AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli has developed a reputation now as being a head coach that doesn’t mind gambling when he feels things are right.
During his first couple of months in charge it can be recalled that Pioli switched formation several times to try and cater to the team’s strengths, especially after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, moving from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-2-1 then to a 4-2-3-1 which has now been settled on.
However, as La Gazzetta dello Sport reports, that have been even more isolated selection decisions that have earned the ‘Normal One’ a bit of a reputation for not being afraid to play a wild card.
Milan-Sampdoria: The most recent example of course is on Saturday when he chose to play Saelemaekers as the right-back, who had always started games as a winger. It is a position he knows well from his time at Anderlecht, but the experiment failed against Samp as he came off after 45 minutes having lost the battle with Damsgaard.
Milan-Juventus: Pioli made some interesting choices in the 3-1 defeat to Juve earlier this year, but mainly out of necessity. With Krunic, Bennacer and Tonali out, Calabria played in midfield. This time the experiment worked well as the full-back scored to make it 1-1, even if the result wasn’t ideal.
Milan-Torino: Calabria was then played in the middle of the field again for the Coppa Italia game against Torino, which ended up being a victory on penalties.
Sparta-Milan: During a trip to the Czech Republic for the final Europa League group stage game, Pioli used Pierre Kalulu – a 20-year-old full-back who arrived on a free transfer from Lyon – as a centre-back. Gabbia and Kjaer were injured which forced the choice, but Kalulu worked well next to Romagnoli securing a 1-0 win and a clean sheet.
Three wild cards: Pioli has fielded three attacking players in other roles compared to what they are used to: Castillejo, Leao and Brahim Diaz. The Spaniard was forced to play as a false nine in Milan 0-1 Manchester United, though in his career he had already done so on two other occasions.
Leao has been deployed three times as No.10: against Crotone, Inter and Bologna (one assist, two wins and one defeat). Finally, Brahim Diaz was used on the left against Fiorentina, scoring a goal in the 3-2 win. He had already played there six times, but it is obvious he is viewed as a No.10.