Sacchi believes Milan have gone ‘backwards’ after Pioli’s tactical changes

By Oliver Fisher -

Former AC Milan boss Arrigo Sacchi is not a fan of the tactical tweaks that Stefano Pioli has made and even sent him a warning.

Milan had a simply dreadful start to the new year as they conceded 18 goals across their first seven games and also had a winless run of seven matches across all competitions, invoking what many described as a full-blown crisis as the team dropped from second to sixth and lost in two cup competitions.

Pioli then made the decision to switch to a three-man defence to try and add some more protection in front of the back line and it has produced three straight 1-0 victories, including one in the Champions League against Spurs.

However, the performances have been far from dazzling in that run of games and Sacchi has told La Gazzetta dello Sport in his weekly column that he is not a big admirer of how Pioli has changed things.

“Something happened and it was difficult to predict. The syndrome of success has blocked Milan. They were not accustomed to winning and Pioli started to have fear, so he relied on tactics to stop bleeding,” he began.

“Therefore, he used a three-man defence which in reality is with five men because the full-backs often track back. With this, they don’t have a numerical advantage and playing well is hard. The use of tactics always pays off in Italy but remember that a tactician always loses against a strategist.

“Pioli was a strategist and I’d be sorry to see him on the list of tacticians. Which Italian club has won the Champions League the most? Milan, because they’ve always played strategic football.

“A strategist always puts playing style at the core of the project. The tactician must buy big name players to compensate for the lack of general organisation. Milan were on the right track, but then they went backwards.

“The founding fathers had thought of an offensive and team sport. Here we have lost these original characteristics, transforming it into a defensive and individual sport.

“But this is not the path to follow if you want to continue entertaining the public. Pioli was the architect who designed the beautiful creature of last season and was able to win through intelligence and ideas, generosity and courage.

“His Milan played with eleven men always in an active position, as Napoli do now. So I hope he will return to that path, which can only be followed if one strongly believes in his ideas.”

Tags AC Milan Arrigo Sacchi Stefano Pioli


  1. I think he is both right and wrong. Our new system doesn’t have to be defensive. Many great teams use this formation. What we need is better pressing game again and a better creativity in midfield. Getting Bennacer back is crucial. He hasn’t played in the last three games. Prior to these games when he’s been oit. If only for periods of games it has almost always led to worse play in the midfield.
    And we still need a better offensive midfielder or one who works in this Milan team at least. Diaz is our best man right now. Bur I feel he isn’t strong enough atound the box. He is best around the centre of the pitch where he can get more space. Up front it’s too crowded for him since he always uses too many touches.
    Even if we play worse and don’t get as many chances. At least I’m happier watching now instead of the dread when we conceded 3-5 goals / game…

  2. Always a good point by mister Arrigo but he also has to realize that this is a young Milan team. With young players we’re accustomed to ups and downs. And to prevent the declining curve much further, I personally think it’s the right decision by Pioli to shake things up. To get the result. Including if we have to sacrifice our usual style. Thankfully so far we got the result, although it’s not pretty.

    Once our team’s morale is on the upward curve again, it’ll be easier for us to get back to our usual system and identity.

    And maybe, just maybe, the more important note is that Pioli also needs the right players to bolster his system. Whether we want to admit or not, we lost several key figures who were vital in Pioli’s system, or at least the system was once built around them. So, hopefully we’re able to address this issue as well.

  3. Arrigo Sacchi is very right about his evaluation of Pioli switch of formation and he was right again about the idea that preceded reasons why he switched in the first place.Pioli was scared and would do anything to stop Milan from letting in goals too often which worked remarkably but at the expense of the beautiful game we saw last season,which was Milan’s true identity.I don’t blame him but losing his job will cause a domino effect in the lower echelon of Milan administration but he could have been smarter in his choice of formation.The 3421 formation is good for the Defence but so would have been 433 that would have promoted the beauty this Milan exhibited while on the pitch last season.
    For proper analysis,if the Wingbacks joins the Back 3 together with the Double Pivots that would been 7 at the back at once,in the same light if the Midfield 3 in 433 formation join the Defence that would be the same 7 at the back only the logistics seem different without sacrificing the attacking prowess of this Milan team.
    Anyways introduction of 3421 is still at the embryonic stage so finger are still crossed to see how it unfolds.Thanks.

  4. I’m sorry but did Sacchi got brain fart or something?

    Buying ‘big name players’ isn’t Pioli’s desk job and obviously Pioli can maintain his offensive-pressing style IF he receive strong players that are ready to play and can support his style.

    But what Pioli got this season are mostly young players with RAW talents that needs time to adapt. One of them also can’t score a fking goal at 9-10 yard despite he received plenty of chances in the same situation.

    Then most if not all of the core players from last season got injured or played bad after world cup.

    It’s just amazing Pioli can still change the formation and make it work, while keeping the team at top four as well as put one foot for Round 8 UCL.

    I really rspect Sacchi but his statement feels like he got brain fart and forgot that Pioli team isn’t the same as his team.

  5. This is a temporary solution for leaking goals. Once we get some more wins and confidence back I’m sure we’ll be back to playing our attacking game. Besides the way we’ve been playing for the last 3 years requires very high levels of fitness so we’re also burnt out. Plus we’re missing key players in midfield from last year

  6. He has a point but what he is talking about is less about formation and more about what type of football Milan should play. There are a lot of interesting strategies with the current formation that would most definitely involve all players in a more fluid strategy. I like this new formation – it gives Theo more attacking space and it gets Thiaw into the starting line-up.

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