When I saw the Mazzari’s lineup for Napoli today against Villareal I thought to myself he has eyes on the weekend. Choosing to rest Cavani, Cannavaro and Maggio in what pretty much was a must win Europa League match says it all. Walter Mazzari and Napoli are going to bring it on Monday, yes Monday, at 20:45 EST. Set your DVR’s, silence the mobiles, and banish the internet for those that can’t watch live because this one is going to be a cracker.
It would be wrong of me to not pass judgment on Mazzari’s lineup for the Europe League match, but it is not so much a commentary on Mazzari, as much as it is on the UEFA Cup. Back before the CL was a watered down, money making, TV juggernaut, the Europa League, or the Trophy formerly known as the UEFA Cup, was special and very prestigious. As Milan fans we know very little about the UEFA Cup because we were always busy competing in the CL, but many teams of have fought valiantly to hoist the Trophy because first it was European silverware and second it was damn hard to get into the CL. Those days unfortunately are behind are us, now you finish third in the CL group and you get a Europa League spot, which pretty much says it all. In Mazari’s defense it was not an entirely weakened squad, he still played Lavezzi (suspended on the weekend), Hamsik, and Dossena, but the pace of the game didn’t match with Villareal and a goal from none other than GRossi put the nail in the coffin. Another loss in Europe for Italian teams…
But enough about Europe, time to talk to Serie A, and it is clear both Milan and Napoli have their eyes focused squarely on the Scudetto. On a tactics chalkboard this match looks like a nightmare for AC Milan. Napoli’s 3-5-2 vs Milan’s narrow 4-3-1-2, Maggio and Dossena running unmolested at Abate and Antonini, I mean Zambro, I mean Bonera, I mean Oddo, I mean REALLY!?? Does anyone have any idea who will be fit!?? Stick Silva there for crying out loud, probably was the best option from the start. But in the last match Allegri proved that clogging the midfield and preventing the ball from getting out wide was a shrewd tactic, he also countered with some wide play of his own and forced Napoli’s wingbacks to defend, but as the game wore on Oddo got the best of the situation and came up with two assists to give Milan the win.
I don’t expect much difference in terms of tactics, but personnel for Milan surely has changed from the last meeting. If I were Allegri I would simply play the following:
Abbiati; Abate, Nesta, Silva, Oddo(this is simply because I think he is all that is left!?); Rino, Van Bommel, KPB; Cassano; Pato, Zlatan
I know odd right!? Pato and Zlatan?? KPB on the midfield line?? The thing is the more I think about it the more it makes sense. First and foremost he has earned it, but by playing Pato from the start you can give him a chance to find space and run directly at three strong, but slow, CB’s while letting Zlatan drift in and out of the play. If Zlatan drifts and there are only three CB’s what happens?? You guessed it, create space for Cassano!!! It is genius, but it has to function and is dependent on Pato’s ability to be dangerous early with the ball at his feet and running at defenders, literally, turn and go. Once space opens then Cassano and Zlatan can take some hacks. If all else fails you have Robinho at half-time and make the switch for Pato. KPB gives you the same forays forward into the attack as Merkel but is a much more stout defender to work on Gargano, but also make things tougher for Maggio on the right and shield our staggering LB injury problem.
The rest of the team is pretty standard but the simple thing that needs to be drilled into the player’s minds from last week through Monday is simply this; don’t let Cavani on the ball! The guy has twenty goals so the CB’s have to be sharp and don’t be surprised if Silva does a fair bit of “tracking” El Matador. Hopefully Silva looks like this bull when the match is over. The other key is to track Hamsik, he loves to operate in between the midfield and defense and Van Bommel will have to be ready for him, and by ready I mean not a card machine. Just limit his time on the ball and force him into short passes in the center of the midfield because if Hamsik can find his wing-backs this game will be a struggle as Napoli spreads the field the full width and Milan has to not only worry about players to mark, but space in which they can run onto.
Bottom line, a must win for Milan to cement their Scudetto hopes, but a true gem of a match for calcio fans. We talked about the history of these Clubs earlier in the week and now we covered tactics, but I can’t help but feel this is one those games that is going to exciting and no matter how much you look at it on paper or tactically it will be a interesting match. A cagey draw does Napoli wonders here, so Milan will have to look to prevent that, not something that has come easily against Napoli since the first time we laid eyes on the Duck.
Hope everyone is as exciting as I am for this one! In case you missed the podcast don’t forget to check it out and if you are looking for a quality Napoli perspective check out Neil at the Napoli Offside. As always FORZA MILAN! See you all Monday…