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Tactics Tuesday: Organization

The idea of organization is often overlooked when discussing tactics, but simply put a well organized team is often a successful team. Some tacticians are known solely for the ability to organize, even being applauded for seeming to make an average team all the better because of their ability to prepare, game plan, and organize their team to succeed. A team that functions as a unit can often mask the fact that they may lack a so called "match-winner" in their ranks, as well as being able to defeat a team that may have more talent on the pitch, and while I sometimes see the Rossoneri in this category of lacking, it is time we explore the idea of organization with Leonardo.

I have said it once and I while say it again, Leo needs to be applauded for his efforts leading up to the Xmas break, Milan were on an impressive unbeaten run and fully healthy squad was firing on all cylinders in the 4-3-3. But like any person who tastes success, Leo became complacent and when the opponents began to organize and game-plan against the 4-3-3 Leo showed an inability to evolve and adapt. Couple stagnant tactics with a rash of injuries and suddenly you have a team in crisis that lacks any real direction on the pitch.

Organization for me is two-fold, the first being to get the players on the field and the second is defining their roles. The first one should be easy, evaluate the squad and make a decision, the second requires a little bit more work. A few years back Ruud Gullit was famously hired by the LA Galaxy in an effort to mastermind and lead the Beckham Experiment in MLS and get the Galaxy to play beautiful football. He didn’t have any problems putting players on the pitch, but what every player said about Gullit once he was dismissed followed a general theme, not single a player on the field could tell you what the game plan was, and that if all eleven players were polled, not a single one would give the same answer. Do we counter? Do we spread the ball out wide? Do we pressure high? Do we fill centrally or across the back? All very simple tactical ideas that make a team organized or unorganized.

I don’t sit with Leo in his office, so I can’t say if he watches hours of game film, or maybe old youtube videos of Ronaldinho circa 2005 shaking his head pondering where that player has gone! I can say with some confidence though that after watching Milan for the past few weeks it does not appear Leo is applying any specific game plan or organizational mentality to his players prior to getting on the pitch. A simple example is after a team scores a goal, some teams such as Inter, will fill in behind the ball in an attempt to thwart that initial rush from the kick off, others like Barcelona will prey high up the pitch trying to suffocate their opponents from going forward, Milan on the other hand seem to spread to the flanks allowing running lanes through all the channels of the attack! Not exactly the best way to hold a lead now is it? For a team that may lack the quality and pace of the aforementioned juggernauts, a simple plan of action would go a long away in helping decide games in their favor.

Yes, he is a new Coach, and has a lot to learn, but learning is marked by progress not regression, and right now the only thing I see with this team is regression. Cohesion gone, defensive organization gone, roles on the field both in the attack and defense seem to boil down to Ambro running aimlessly left and right to slow the ball with Tiago Silva dashing into cover to try and tackle! If the ball is won the pass it Dinho regardless of support and hope for the best. What about the other seven outfield players?? Now I understand that some people believe a player of the stature and success of Ronaldinho does not need to track back, I can even accept that, but upon losing the ball shouldn’t a player recover and at least attempt to hold the counter? Doesn’t a coach expect, if not deserve, that type of effort from all his players? Instilling this mindset is not easy, and probably even more challenging to a bunch of over the hill stars who have seen it all, but if this is the actually the case, why wouldn’t Leo employ some players who will “buy into the system,” unless of course there is no system at all?

A coaches job simply put, is to put his team in a position to win. Some coaches have it easy, they put their stars on the pitch to shine, but others have to roll up their sleeves, watch some film, and get the team organized to succeed. Maybe we man mark a guy like Vargas on the wing with our wingback, maybe we fill in the wide midfielders behind the ball and pinched central to avoid so much pressure on an old man like Favalli? Maybe, just maybe we play a short pass long pass combo in and out of Dinho in an effort to capitalize on defenders zeroing it at the ball to his feet. These are all little nuances within the game that can make up for a sluggish Dutchmen on the right flank, an old man in the back, or a tired DM in the late stages of a match. I can’t say I have seen any of this happen during Leo’s reign. So as I watch master tacticians like Mourinho and Cappello use their players on the pitch like chess pieces, I can’t help but think this team is not all that bad and maybe with a little organization, and of course some (few but some) new bodies (not dead weight), it is not all that far off.