Category Archives: Archived Post-match Comments

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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.

Milan v Sampdoria Post-Match Comments [Aug 26 2012]

Milan: 4-3-1-2 – Abbiati; De Sciglio, Bonera, Yepes, Antonini; Flamini, Montolivo, Nocerino; Boateng; El Shaarawy, Robinho.

Sampdoria: 4-3-3 – Romero; Berardi, Gastaldello, Rossini, Costa; Tissone, Obiang, Poli; Krsticic, Eder, Estigarribia.

 

Screen Shot 2012 08 26 at 2.11.41 PM Milan v Sampdoria Post Match Comments

Average Player Position – Milan left, Sampdoria right

This game was ugly. That being said this was closer to a summer friendly than a serious game for Milan, however, it counted. Sampdoria on the other hand, came prepared, having defeated Barcelona (B) before coming into the San Siro. Speaking of the San Siro, the newly laid pitch hasn’t had time to grow in yet, and as a result, the ball bounced with extra voracity on the surface. It will hopefully improve.

The Good:

Boateng’s last 75 minutes – His first 15 minutes provided some of the most despicable football seen on this side of the San Siro. Once he found his ground however, he became the focal point he was intended to be for the attack. It was a developing idea which brings me to

Allegri’s attempt at a plan B – I’ve complained about it, said it’s absolutely necessary, and although it’s not the huge tactical shift that it sounds like (false 9), it is something, and credit to Allegri for making the move, as he could have played Pazzini from the start. Instead he chose to field Boateng who looked to receive the ball deep and wide, as El Shaarawy and Robinho both played off in the channels.

Robinho takes up the goalscoring hat – Or so he tried. You could tell the weight of the departures/absence of Pato was weighing on Robinho and he took shots that he might not normally not take. His effort though and desire to step up and be the leader of the front line is commendable. Milan will need that sort of spirit for the season.

De Sciglio’s crossing – De Sciglio can cross better than Abate. He crosses deeper, with more curve, with better technique, and with better success (4 successful crosses on 9 attempts, as well as a splendidly weighted defense-splitting ball in the first half). While he still needs some improvement in the defensive department (so does Abate), he provides a different dimension than Abate going forward and especially as Pazzini comes into the fold, I expect De Sciglio to see more time.

Allegri’s substitution – Last season, Allegri would have given 75 minutes before making a sub. Today he recognized the problem in the team and sought to solve it with the introduction of Pazzini in the 55th minute, in plenty of time for him to make an impact.

Two 19 year olds in the starting lineup – This may not be under the best circumstances but the youth movement is a positive one. The “movement towards sustainability” (another buzz phrase for low-cost) is one that is going to inflict a painful season or two upon Rossoneri fans. This leads to

The Bad – 

The defense as a unit – We said this back four surely couldn’t keep a clean sheet. Indeed.

Sampdoria’s time on the ball – Sampdoria were given all the time in the world in the opening half to turn on the ball. Milan increased the pressure as the time wore on, but not at a fast enough rate, and not with enough effect. Sampdoria players were able to drive forward and before their break, oftentimes their only downfall was their own passing.

The goal – The marking on the set piece was atrocious. Abbiati didn’t even move, which is even more strange considering he had no one on the post.

The finishing – Sometimes it’s your day, sometimes it isn’t. Milan hit the post almost as often as Maxi Lopez did last season. He got sent on his way for it.

Nocerino and Flamini – The workmen of the midfield put in the most anonymous midfield performance I’ve seen in a long time from a Milan team. They seemed unable to cope with the ball when they had it, did a poor job of exploiting space, and were not able to drive forward in the way’s that made them dangerous in seasons past. One to forget.

Lack of creation in the final third – The only offensive creative players on Milan last season were Ibrahimovic and Cassano, and they are both gone. There is a huge gap here at the moment.

General lack of ideas for the team – The team was walking in the final minutes – from dejection not from exertion. You just don’t get the sense that the team on the field has a clear idea what the strategy is, how to utilize it best, and how to put others on the team in a position to do the same.

Lack of service to the striker – Be it Boateng in the first half or Pazzini in the second half, the man furthest up the pitch didn’t get the ball enough. Contrast this to Eder for Sampdoria who saw the ball often and was a reference point to allow his team to join him in the final third.

Robinho takes up the goalscoring hat – You know how this turned out.

Final Thoughts – 

Milan played laterally too much. They didn’t use enough vertical movement in their shape, and as a result, you ended up with two players on the wings, without much skill or ability to do anything with the ball (see any interaction with Flamini and De Sciglio in the first half). Emanuelson’s introduction in the second half helped with the balance of the left side seeing an increase in penetration and crosses. I’d like to see more Urby in the mezzala in the coming games.

