Even though it is a commonly used formation in football nowadays, there is nothing simple or straightforward about Stefano Pioli’s 4-2-3-1 system.
As MilanNews writes, every player within that system knows their specific roles and responsibilities and it differs from flank to flank – e.g. the left-back has a different set of commands to the right-back – and the avalanche of injuries that hit the attacking has led the Milan coach to make choices that distorted the core.
Things like moving Rade Krunic to the wing sent some attacking movements slightly haywire, and it has become very clear that the role of the wingers cannot be taken for granted. They not only have to concentrate on their own strengths and responsibilities from a coverage point of view, but must also have a good understanding of the coded plays with the full-backs who often overlap on the outside or underlap.
This is easier when players are playing on their preferred side or in their favoured position, but the adaptation of Krunic and Brahim to the wings in crucial games came with difficulties. Of course we are talking about intelligent players who always try to put the good of the team above their personal preferences, but square pegs do not go into round holes.
Looking ahead to the game against Napoli, it seems likely that Messias and Saelemaekers will be on the wings with either Brahim Diaz or Krunic behind Ibrahimovic. The game against Udinese taught Milan one thing: the formation only pays off if the players are put in their positions.