This was a cynical match. Those who do not watch Serie A regularly often carry the stereotype that it’s a boring league. It’s too defensive. The side that embodies all the negativity that comes with a Serie-A-type is Chievo Verona.
Over the last couple of years, the three man defense has come back into form in Italy. Personally I’m not a fan of the three man defense except in rare occasions (it removes a midfielder to create a third center back at the expense of pushing wings higher up the pitch), but it relys on the knowledge that defensively, when needed, the 3-man defense turns into a 5-man defense with the wingers defending the wide areas when they don’t have the ball. Chievo didn’t need the semantics of calling their formation a 3-5-2, they just outright played a 5-3-2, opting for five defenders and hoping to squeeze a point out at home against the most in-form side in Italy (Milan now own the longest unbeaten streak this season by any Serie A side) who now have taken 16 of the last 18 points available in the league.
Before I get into the tactics of what the Chievo formation meant for Max Allegri’s side, it should be noted that any real expression of tactics today was subject to the weather, which was terrible. Puddles and mud pits were on the edges of the field and the penalty box, and there was a constant stream of rain throughout the match (see SeS’s flat mohawk).
I said the match was cynical, and it was more than just the Chievo formation. The Verona side’s tactics were nihilistic at best. Chievo accumulated 6 yellow cards (one of which became a red card) and 17 fouls (on 18 tackles – wow). They lacked the skill players to compete directly with Milan, and as a result they opted to fortify defensively and hold out for the draw. Cynical, but pragmatic if nothing else.
Milan’s game plan was simple, the one they use with Ambrosini in the lineup, and that is the double pivot. Montolivo was on the right of Ambrosini, so this space freed up room for Ignazio Abate to bomb down the right flank unmarked. This was the method through which Milan attacked in the opening minutes. They deviated over time from this strategy, although Chievo never really found a solution, and it would have been nice for Abate to be able to cross accurately so the right wing attack could be viable.
Additionally, Robinho was a major detractor from Abate’s game, as he was offsides on multiple occasions where Abate was bombing forward. Robinho is rusty, and doesn’t seem to fit in Max Allegri’s plans anymore, as a fully fit Niang would have been preferred to Robinho (Niang was recovering from the flu). If this was an opportunity to put Robinho back in the shop window, I’m not sure it was a successful one, as his value has dropped significantly below the estimated €8m that Santos offered for him in January.
In any event, Milan created a strategy after 25 minutes, when they realized Puggioni was having trouble catching the ball in the conditions. This led to 6 or so free kicks from Mario Balotelli, all on target, and all trying to get Puggioni to spill the ball again, which he did on a couple occasions, but to no effect. Literally every free kick in the attacking half yielded a Mario Balotelli free kick on goal, and this was the only plan of attack Milan had. As such, they saw diminishing returns on the strategy, and by the 6th kick, Puggioni had figured out how to block the ball away from his goal to clear the danger.
By the second half, Puggioni had diffused the Milan plan of attack (Balo kick), however, Chievo had actually grown into the game more than Milan had, as their runs into the box were not tracked by Milan defenders. This isn’t just an issue from this match, Milan are absolutely terrible at marking, and it comes across in all aspects of their play. They concede free kick goals, a marking issue. They concede long shots – an issue of not tracking through the midfield. Granted Muntari isn’t the best marker, but Cofie and Thereau were open far too many times driving down Milan’s left side of the pitch, and the culprit was poor marking in and around the box.
El Shaarawy found space on both sides of the pitch when Robinho came between the attack and defense. This opened up space because Mario Balotelli was checking back to the ball, Robinho was drawing the right sided defender up the pitch towards him, and this left El Shaarawy free to cut across the pitch, dragging the other fullback or central defender across the pitch with him. I would have liked to see much more of this, as the front three actually had poor movement overall, and didn’t link very well (Robinho being unfamiliar to the other two played a great part in that).
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