Allegri tried a new system. That system wasn’t particularly effective, but he also doesn’t really have the right players in the right places for it to work. That being said, the same strategies of last year aren’t possible, so there is going to be some time needed before Allegri develops a new idea (he probably should have done this before but I’m sure he didn’t expect Thiago, Zlatan and Cassano all to leave at once.). The real question is will Silvio give him enough time to figure it out?

New attempts at a system yielded the same results. Milan still attacked the same directions with the same frequency as last season.  Screen Shot 2012 08 26 at 2.11.10 PM Milan v Sampdoria Post Match Comments

They also shot from the same areas of the pitch as last year, however Cassano + Ibrahimovic’s absence was noticeable when it came to the direction of the shots, as both players like to drift out to the left side. In their absence, there were more shots from the right side instead, where Boateng, Robinho and El Shaarawy all like to drift towards.

Screen Shot 2012 08 26 at 3.04.30 PM Milan v Sampdoria Post Match Comments

Shot Directions – Milan left, Sampdoria right

 

Diagrams from WhoScored.com

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Milan v Atalanta Post-Match Comments [Sep 15 2012]

Milan – 4-2-1-1-2 – Abbiati; Abate, Bonera, Acerbi, Antonini; De Jong, Ambrosini; Emanuelson; Boateng; Pazzini, El Shaarawy

Atalanta – 4-3-2-1 – Consigli; Briviom, Lucchini, Manfredini, Bellini; Raimondi, Cigarini, Biondini; Bonaventura, Moralez; Denis

Some context: Milan have had poor starts before, however, this loss means Milan have their worst home start in 82 years. The last time they lost two home matches to begin the season, they were relegated.

 

Some Thoughts –

  • Almost as if the outcome was dictated before the match even got underway, the stands were conspicuously empty. Today, also, the official season ticket numbers were released. A new low in the Berlusconi Era. The cynicism with this squad has brimmed over the top.
  • Boateng doesn’t link the midfield and attack. He used to be passable at it, although this may have been more of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s influence than anything else, it seems. In any event, his shooting has been atrocious again this year (he might need to work on it again) and his utility at the trequartista spot with no creativity continues to fall.
  • Atalanta played with Moralez out wide with room to operate. Bonaventura played behind Denis who drifted around and looked to hold the ball up to his onrushing players. He was far more effective at holding up play and distributing the ball than Pazzini was, although Pazzini lives for wide service, whereas Denis was getting service directly from the center of the midfield or from Moralez, who was the most effective creative player in the game.
  • Emanuelson’s impact was felt when he started making driving runs in about the 10th minute. Until then, he was using his guile to shield the ball and look for a pass, but once he realized the time he was being given to turn, he started using his pace to his advantage, which is something he should have been coached about before. I mentioned this in my preview tweets, but here’s the predicted diagram of the midfield’s movement today.

midfieldatalanta Milan v Atalanta Post Match Comments

Midfield Movement Direction v Atalanta

  •  Milan pressed very well in the opening 15 minutes. They denied Atalanta any possession in the early going, and a lot of this was due to the work they were doing in the offensive third while they lost possession. This died out by the 30th minute. This sort of pressing requires an extremely fit squad (Milan Lab), or this strategy has to be used judiciously and not spread through the whole game. The problem with pressing for the first 25 minutes is that once this huge surge of effort yielded no goal (as it has on every occasion this season) there is little energy or motivation left to adjust this system. Also there has to be the order to change the system, and “Dai, Dai, Dai” might lead one to believe there was no change in orders. Allegri needs to know his team better than this. He needs to be able to read the situation and not go for broke in the first 20 minutes. Speaking of going for broke..
  •  Provincial Tactics – Using 2 holders against a mid-table side. I don’t understand why Ambrosini was a starter. His introduction into the starting lineup saw Emanuelson play ahead of himself and De Jong (who it should be noted made Ambrosini’s role redundant). Emanuelson wasn’t given the proper instructions and didn’t have a defined role until midway through the first half. Why didn’t Antonini get subbed out? There was no threat coming down Milan’s left side, and Emanuelson had the flank under control for much of the first half. Why was the 4-3-3, which provides Pazzini with the most service (that he delivers on), never considered? Why did Boateng remain in the game as it was clear his patience had slipped and his concentration was gone? Why did El Shaarawy come out when he was the most positive attacking player? Would Ambrosini have been subbed if he hadn’t been injured?
  •  Three Milan players understood that the way to break through a static game like today’s match is through vertical runs. El Shaarawy, Boateng and Emanuelson were the only players who seemed to be able to separate from their defenders, and looked the most lively. Boateng has a bit of Muntari-syndrome and needs to curb a bit of the excessive shots – but also, he’s out there to try, and Allegri needs to manage the match and the players. He should have been substituted. He tires after 70 minutes, frequently. He will also probably start on Tuesday.
  •  Bonera needs to learn a second style of defense because his one game plan doesn’t work against all types of strikers. Denis was able to lay the ball off to Cigarini for the goal because Bonera was over a foot and a half off him, covering his basis in case Denis tried to push the ball past Bonera. In covering for his lack of pace, he allowed Denis to receive the ball with little pressure, and as a result, Denis had no problem finding the right pass.
  • The team selection was wrong today. The substitutions were a combination of forced moves as well as mis-appropriated maneuvers to gain offensive potency. There just was no real basis for a tactical plan on this match. Allegri never really had control of this match.

