforts there is a chance that you may lose your job tomorrow simply because someone “better” is available? Maybe one in a thousand.

    • pdacquaviva on February 4, 2013 at 12:55 PM said:

      You raise excellent points, however on your last one, “How many of us can keep coming to work motivated..” I can think of 3 million reasons why Max may be motivated to perform his best every day. Maybe one in a thousand can have that sort of motivation 😉

    • RossoneriFido on February 4, 2013 at 1:55 PM said:

      Allegri have shown us no evidence whatsoever that he is improving in his tactical approach.
      We are still poor on defending and scoring from set pieces (look at all the CK taken last night) Terrible approach. Or the way our defenders press highly up the pitch leaving gaps behind them they can never cover because of their lack of pace.

      • pdacquaviva on February 4, 2013 at 2:26 PM said:

        Oh, that’s not fair to say, he has improved his tactical approach significantly. It’s still far from ideal, but it’s improved (consider the discarded formations he had to go through to get to where they are now). He has yet to solve several issues which concern me, defending set pieces, defending long shots, defending headers. Pressing wins the ball, and allows the b2b midfielders to find more space, it makes sense in some regards especially considering the pace of the outside backs, they just need to not be caught out of position so much as Constant was for the first goal.

  3. If Lazio feel there’s a chance they can get Champions League football, they’ll play a bunch of nobodies in the Europa League and put all their efforts into Serie A. Like Napoli are doing. Inter will be exactly the same.

    The only way these teams will take it seriously is if their reserves happen to get them to the quarter-finals, and therefore a chance of winning it.

    • pdacquaviva on February 4, 2013 at 1:00 PM said:

      That speaks to the issues of the Europa League (another discussion altogether), as well as why Italy continues to slip in the countrywide rankings. Unfortunately it’s the reality of the system, and should Milan (or anyone) finish outside of the top 3, they would do the same next season, positive feedback loop.

      • RossoneriFido on February 4, 2013 at 2:14 PM said:

        Even though they might and will rest key players in EL. I don’t see them as favorites on us. I truly believe we are only inferior to Juve and Napoli

  4. vicnasmilan on February 4, 2013 at 1:09 PM said:

    All this over criticism of Allegri is just annoying.He won the 2010 scudetto and finished 2nd the following year and reached the quarter finals stage of the UCL with a massive injury crisis,one of the highest in Europe last season i believe.,yes, we relied heavily on Ibra but so what?Juve rely heavily on pirlo as we’ve seen with their latest run of form and also i’d take winning,effective football over flair anytime,chelsea vs barca,chelsea vs bayern anyone?or Mourinho’s treble winning inter.What’s more,the spine of the team,Ibra et al were ripped off without adequate replacement.I understand most people don’t like him cuz Pirlo and Pato et al left but they were fairly ineffective for us of late(excluding pato’s 2010 form).As a strong Allegri supporter,I admit there are times when He has me scratching My head like WTF is he doing,but all in all,I think he deserves a large part of the credit for putting this team together even with the criticism from the President and Management.Grazie Allegri,Keep up the good work.

    • Elaine on February 4, 2013 at 1:44 PM said:

      I respect your support of Allegri. A problem I have with some Allegri supporters is they are quick to recount what has happened under Allegri’s tenure, but assume that everything is or isn’t his fault/credit. If we are to take into account that the exodus of so many players as a reason for his early season stumbling, then what is it exactly that changed to give him so much success? However, if you look at the things he was personally responsible for, such as lineups and formations, it is directly correlated to our poor form and on the reverse, our positive run of form. Blaming exterior factors alone for a poor run of form and then giving him all of the credit for a positive run of form without taking into account exterior factors is not a fair or balanced way to judge his tenure. Perhaps there is more truth in between those views?

    • RossoneriFido on February 4, 2013 at 1:49 PM said:

      Pirlo was injured in his last season thus is why he always underperformed when he came back from injury.
      We all know there was really no competition in the scudetto race of 2010.
      Last year he made some unbelievable mistakes that costed us the title despite the injuries.
      His record against the top clubs last season say enough inmho.
      Forget the past, lets focus on this season.
      Allegri orders the team to press too high up the pitch even though he well knows our CB are slow and our fullbacks are always out of position.
      His exclusion of Zaccardo and inclusion of Traore in th CL list makes no sense to me whatsoever.
      Allegri is not stupid he is just too stubborn to admit he is wrong.
      If it wasn’t for Silvio, Allegri would have been still trying new formations.
      Don’t get me wrong Allegri is a good transitional coach but if a better coach is available it would be stupid not to hire him.

  5. vicnasmilan on February 4, 2013 at 3:58 PM said:

    Elaine,how do i register with milanobsession?I’ve been following your blog for some time now.

    • Elaine on February 4, 2013 at 4:51 PM said:

      You first must pledge allegiance to King Mario. Then you will be granted access to the blog and the treasure that lies within.

      • Elaine on February 4, 2013 at 9:43 PM said:

        Very funny. Wrong colored avatar, though, “Elaine.”

        Sorry, but not sure I understand what the question is regarding the blog, feel free to come ask it there.

  6. RossoneriFido on February 4, 2013 at 4:18 PM said:

    Klose have been injured and will be out for 2 months, and with Hernanes out for a month, the path is clear to the third spot.

  7. Also, Nainggolan is suspended for our next game =D

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