If you missed any of the Chievo debacle, feel free to relive it here, but with that mess in the rear view the next and more difficult task at hand rests in Madrid. Yes it is merely a group match, the third in two seasons, but never the less it is always important when two teams of such historical prominence face off in the most prestigious Club competition in the World.
There were times when this match would showcase the greatest talent the footballing World has to offer, but as Milan has slowly fallen grace, it is Madrid trying to rekindle past glories with their second version of the Galacticos. Real faltered last season, so they did the most logical thing a team could do with the hopes of CL glory, and that is to bring in the Special One, Jose Mourinho. There are few figures in the modern game that evoke such a strong polarizing emotion, but for me there is no better man in the business to turn a team into from a collection of eleven players to an indomitable unit. Many have asked if the Mourinhofication of Real Madrid and players like CRON, Di Marie and Higuian was possible, but with his purchase and pursuit of players like Ozil and Khedira to balance this side it will only be a matter of time before Mourinho works his magic.
I expect Mourinho to use this match as a barometer for his squad who has been under-achieving but beginning to find their form. His deployment of the 4-2-3-1 is not his usual balanced setup, but with the players at his disposal he is choosing the best formation and making them work within it; and it will be no surprise if he does the same against Milan. Allegri will surely toss and turn on Monday evening contemplating the danger of the four pronged Madrid attack and the lack of any real difference maker on his side to counter act it. Prince has showed glimpers but a match of such prestige may prove unnerving for any player, let alone a player without any real Champions League experience. It would be nice to have Rino circa 2007 back in action, but Gattuso has found some form of late and may prove useful, if he is not flat out exhausted from the match with Chievo.
More importantly for Allegri are his offensive choices and how he deploys his team in this away fixture. Common sense says a 4-3-3 is suicide, but then again common sense at AC Milan seems to have followed Carletto to Chelsea. I can’t honestly say I would be surprised if Allegri went with that formation, but a 4-3-1-2 or even a 4-3-2-1 would be far more prudent allowing Milan to keep play in front of them and not be forced to chase counter after counter. The problem is who plays and who doesn’t in either of those formations? Defensively choices are limited, while in the attack there is no such problem, but every player on the attacking side of the ball seems to bring little in the department of defense, an issue that Jose Mourinho will surely exploit. Does he play Ronaldinho and Pato a bit deeper behind Zlatan? Or does he use Seedorf in a CAM role behind a two striker setup? It is these problems that leave me pondering what will work, if anything?
I have to admit I have found a lot of the pre-match discussion leading up to this match rather humorous with fans saying that Madrid is not strong, and that Milan may even win, but to underestimate a trip to the Bernabeu and not respect the opponent is criminal. We can’t forget the ability of CRON to change a game, the quicknes of Ozil to find the goal, or the ability of Saint Iker to shut down an opponent, and while Milan were fortunate to gain a result last season, I think these players will have that game on memory to recall and exact some revenge.
From a more simple perspective this match is not a must win, it is an away fixture in the CL group stages and a draw is just as good, assuming a team takes care of business at home! Not as simply stated for AC Milan, but with this in mind it may be most prudent for Allegri to prepare the team to defend. With that said, my choice for that type of damage control has to be a 4-3-2-1. Abbiati has been stellar in net as of late and his performance against Chievo was match saving. Abate may have to play at RB following Zambro's full 90 against Chievo, and at least Abate can keep up with CRON, but tackling is another story. Nesta will most likely partner Bonera, as I have yet to receive word on the extent of Silva's sprained ankle as I write this post, and Antonini should be the first choice LB. The midfield will be Rino, Pirlo, and Prince, with Rino acting as a safe pass for Pirlo and staying in and around ten meters away at all times with Prince doing the lion’s share of the running. Seedorf should be returned to the place that made him a legend and his performances in CL games and knowledge on how to operate in a match such as this will be pivotal. He can play alongside Pato who can collect the ball a deeper from this position and run at the Madrid defense, which is their well known weak spot. The top of the XMAS tree will be Zlatan, as long as he is fit, but I can just as easily call for Pippo in this circumstance. Playing this formation and using Pato a bit closer to the midfield will give Milan the ability to counter and get the ball to his feet, but also allow some flexibility in the attacking stages with Seedorf pushing centrally and Pato getting closer to goal.
So before you all go bonkers and complain about my advocating a lineup sans Ronaldinho for this match I ask you to consider three points I believe will be key to winning this match: possession, tactical discipline, and filling in behind the ball. All three points that are seemingly lost in the Ronaldinho’s game, it is not saying he can’t be used as a sub later in the match but from the outset what Seedorf brings to the table is far more important and beneficial for the team as a whole than what Ronaldinho can offer. With that I simply leave myself for some hope of a draw and Milan thrashing Madrid in Jose’s return to the San Siro…