Screen Shot 2012 09 15 at 4.58.30 PM Milan v Atalanta Post Match Comments

Average Player Position – Milan left, Atalanta right – Courtesy of Whoscored.com

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Milan v Anderlecht Post-Match Comments [Sep 18 2012]

Milan: 4-3-2-1 – Abbiati, De Sciglio, Bonera, Mexes, Antonini, Nocerino, De Jong, Flamini, Emanuelson, Boateng, Pazzini

Anderlecht: 4-4-1-1 – Proto, Wasilewski, Kouyaté, Nuytinck, Deschacht, Biglia, Kljestan, Gillet, Kanu, Bruno, Mbokani

 

The statistics for this game really don’t add anything substantive. Milan played uninspired football for the 4th straight game this season (and continuing from the end of the summer campaign). Apologies for the brevity.

 

The Good: 

  • De Sciglio’s involvement created space and opened up play. He created two of the best chances of the match. When he’s given the right flank to roam on, he often finds a lot of space, especially in the workman midfield system in place at Milan, where there are no “torqueros” on the squad. Give him the ball more.
  • Allegri’s tactical idea here worked only when Emanuelson recovered the ball in the attacking half with time to turn. This happened very rarely. When it did though, Boateng and Pazzini were pushing vertically forward, and Emanuelson did well to create from this space.
  • Milan didn’t lose.

The Bad:

  • Lateral Movement. There was none from t he forwards. They left the midfielders with no options, and didn’t make any useful runs.
  • Urgency. I would elaborate but I just can’t find the motivation.
  • The Shape – What was it? 4-3-2-1? When El Shaarawy came for Boateng he sort of replaced Emanuelson as a wide-forward / run-back-to-defend-at-right-back-player. It was hardly defined, and Flamini sat very deep next to De Jong. Pazzini was often 20 yards away from another Milan player.
  • Boateng has been the biggest disappointment of the season so far. He’s shot more than any other player in Serie A and is yet to net a goal with over 25 attempts in all competitions so far. His passing is also slack of late, and he doesn’t have the sharpness that he had last season. His heading is also poor. He’s not a very useful aerial threat if he gets on the end of a lot of balls but sends them all 10 meters off target.
  • Allegri’s starting lineup – Awful. Team selection is poor here. The midfield is overly clogged, Pazzini isn’t a mobile enough target man, and the forward two behind him had no idea what they were doing tactically.
  • 4 games 3 goals (all in one game). Problem.
  • Milan’s team today could have easily put in a shift at the steel mill. 4 working midfielders, 3 of those 4 box-to-box and the other defensive. Then one “drifting” Urby Emanuelson. The defense turned out just as brutish as the midfield, committing foul after foul.

GIG 0451 big Milan v Anderlecht Post Match Comments

Courtesy of ACMilan.com

Final Point:

This wasn’t good enough. Allegri is certainly on the hot seat if he wasn’t already before this. He was not given very much to work with this season, but today he got his team selection wrong, his tactics backwards, and continued his abysmal form in the Champions League for Milan.

 

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Udinese v Milan Post-Match Comments [Sep 23 2012]

Milan – 4-3-3 – Abbiati; Abate, Zapata, Mexes, Mesbah; Montolivo, Ambrosini, Nocerino; El Shaarawy, Pazzini, Emanuelson

Udinese – 3-5-1-1 – Brkic; Benatia, Danilo, Coda; Faraoni Allan, Pinzi, Pereyra, Pasquale; Ranegie; Di Natale.

I really don’t even know how to begin here. Positives and Negatives format again. If you guys have any suggestions on how I structure these, leave them in the comments.

 

Positive:

Boateng Substitution – It was the most positive substitution Allegri has made in a long time. It paid off immediately as Boateng was a positive influence in the center of the park and took control of the space that Ambrosini struggled to dictate during his time.  The goal was a direct result of his vertical play and driving runs.

