Last season it was commonplace for teams to roll out a ten man defense against the Rossoneri. It was an easy way to solve Carletto’s XMAS tree and widely considered the most accepted way to beat AC Milan; defend deep and counter with pace and venom. Needless to say it worked as frustrations were plenty in games against teams like Bologna, Siena , Napoli, Samp, and Udinese. All games were Milan should have taken max points but instead ending up drawing or losing. This season teams do not seem to use this system as much against our squad, partially because we are in a more open 4-3-3, leaving space to play in, and earlier in the season when the team was still finding it’s legs they suddenly realized that they could play their own style against the appearance of a hapless team. Lately though that has changed, as the team has started to play better, teams are becoming more respectful and in turn getting men behind the ball to defend and counter.
Credit to Catania for defending extremely well especially in the early stages of the second half and frustrating Milan into play poorly and not creating many chances on goal. The old coaches adage when this problem presents itself is to break a defending team down by passing, specifically a passing model referred to as a forward, back, and through. I will concede that instituting this passing model with any team is far more difficult than drawing some lines on paper or moving pawns on a chess- board, but with the right personnel this model can crack open a defense with ease.
The key to a model like this is pace off the ball, and the perfect scenario would be a checking run from Pato towards Pirlo or Seedorf, a simple one two, and then Pato breaking hard off the marker for a through ball or lob pass. You can also incorporate a wing-back to add depth to the model and further pressure the defense. Now the scenario is easy but the practical application on Sunday lacked. First with Seedorf playing nearer to Dinho and Borriello this model doesn’t work as well, as the two forwards lack the break neck pace, and Seedorf was rarely able to move more to the right as Catania pressured well in the vacated space with Morimoto and Mascara, forcing Seedorf to defend. It also didn’t help that Pirlo was not on the pitch to hit those balls lobs and through balls when needed and no one else on the team stepped up to do so. The lack of good quality incisive passing was apparent, and Leo would do well to find some of that sans Pirlo, as the schedule intensifies.
Another generally accepted method to break a defense like this is with speed, which is again counter to Milan’s normal possession style of play and difficult for a team that lacks real speed. If overlapping runs are feasible, say in this case with Abate and Antonini, suddenly the opponent must respect those runs because Dinho and Pirlo are very capable of rewarding those efforts in dangerous areas behind the defense. It also helps dramatically to have speed in defense and though Nesta is no longer the fleetest of foot, Tiago Silva provides an enormous improvement in pace from last season making it far easier for Milan to commit players offensively while not being shredded on the counter.
I am actually excited to see how Leo uses the 4-3-3 to counter these deep defenses which will most likely be common once again as coaches see the success from Catania despite the loss. Credit to Leo for recognizing that Catania was after only the single point, and not all three, and committed more men forward allowing for the goals to happen in quick succession against a worn down Catania defense. These dynamic additions should be even more exciting with the inclusion of Adiyah, DiGennaro, and KJH as he finds his goal scoring form. While many of you were ecstatic with goals on the weekend from KJH, I will continue to maintain my high standards, critical eye, and high expectations of all the players on this club as we move forward, and hope the same from you. Don’t just settle for a single good performance when we can have more and potentially shock and surprise many more teams as the season continues. If Juventus can help our cause a bit on the weekend, and Milan continue the good form, the next game versus Inter will be far more intriguing and exciting and hopefully helps us forget the drubbing from early in the season.