Balance vs. output: Milan’s right wing quandary and the two ways it can be fixed

By Rohit Rajeev -

AC Milan fielded Rade Krunic on the right side of the attack in the most recent game against Chelsea, which has once again raised questions about that area of the squad.

Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara chose not to go out and sign a new out-and-out winger during the summer as they instead put faith in Alexis Saelemaekers and Junior Messias, signing the latter permanently from Crotone after his loan expired.

However, both were injured for the 3-0 defeat against Chelsea on Wednesday night and as a result Krunic was forced to play in that role, something which was a far from ideal situation. Rohit has decided to take a look at the right wing situation…

The system

Milan play a 4-2-3-1 on paper as we all know. The double pivot is the stand-out feature of Pioli’s system but formations tend to change according to situations, and two of the main factors are what you do when you have the ball versus what you do off it.

When Milan lose the ball they settle into a narrow 4-4-2 shape as seen below.

They also sit back in a different way too, with Tonali pushing wide to the left to cover for Leao and De Ketelaere (or whoever is the attacking midfielder) sitting back to cover for Leao’s lack of tracking back.


If Milan were get a winger who does not have the ability to track back then it will make the team look a bit more vulnerable structurally.


The issues

Signing or fielding a winger that would not offer the same guarantees as the current options from a coverage point of view has certain drawbacks.

1. It would expose Bennacer to overloads, i.e. the opposition coach can alter their tactics to have more men on their left side and have 3v2 in their favour. It would need Tonali or De Ketelaere to shift laterally which may cause an imbalance in the structure.

2. The imabalance also does not bode well for Calabria who isn’t the greatest defender in terms of 1v1’s as well as you can see how many times he gets dribbled past.


This makes things a very difficult solution to resolve, because there is an obvious desire to have more attacking output on a consistent basis from the right side, but without giving up much of the work rate and defensive sacrifice that would jeopardise the entire system.

The type of right winger Milan need is someone who can track back and be productive, but the problem is those kinds of players are very rare and are generally considered to be in an elite category. One such player would be Serge Gnabry, but he would cost close to €60m or more which the club couldn’t spend under Elliott Management and are unlikely to spend under RedBird.

An alternative option

There is another possible solution to the issue, but it would require the signing of two players, and that is to essentially try and recreate the left flank on the opposite wing.

That would mean the signing of a new right winger with more attacking output than Messias and Saelemaekers, but also then getting a better right-back than Calabria as they would be exposed more.

A Theo Hernandez-esque player who is physically strong, has the pace and is not easily Dribbled past would be ideal. Of course, this would not necessarily make the current options Saelemaekers or Messias better in front of goal either.

In conclusion, this is not a particularly easy issue to fix as it would require substantial investment in a top-level player for the right wing, or potentially a double investment to sign a more attacking winger and a better full-back.

Of course, there are other tactical solutions that must be mentioned such as a change in formation should Pioli wish to exploit De Ketelaere in a different way, with a three-man midfield or a three-man defence among the hypothesis.

Tags AC Milan


  1. I don’t think so. Pioli use this system : Leao go so high because he is currently the best player to go to isolation, make chances by himself. And we can not buy Leao-style at RW. Thats all.

    If we have Leao-style RW, im sure RW & LW must go deeper & track back, then CDK go higher so CDK can be used as a real trequartista, as the primary passing option to pick best space to attack (RW or LW). It means Leao & Leao-style RW have more space to run from deep to final third, more proactive to find spaces, not only waiting the ball.

    And it means the pivots can more concentrate at the middle and give proper supports (can make better key passes or even assists), not only covering the empty spaces. So our ACM will be complete : Proactive, Aggressive, Plays Vertically with high speed & rotating players.

    We loss big-chance to have a great RW when we can’t afford Dejan Kulusevic from Juventus for 35M euros. If we have him, our ACM will be complete.

    1. That would be an easy solution, CDK gets closer to goal and gets to show his abilities more, also he tracks back since he is not your typical winger. An Adli finally gets his chance.

  2. Noa lang can play on the right wing he did it with his national team, maybe but maybe madueke from psv similar to saint maximin better but injury prone. Ziyech on the right would also be a option if he can get his old form back at milan ziyech made good connections with promes at ajax which played like leao but not so good als leao but he also has a age so he can be good for 2 seasons than we have to replace him

    Besides everything milan should look for endrick felipe of palmeiras a brazilian player who will hit the neymar level he is that good but for the youth!

    Because of the budget problems milan has they should invest more in their youth team with the same playing style as the main team so in the future it can cover problems like now calabria is out than someone from the youth should stand up and could fulfill that position maybe not for al 10/10 but If he can give a 6/10 than it still wouldn’t be much of a problem this is what ajax is doing for years and this is also what bayern did before they had a big budget but still is doing sometimes city can do it also but they have a a wide bench.

    And where is redbird they made some promises to the fans the first promise whas to secure the contract of the star player leao and they still didn’t offer him a contract he deserves

    There is another option because of the war many decent players from ukrainien and russia can leave for a low price look at neres he went for free or a low price to benfica because the club can’t pay their salaries in this war and the players want to play and also be in a safe country, there can be talents over there for the youth team

    What milan also can do with a little money is buy cheap players with high potential and loan them out directly to their current team so they can get play time to develop

    Ps just brainstorming and researching to help milan getting back to the top 🫣

  3. Idk why peop still think that Calabria isn’t a great rb. Even these stats, supposedly showing his weakness are only showing that he is improving with age and exp. Furthermore now that he is out we are suffering greatly on the right. He is doing what the coach wants and that is to stay more def minded while the left side (theo) goes forward. if both of them press up we’d have a big ašš hole in the back all the time. Think we sholud just drop the rw and go with a 3-5-2 version, double pivot remains, cdk/diaz/adli behind the strikers, Leao as one of them with the freedom he needs and Giroud/whoever as the ST. Gives Theo and Calabria more space to go forward. Kalulu, Tomori and Kiwior (if they’re smart enoug to get him) as cbs

    1. Agreed. I almost stopped reading the article at “Calabria isn’t the best defender and he gets dribbled past.” he literattly is the best defensive RB in Seria A. I don’t know why the blame for everything is always on him. No one can be 100% efficent, Theo losses 1on1 duels and gets past too. Calabria stats are actually quite good in this areas. Theo also gets a lot of help in covering at the back from the DMF, while Calabria is ofthen left to defend on his own while the DMF on the right side pushes more forward to help organize the attack. In the end we all saw how it was without Calabria in the last game. Big thumbs up for Kiwor as well.

  4. CDK can play on the right. Two of our greatest ever players, Gullit and Savicevic, were forwards who started on the right and roamed. Credit to the author for not lazily suggesting feeble, injury prone garbage like Ziyech and Pulisic.

  5. Excellent article – I think of this every time I see the criticism constantly levelled at Messias or Salamaekers on here – being a right-winger at Milan should not have the same goals output as the left side, because the team needs that balance to free up Leao and Hernandez. Both Salamaekers, Messias and, in the last game, Diaz, have done the hard working back part of the game well – better numbers going forward would be great and of course an upgrade should be possible, but it would need to be a player who can contribute to Pioli’s plan.

Comments are closed

Serie A Standings

Live football scores . Current table, fixtures & results.