Nocerino’s Movement in the First Half – Excellent, incisive, and yet no one to distribute the ball to him. No one to distribute the ball. Distribute.

Vertical Runs Early in the Match – They were effective, and Udinese made the same types of runs on their most dangerous attacks. When Milan moved laterally (which they didn’t do often due to their lack of width) they were less effective. These became less and less frequent.

Zapata’s First Half – Swept up at the back, and covered for Mexes on several occasions. As he gained in confidence, and Mesbah regressed, he became more forward thinking and looked to break into attack. This was good when he made a Thiago Silva-esque run into the midfield and then distributed, but when he made it too far he often was out of his depth.

Service to Pazzini – Not good. But better than before. At least today the formation was based around him.

Screen Shot 2012 09 23 at 12.14.17 PM Udinese v Milan Post Match Comments

Average Position – Udinese left, Milan right – Via WhoScored.com

Shape – The team had excellent shape as can be seen in the above diagram

 

Negatives: 

Zapata’s Second half – Woof

Boateng’s Temper – Could have seen red for the first challenge he made, so all arguments that the second yellow was soft fall short for me.

Mexes Brain Farts – Nearly cost a goal, and several other chances.

Pazzini’s Overall Fitness – Not good. His movement also needs to be addressed because if he’s not making a run to get on the end of a ball, he’s not providing anything else.

Set Piece Defense – How many goals this season have come from set pieces? This is something you can work on in training. This is on the coach.

Allegri’s Response to Guidolin’s Tactical Shift – There was none. It led to an Udinese goal. We know Allegri rarely makes tactical shift in game and today was no different until the red cards forced his hand.

Bojan Desperation – Can the kid get some real minutes in a non desperate situation?

Mesbah – I love him but, my word, that was awful. Left Ambrosini to dry on several occasions, one causing a yellow card for Ambro and which led to the first Udinese goal. All over the place, except where he was needed to be. 0/8 crossing.

Final Thought –

Can’t be surprised by this, as long as Allegri is in charge, I expect to lose every game this season. Not enough signs of turning that around, yet he slowly has the squad improving (by glacial shifts and tectonic standards) Allegri lives to fight another day. If he doesn’t beat Cagliari at home, then he may as well go back to coaching their side.

allegrifrankensteinjaw 265x300 Udinese v Milan Post Match Comments

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Milan v Cagliari Post-Match Comments [Sep 26 2012]

Milan – 4-3-3: Abbiati, Abate, Bonera, Mexes, De Sciglio, Traoré, De Jong, Montolivo, Emanuelson, El Shaarawy, Pazzini.

Cagliari – 4-3-3: Agazzi, Perico, Rossettini, Astori, Pisano, Dessena, Conti, Nainggolan, Thiago Ribeiro, Ibarbo, Pinilla.

Mauro Tassotti got his chance on the bench and didn’t disappoint. Pazzini played as a target man, and dropped back towards midfield, leaving El Shaarawy and Emanuelson free to roam.

 

MilanvCagliari1 Milan v Cagliari Post Match CommentsMilan v Cagliari – Milan Movement Zones

The Good –

El Shaarawy – The Pharaoh came into his own today with a mature display. Composed when he needed it most, his performance today was of a different class than the rest of his season. His first goal was the result of Cagliari’s defensive line not stepping together, and the LB held him on sides. Nonetheless, he continued his run, and deserved the finish.

The Result – Finally. Knew Inter wouldn’t break the curse without Milan’s intervention.

The Formation Shift – Tassotti made use of his ability to make changes and shifted the formation with Constant’s introduction to the recently used 4-2-3-1 variant. It worked well, and provided more balance against the 4-3-3, giving Milan a man advantage in the center of the park, which allowed them to keep positional advantage over their counterparts when they tried to counter.

The Bad –

Play Labored in the Second Half – The urgency was gone for most of the second half, and the difference from the first half was noticeable. This may be in part due to the fact they knew they didn’t have to score, merely hold their advantage, however, at 1-0 and considering recent results – more urgency may have been needed. Nonetheless, it was enough.

The Environment – The Curva Sud got back to singing. But before they did – the fans were very upset. As noted by Anthony Lopopolo who attended the match, there were jeers throughout the match, in particular directed at Montolivo, who was making his first start after recovering from injury. I’m not saying they weren’t deserved (not entirely deserved that is) however, between the sparse attendance and the hostile atmosphere, the San Siro was set to explode, however, the pharaoh saw this didn’t happen. Had Cagliari scored first, we might have heard even more jeers. Galliani thanked the Curva after the match, but the rest of the fans didn’t seem as supportive as them.

