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AC Milan, as is well known by the footballing world, have fallen into somewhat of a rut these past few years.

The Club has been without European football since the 2013/14 season and has ultimately paid the price for a number of bad business decisions on and off the field.

However, you could be led to believe that things are looking up. The club has been bought out by Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux and they, along with new directors Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli, have promised to get the Diavolo back amongst Europe’s elite.

So, with that said, Oliver Fisher have drawn up an extensive plan of exactly what AC Milan should look to do with their summer budget, which for the sake of pessimism (and realism) is assumed to be the lower estimate of €120million.

Who should stay? Who should go? What system should we play, and who plays where? All are answered in this four part series…

Formation

Before looking in to personnel ahead of the 2017/18 season, it is important to consider what tactical make up we should adopt.

For this piece, we are going to assume Vincenzo Montella is the manager next season, given his will to coach Milan and the owners’ desire to keep him. Montella primarily uses a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder and two wingers, otherwise known as a 4-3-3 DM wide.

Starting from back to front in this system, the goalkeeper, who rather than being a sweeper keeper as modern football tends to require now, is suited better if he is allowed to stay on his line purely for shot stopping ability. Of course, there is still room to come out and sweep, and importantly the goalkeeper in this style (who, let’s face it, is almost certain to be Gianluigi Donnarumma) is the starting point for attacks in terms of playing out from the back. 

Both central
defenders are required to sit slightly deeper in order to assists when playing out of the back, with one being the more aerially combative and the other being the ball player who is confident to switch play and pass out from the back. In addition, for teams who deploy a pacey striker (or two) rather than a target man, the offside trap should be used. 

Moving on to the full-backs, who provide something key in this style of 4-3-3. It will be important for Montella to strike a harmony when assigning roles to the two full-backs; generally one will be given more freedom to bomb up and down the flank, even as far as the byline to cross. The other will be more defensively gifted, and would support attacks rather than getting too involved. The perfect examples would be Abate on the right (as the attacking full-back) and De Sciglio on the left (who supports rather than getting too involved up field).

Looking at the central midfield area, which is the crucial component in the balance of this system. Firstly, there is a deep-lying playmaker who sits in the middle and just behind the two other CMs. His role is slightly different to that of a ‘Regista’, as he will be required to do more work on the defensive end as the anchor of the side, but will still require good distribution and creativity to perform the playmaker role. For example, Andrea Pirlo was a great Regista, but this system needs someone more like a Xabi Alonso or an in-form Riccardo Montolivo.

The other two central midfielders, although performing different roles, will both be required to cover a good area of the pitch to assist with the transition between defence and attack. Depending on the wingers ahead of them, one will be more of an advanced playmaker who has the freedom to roam up until the edge of the box, and could even take up a role as CAM when the game dictates, while the other central midfielder would be box-to-box with an emphasis on winning the ball back and springing counters, much like Juraj Kucka does currently.

The wingers would also ideally take up different roles. One of them would function as almost an inside forward or ‘Raumdeuter’; someone who finds space in and around the final third and looks to shoot on sight or play the correct pass. The other winger meanwhile would function as more of a wide midfielder by dragging the defenders over and attempting to cross at the earliest opportunity with a variety of low balls and floated deliveries. Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura are another good example of how two wingers with different functions can help the team.

The centre forward, although isolated, plays arguably the most important role in this whole set-up. He is the one who brings all the hard work of the other nine outfield players together by functioning almost as a false nine; dropping in to help bring the wingers and the playmaker into the game, but also the ability to turn quickly through on goal and get into space for crosses.

There are not many complete forwards like this in world football, but players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alvaro Morata (both linked with the Rossoneri) fit the bill very well.

Tactics

Looking more specifically at how Montella should deploy his troops, it is vital to consider not just the roles that individuals should take up, but also the way that the team wants to play as a unit.

We have seen some of the style that the former Fiorentina boss wants to bring. The emphasis has been on attack and springing quick, creative breaks to strike the opposition defence. This hasn’t always worked however, as against teams that sit deep there are rarely chances to counter.

Against the majority of opponents, Milan should deploy a slightly deeper defensive line (as explained before with regards to CBs), and depending on the opponent, the offside trap can be used. The tempo should begin quick and remain quick, as often the shortcomings of the Rossoneri (especially against lesser opponents at home) has been slow, laboured play that doesn’t stretch or test the defend.

In standard possession, the team should use short, fast passes to move the ball around quickly and not allow the opposition to get organised. The central midfielders should always be looking for a forward pass, be it to a winger or the centre forward dropping in. When the wingers get the ball, they should look for the overlaps from both the full-backs and midfielders. Of course depending on the situation of the game, attacking commitments can either be increased or reduced, such as when behind or when in front.

If the team loses the ball  in the final third , two players should be closing down at all times aiming to win the ball back quickly. 
Similar to how ‘Gegenpressing’ works, this involves the closest two men pushing the player in possession back by closing the space around them and simultaneously cutting off the passing lanes, when the eventual aim of them surrendering possession through being tackled or a stray pass/long ball. Ariggo Sacchi used a style of pressing as displayed to the left, in which players near the action moved to surround the man in possession, cutting off an easy out ball. As the diagram conveys, all players must understand how to press intelligently in game situations, as every man is required to shift when the ball has just been lost. 

Against the top teams who have an emphasis on attacking (such as Roma and Napoli), the team must be a bit more cautious as the risk of getting caught out is much greater. In this situation, it is possible to pick two box-to-box CMs in addition to the deep-lying midfielder, in order to assists with multiple phases of the game. Certain roles should be reduced too, for example overlaps should be intelligent as full-backs would not have the same license to roam, and the central defenders should sit deep and aim to frustrate rather then stepping up, allowing the midfielders to protect the team from a counter solely. Closing down players with a good long shot is important, as is showing top strikers and wingers onto their weaker foot as a general principle to make life more difficult.

Again, it is important to note that this is entirely opinion based on what we have seen from the squad not only this season (over 35 games) but also last season, with a lot of the players being the same.

As mentioned before, the 4-3-3 is all about balance and each player knowing their responsibilities, which all lends to structure and ultimately success. It is a hard system to master, but Montella is working on it, and he is more than welcome to use these tips!

Stay tuned for Part Two where we assess the current team and the fate of each squad member.

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