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Tactics Tuesday: A Guest

Today I would like to introduce you to a guest, his name is Faisal and he can be found here, but also roaming the forums at Tiki-Taka.org. As I put the finish touches on my season preview, I thought Faisal's post would make a nice little tactics piece for today, and while I can't say I agree with everything he is suggesting, it makes for a kick start to the discussion leading up to the season. I will be back Thursday with a tactics piece of my own discussing the evolution of the striker and next week will preview the team in earnest as we get ready for the big day. The season is almost here!

At this moment in time, we pretty much know the squad we'll have next year. Unless some major surprises occur, the only addition to our current squad will be Kevin-Prince Boateng. That's all she wrote. So, I figure now it's possible to have a proper non-hypothetical discussion on what formation(s) we'll be using next year
In goal, were it not for Amelia's performance against Juventus in TIM Cup, I would have said Abbiati's spot in the starting XI is secure. For those who didn't see Amelia yesterday:

The performance is likely to give Allegri a headache, but I still think that Abbiati will get the nod - initially at least. For argument's sake, let's just say it's Abbiati.

In the center back positions, I think we're more than covered to endure a long season. Thiago Silva, Nesta, Sokratis, Yepes, Bonera, and just so I don't leave anyone out, Kaladze and Onyewu. Possibly even Albertazzi. The first four are definitely capable and solid enough to be our CB's. For the first time since forever, we actually have decent cover there. Nesta getting injured is no longer a season-derailing issue.

Two world class starters, two very good (one of them extremely promising) defenders to cover for them.
Abbiati, Nesta - T.Silva

Cover: Sokratis, Yepes, Bonera

It's in the fullback positions where we have our problems. Some would say "problems" is a stretch, so maybe a more moderate way of putting it is that we're kind of back to square one, but perhaps just a little bit better. Many of us have agreed by the end of last year that Antonini did more than enough to prove that he's at least a pretty decent LB. In RB we alternated mostly between Zambrotta (19 appearances) and Abate (22 appearances), and neither one of them was entirely satisfactory. Sokratis was supposed to be the answer to that problem, and he might still be, but if this pre-season is any indication, then Allegri sees him as more of a CB then a RB. He's given Abate, Zambrotta, and Oddo a shot in that position, and I'm pretty sure they all got more minutes in RB than Sokratis did. What we can say for sure though, is that he is a player who can play in RB, and he'll offer you very decent defensive solidity there, but is he a fullback that will support the attacking phase of our game? I don't think so. Not from what he's shown us at this point at least. This may be enough for Allegri to opt for other players in games where a more attacking full-back is what we need. Will he be a starter? Pretty impossible to tell at this point, but if I want to make a prediction, I'd say that we'll mess around with it a bit and mix things up, Zambrotta will prove too inconsistent, Oddo will prove that's he not actually a real football player, and it will come down to Sokratis and Abate. His defensive quality alone may be enough for him to overtake Abate, but if he demonstrates offensive abilities as well, then that will absolutely settle it.

Abbiati, Sokratis - Nesta - T.Silva - Antonini

Cover: Abate, Zambrotta, Jankulovski, Bonera, Oddo

In midfield, our options - in no particular order - are the following: Pirlo, Seedorf, Boateng (pending), Flamini, Ambrosini, Merkel (possibly), Gattuso. I don't think I've missed anyone. For the sake of this little paragraph, I'm going to count Ronaldinho (whether he plays in AMF or LWF) as an attacker. From the listed players we need to pick three starters, and in my opinion, it can only be Pirlo, Ambrosini, and Boateng. We don't know how the latter will do, but if we take everything at face value, he should be a starter. Ambrosini will maintain the ultra-defensive role, Pirlo will maintain the deep-lying play-maker role, and Boateng will add a new dimension to our midfield: the box-to-box role. I know Ambrosini is viewed as a box-to-box midfielder, but the qualities he has prevent him from being an essential part in our attack (other then his heading ability), but Boateng's set of skills will make him prosper in this midfield which desperately needs a player who can carry the ball forward and support the attack without compromising our defense. It'll be a pretty strange thing for us, because our midfield isn't used to having a dynamic player like him, but most of the time that was exactly what we needed. Flamini will alternate with Ambrosini, probably with Boateng as well at times. Whereas Seedorf will most likely be our cover for Pirlo - this was where Allegri used him in the pre-season, even preferring to use Merkel as an AMF over him.

Abbiati, Sokratis - Nesta - T.Silva - Antonini, Boateng - Pirlo - Ambrosini

Cover: Flamini, Seedorf, Merkel, Gattuso

Finally, in attack our options in terms of personnel are pretty much set. Pato, Borriello, and Ronaldinho. If anyone had any concerns over Ronaldinho's fitness, that seems to no longer be an issue. Against Juventus his fitness was just fine, and although like everyone else his form needs time to get in gear. He seems to still have desire and determination, and despite the fact that the season hasn't even started yet, his touches are already pretty sharp. His goal - and performance in general - against Juventus yesterday will vouch for that. For those who missed it:

It's not much, but his fitness is on par with everyone else, and his touches are finely-tuned. They'll get back to his world-class standards pretty soon from the looks of it. The only real question in the attacking department is: how will the front three line up? The three of them haven't played a single game together under Allegri, but probably will in a few days in Trofeo Berlusconi against Juventus, and in Gamber Cup a few days after that against Barcelona. Those two games should give us a definite answer as to how the front three will line up, and until then, if we're going to try and make a prediction or educated guess based on what Allegri has been saying, then it's a bit tricky. So far, he's said that Ronaldinho will sometimes be on the left wing, and sometimes he'll be behind the attackers. Against Juventus, as you can see in the video, he moved back and forth from both positions. He was sometimes on the wing, and sometimes in the center. Didn't look out of place in either position, and had he been in a more on-season form, he would have probably had a pretty cool game. On Pato, Allegri said he will be used centrally, and most recently he told Il Giornale that he was extremely impressed with how he played with Brazil, and that's where he wants to use him. In all the friendlies Pato played, he was in fact used as a SS in the center. Borriello can only play in the center, so there's no discussion there. Where does that leave us? Something pretty similar to last year, except that instead of being on the wing 80% of the game and cutting in centrally every now and then, it'll probably be closer to 50-50. So the final formation:

Abbiati, Sokratis - Nesta - T.Silva - Antonini, Boateng - Pirlo - Ambrosini, Ronaldinho, Pato - Borriello

Cover: Huntelaar, Inzaghi, Oduamadi, Verdi, Merkel*, Seedorf*

We still lack several things. Depending on how Sokratis does, we may still lack a good RB. We also still lack someone that will compensate for Pato when he's out. But we solved many of the problems we had in the past few years, namely the CB situation, and the lack of a dynamic midfielder. Is this squad and formation strong enough to make us title contenders? I can't answer that, and I don't think anyone can look at all the facts and be able to answer that. But what we can answer is this: Is this squad stronger then last years? Yes. Very easily yes. Not only did we not lose any players, we added a few players in positions that we really needed. That alone leaves room for optimism in answering the previous question.