The Team Approach – Is there one? I didn’t see much of it. Players seem to playing for themselves, and there is no clear leader on the squad. Not Ambrosini, because he can no longer lead by example.

Nianggolan – Absolutely a beast today. Dominated the middle of the park, and was able to control Traore + Montolivo in the first half. Can be a very dangerous player if he’s on a quality squad.

Creative Influx – Tassotti’s substitutions were meant more to change formation than change strategy, Robinho was the closest to a creative substitution, and he merely unbalanced the squad defensively, as he put in much less work than Emanuelson did before his departure. He did show bursts of offensive creativity which Emanuelson was unable to provide.

Final Thoughts –

Positionally, Pazzini dropped back level around Traore, who was lost, and laid the ball off to the midfield/wide forwards. His movement created El Shaarawy’s second goal, and the more he pulled forward, the more space the was for El Shaarawy to cut in from the left wing.

Screen Shot 2012 09 26 at 6.26.03 PM Milan v Cagliari Post Match Comments

Milan left, Cagliari right – Formation

Balanced Attacking directions from Milan, which is an improvement in this formation.

Screen Shot 2012 09 26 at 6.23.38 PM Milan v Cagliari Post Match Comments

Milan left, Cagliari right – Thirds used

Milan had balanced action zones, whereas Cagliari found themselves in their defensive third more than they were able to push forward. They had 50% possession but were forced deeper into their own half to retain it.

Screen Shot 2012 09 26 at 6.10.06 PM1 Milan v Cagliari Post Match Comments

Milan Left, Cagliari Right – Action Zones.

 

Diagrams courtesy of WhoScored.Com and LegaSerieA.it.

 

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Parma v Milan Post-Match Comments [Sep 29 2012]

Milan – 4-3-3: Abbiati; Abate-Zapata-Yepes-De Sciglio; De Jong-Ambrosini-Nocerino; Boateng-Bojan-El Shaarawy

Parma –  3-5-2: Mirante; Zaccardo, Paletta, Lucarelli; Rosi, Parolo, Ninis, Galloppa, Gobbi; Pabon, Amauri

 

Parma used their 5-man midfield to great effect in the opening minutes, allowing them to push Milan back into their own half with good pressure on the ball. Much like every team I’ve seen use this strategy this year (including Milan) they tired quickly, and the pressing stopped after about 15 minutes, changing the area of play on the field.

The 4-3-3 formation that Milan trotted out was extremely defensive in nature. It shifted slightly into a 4-2-3-1 that seemed to play off the counterattack.

possessionbackparma Parma v Milan Post Match Comments

Play Zones – Milan spent more time in their own defensive third than in Parma’s offensive third.

Positionally, the module of the team was a 4-2-3-1 with high playing wingbacks.

positionaverageparma1 Parma v Milan Post Match Comments

Player Position

Tactically, this was a positive shift, as the 4-2-3-1 has now been seen in the last two games (with Ambro NDJ). I would like to see if Montolivo can be inserted for Ambrosini in an ideal XI, as this side lacks the passing and distribution – for an example, look to Ambrosini looking to make the assists. He succeeded last week, however today, looked woefully inept at creative passing, and his attempts at key passes were not effective. The idea is right, though.

It may have been the pouring rain that started an hour before kickoff, but the general movement in this match was poor. That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots of improvement, such as KPB’s attempted header on 16 minutes after a series of slick passes led to a wide open header in the 6 which he should have done better on (which has been discussed at length before – 0 goals, 0 assists 25+ shots this year).

Speaking of Boateng, his fitness still isn’t at par. He needed to be subbed just after half, however Allegri let him continue into the 70th minute, at which point he was tired, frustrated, and fouling. He needs to be managed and taken out of the situations where he can possibly fall into more trouble. It seems he will play against Zenit – so the rest he got will be useful.

As for the Milan goal – El Shaaarawy. What a player. He’s taken his shooting to the next level (much as Boateng did last season) and the difference in his finishing from the beginning of this year is astounding. He’s composed in front of goal every time, and he slots home excellently, low and away from the keeper.

Milan are most dangerous against Parma on the counterattack. I’m not sure if this is due to the formation they are playing (4-2-3-1) or if it is because of the mentality of the players / their own inabilities to string long passing sets together with a result. In any event, the effect of this counterattacking ability led to the El Shaarawy goal, as Milan had a 4 on 3 situation at the back with Bojan leading the charge. This is the ultimate success of Allegri’s midfield – as the runners shook off their marks and were free pressing into space. In an ideal world, Allegri’s tactics always work like that.

For the goal conceded – the 5th goal conceded on set-pieces this week. I will discuss more about this in an upcoming article, however, there is some responsibility on the coach for this. Nigel De Jong caused the goal directly, pushing away from the wall and leaving a space with which the ball went through. Mistake.

Final Thought:

Positive signs – but will they be in time. As Allegri noted far too many times in his post-match interview, Milan “deserved” to win; however this is little consolation, and if anything speaks to the inabilities of the squad to do what they were expected to do. It was an improvement from the first few games of the season, but at what point are we going to stop comparing to the terrible starts of yesteryear?

Diagrams courtesy of WhoScored.com

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Zenit v Milan Post-Match Comments [Oct 3 2012]

Zenit: 4-3-3 – Malafeev, Anyukov, Hubocan, Lombaerts, Criscito, Fayzulin, Shirokov, Witsel, Bystrov, Kerzhakov, Hulk.

Milan: 4-2-3-1 – Abbiati, Abate, Bonera, Zapata, Antonini, De Jong, Montolivo, Emanuelson, Boateng, El Shaarawy, Bojan

 

ZenitvMilan 01 Zenit v Milan Post Match Comments

First Half Position and movement.

The Bad:

Emanuelson’s confidence on free kicks following the deflection goal in the first half – Did you see the followup? He got a severe deflection, and granted his original shot was on target, but it was easily going to be saved. He still (or anyone, really) is yet to prove he deserves to be the primary free kick taker.

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70 Minutes of Defending – 20 minutes were great, Milan did some excellent things, which will be touched on later. In the other 70 minutes though, they were often out of sorts, susceptible to the counterattack, weak in defensive transition, and struggled to deal with balls sent back into the midfield.

Zapata – His reading of the game was terrible today, he was a step off, wasn’t a threat going forward, and often looked lost on the pitch. Bonera had to cover for him on many an occasion, and Hulk’s goal was a direct mistake of his, as he defended the cut-back faint by Hulk, allowing him to continue on his preferred left foot. You simply have to know which foot the dangerous players on the opposition prefer to use.

Set Piece Defense – 6 goals this season conceded on set pieces. Allegri once again provides a key insight into his plan to solve the crisis in his interview after the match, “We should avoid conceding goals on set plays.”

Rotation of Central Defenders – Thiago and Nesta were the best pair last year. I understand Allegri is trying to figure out which is the best tandem this season, but rotating them every single match provides no continuity, and is one of the reasons our team is so faulty at the back.

Nocerino – Who is he this year? Noce has been a shadow of the player he was last season, and without Ibrahimovic and Cassano to supply him balls, seems completely out of sorts, with less of his trademark runs into the box.

Milan’s Away Record in the CL Until Today (Under Allegri) – Two years since they won an away match.

Inability to Deal with Pressure on the Ball – Once Zenit brought pressure, the passing strings dried up. Play became more positional as opposed to possessional, and the quality really dried up from the Milan players, along with the creative play that characterized the opening 15 minutes.

 

The Good:

Chance Conversion – 4 shots on target, 3 goals.

Compact Defending – It didn’t happen very often, but when Milan defended as a unit, they compacted vertically to a space of about 25-30 yards between Bojan and Bonera. When they held this line, they were near impenetrable, however, they only were able to successfully utilize the position on two occasions throughout the match. They were narrow for around 20 minutes in the game, and they were the most successful defensive periods for Milan.

Abbiati – Bellissimo. A joy to watch. One mistake, but the three other certain goals he prevented make up for that. Put off Montolivo on the corner kick, and misjudged the flight of the ball. Three world-class saves.

El Shaarawy – He’s coming into his own. 9 games and 5 goals this season, he’s on pace to a free vacation courtesy of Ambrosini. Showed flashes of Pato/Kaka today.

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El Shaarawy’s goal- http://img231.imageshack.us/img231/3369/yadbmzlqskczpgvddwaste.mp4

Wing Buildup Play – When going down the wings, Milan were excellent and utilized their speed. When going through the middle of the pitch, however, Boateng, De Jong,  and Montolivo struggled to put any sense or urgency into their play

The Starting Lineup – Allegri’s most positive lineup to date. Barring one or two small tweaks, Allegri fielded what many might consider Milan’s strongest XI. In a must-win game, he brought the A-team.

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The Press Confrence – These are almost becoming farcical with Allegri either stating the glaringly obvious, or saying perhaps I should have reacted to these things that I saw.

  • “When Zenit changed, I perhaps also should have changed something tactically in order to regain possession and control of the game.”
  • “I maybe should have played 3 in the middle after half an hour when we had problems getting out of our half.”
  • “We have to learn to read different parts of the game and that happened tonight. In the end of the game we played with 5 defenders at the back.”
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Final Thought:

Allegri turned up the style just enough to get it done. He’s finally breaking through in the 10-15 minute periods Milan play well in, and those goals have been the difference in their matches, as they almost look certain to concede after they play well for a few minutes. Today they had a bit of luck in the form of an own goal and a deflected free kick, but there were enough moments of fluid movement that it’s evident the side are progressing as a whole. Allegri also made the correct substitution to get Pazzini in with enough time to make an impact, unlike what he was being given against Parma. Not out of the woods yet for Milan, as they sit in second place in their group with 4 points, but a win at Malaga, and they will be feeling good about their chances of advancing from the group.

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Milan v Inter Post-Match Comments [Oct 7 2012]

Milan v Inter Post-Match Comments

Welcome back San Siro Milan, how we’ve missed you.

Christian Abbiati showed that much like this Milan team, when you most believe in him, he’s going to come back with a horrible error.  In the third minute, he misjudged another cross to the far post. Walter Samuel’s header saw the Rossoneri behind 1-0. At this point Inter began to protect their lead, and Milan were put in the obvious position of having to score a goal. The stakes were set early, and Allegri knew what he had to work with, but in the end, the performance from the team lacked any sort of cohesion or urgency.

intermilanderbyoctober12 01 Milan v Inter Post Match Comments

Milan v Inter first-half positioning

Let me clarify that screaming at the referee for missed calls, general incompetence or lack of consistency does not count as urgency. That’s desperation, and that is what this squad is at this moment in time – desperate.

Once his influence waned up top, Allegri opted to move Emanuelson to LB, his first appearance at LB in a competitive match since the January fixture against Inter. Another sign of the desperate times was the formerly annual (now ever match) ritual of sending Mario Yepes forward and lobbing balls from the left side in vain. Nevermind that the Inter defense are aerially sound, or that they were packed deep and centrally, Milan kept knocking on the door in the same way for most of the match to no avail.

Milan attacked up the left side, like they have for the past season or so. During the latter part of last season, and continuing into this season, the more dependent Milan are on their left flank, the more predictable their play becomes, and the easier it is to defend. The results support this, as Milan’s three wins this year have come when they’ve distributed their attacking directions more equally as opposed to overloading the left flank.

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Attack Directions – Milan left, Inter right

Once they reached the left side of the pitch, often via a long ball from Montolivo, Milan tried to drive at the Inter defense, however due to their deep-set positioning, Milan were unsuccessful. Milan pushed the visitors back into their own half for most of the match, and they were content to sit back and absorb this pressure.

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Areas of action.

They were forced to settle for shots outside the box (one of which was wrongly disallowed), and also looked to break on the rare occasions Inter ventured out of their own half. Those counter-counter attacks by Milan were some of their most dangerous plays, yet it seems by and large Allegri hasn’t coached this team into a counterattacking side, which they should be. The quality to play possession football deep in the oppositions half is well and good as far as aesthetic possibilities go (since they need the ball to do something spectacular with it – champagne football indeed) however, in practice, the current Milan tactical setup have seen them struggle to break down “provincial” sides, especially those content to absorb pressure and counter into Milan’s open spaces.

Ultimately, the third minute goal allowed Inter to sit back and play on the counter, and Milan’s already desperate situation was made all the more desperate. In fact, Inter sat so far back, Milan had their best passing performance (only statistically – there was a clear lack of urgency, direction or ingenuity in reality) of the season. This is understandable, considering the low scoring nature of the past few derbies. Inter came out with a plan to “attack with quality” and only with quality, as Antonio Cassano provided a wide outlet, but by and large was contained by Daniele Bonera. With a release valve capable of playing a killer ball, Inter were often given enough time to break out of their defensive positions and rush forward, a quality most exemplified by Javier Zanetti who we’ve come to expect nothing less of.

Were the refereeing decisions poor? Certainly. That being said, however valid the disallowing of a legitimate goal and the waving away of a penalty were, Milan should have been able to overcome the situation nonetheless. Bojan fell with a wide open shot in the box. Pazzini narrowly missed several chances. The clinical edge wasn’t with the Rossoneri today, and their 90% passing meant little consolation. They outshot inter 20-7, however when it cam ego shots on target they only had two more shots (5) on target than the men in blue and black.

The international break should provide some respite for Allegri, who will most likely return to the firing line. A 1-0 defeat is harsh to fire a manager on, and I don’t believe this to be happening, but this certainly is another wagon to join the circle around Allegri, and it doesn’t seem like it will be much longer so long as Milan struggle to get on the scoresheet like they did yesterday.

Statistics provided by WhoScored.com

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Lazio v Milan Post-Match Comments

Lazio: 4-1-4-1 – Bizzarri, Lulic, Dias, Biava, Konko, Ledesma, Mauri, Hernanes, Gonzalez, Candreva, Klose.

Milan: 4-3-1-2 – Amelia, Abate, Bonera, Yepes, Antonini, Montolivo, De Jong, Nocerino, Boateng, Pazzini, El Shaarawy.

Prior to the match, Galliani announced that Allegri’s job had never, and continued to not be in jeopardy. This brings out two crowds usually. One is those who will staunchly defend Allegri until the day he’s fired as an unfortunate chap who just happened to stumble into B&G’s well-devised plan to crucify him for their own shortcomings. The other group believes that Allegri is the primary reason for the current status of the team, and no coaching decision he makes will change that. So how did Max actually do today?

I’ll begin in midfield, because this is where the match was won and lost. Montolivo had 5 tackles and an interception for a total of 6 ball wins. De Jong had 2 tackles but  3 interceptions. So what does this mean? Coupled with the rest of the stats this season (which support this conclusion), it means that De Jong is better at positioning himself, and reading the play, whereas Montolivo also does this, but focuses on keeping the man in particular in front of him and waiting until the moment to make the tackle. Neither style is better or worse overall, both have advantages in the situation. My problem with the two of these guys playing in today’s 4-3-1-2 formation (which unfortunately became a 4-1-3-space-2 with no link in attack) is that Milan ended up playing with 3 mezzala players, none of whom were particularly effective in the match as they all attempted to perform different variations of the same role. Most at fault of the three of these players is Kevin Prince Boateng, who wasn’t in the right position throughout the match, and continued his woeful form of 0 goals and 0 assists. Without movement or offensive pressure (which he didn’t provide at the top of the diamond at all), Boateng is just a passenger in the midfield. Even Boateng’s uninspired performance could be called pragmatic compared to the barren performance put on show by Nocerino. Positionally he played deep, however he didn’t provide any cover to the back four, didn’t provide width on the left for the squad, didn’t complete his runs higher up the pitch, and failed to take advantage of the one time in more than a year that Milan have played so dependently on the right half of the pitch.

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Attack Directions, Lazio left, Milan right

Nocerino’s frustration was evident from the first minute. Whether the off-field issues are a part of his mentality (having been dropped from Prandelli’s regular call ups) or whether he simply doesn’t have the belief in either himself of the strategy. In any event, he’s unlikely to deserve a starting spot with performances like he turned in against Lazio. He seems to know this, as his interview this week with Gazzetta indicates, “I was not Pelé last year; I’m not dead this year.” He also discussed the fact he doesn’t seem to fit into the 4-2-3-1 system that Allegri is introducing. Perhaps that was part of the motivation for changing the system to a 4-3-1-2, however, more than that I think it was the desperation setting in as the wagons circle Max Allegri. As alluded to in the last Post-Match Comments, Milan are looking more and more desperate by the match. The 4-3-1-2 was the last throw of the dice for Allegri, the one last attempt at the comfort foods that sustained his first two years as manager. The old tried-and-true strategy. Boban asked Allegri after the match why he chose the 4-3-1-2 and his answer was that he wanted another man in midfield.

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Milan / Lazio Positions

It didn’t work, as Lazio pulled in one of their four offensive midfielders (and covered the space by allowing Lulic to press forward on the Lazio left wing. This is why Emanuelson’s substitution at halftime was so crucial.

He pushed Lulic back, which forced their attacking midfielders to do more defensive work, and also forced them wider, which opened op space inside for Pazzini to receive crosses instead of being shadowed by holding players and central backs. This space led to both of the goals, as El Shaarawy was free on the left flank for the first time all match, and took advantage of a one on one. On the free kick, Emanuelson curled it in from the right wing onto the path of De Jong for the second. Allegri did well to diagnose Boateng as the man to come off for Emanuelson (as the width became more important for the Rossoneri than the strength in the center or even the numerical advantage).

Ultimately though, the changes that saw positive steps for Milan in previous matches, were forgotten. The 4-2-3-1 that had started to become customary for the team was shifted, the defense became the 10th different defense in 10 games. All of the decisions in this game come down to desperation. From Allegri’s full-Leonardo move of 4-2-fantasia to the initial change to 4-3-1-2 this game was about the Rossoneri feeling comfortable, and they were unable to. Will Max be given more time? Surely he will, however with a 5 losses, the Rossoneri have as many as the other 3 clubs they share points with, and sit one point out of the relegation zone. One feels that were the match at Malaga this weekend to go awry than Allegri’s tenure as Milan coach will certainly be in question.

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