Allegri decided it was finally time to switch out of the 4-3-3 but instead of shifting rather nicely into his preferred 4-3-1-2, he seemingly opted for a diamond midfield. The differences between the diamond midfield versus the 3 man midfield with a CAM are in fact rather subtle, but against Ajax it was easy to see the differences, and for a brief period late on in the second half there was even a cameo of the most polarizing formation AC Milan has ever seen, the XMAS TREE!
The four man diamond midfield is actually my personal favorite, it allows for the outside midfielders to act as wingers giving the team width, or playing more narrow depending on the opponent. It also gives you consistent overlaps with the fullbacks and if deployed properly can wreak havoc on the flanks. The problem with Milan is that the outside midfielders (Rino and Flamini) are not exactly winger types and the width and overlap is kind of lacking. So Allegri’s choice of a diamond midfield was puzzling and it allowed Ajax to operate in the space in the center of the diamond forcing one of the wide DM’s to check in and then vacate space on the flanks.
The three midfielders, plus one CAM, happened on occasion when Pirlo was able to step up in line with Rino and Flamini and the team got more narrow in the midfield. This allowed Milan some leeway to attack with numbers and actually was part of the run of play that led to the goal, allowing Pirlo to get into a more advanced position, pushing Seedorf even farther for a great combination, but sadly this 4-3-1-2 deployment was the exception not the norm. Not sure why really as Allegri should have the confidence and ability to make these types of decisions and recommendations on the fly.
Even more interesting about the match was the shifting of Robinho alongside Seedorf on the left making Milan almost appear in the old standby XMAS tree. This posed a unique problem for Ajax in a 4-3-3 with only a CM midfielder who is not known for his defensive prowess to deal with two AMs and forcing a shift in their lines. This shift actually allowed Robinho a bit of freedom and space to operate in front of the defense as opposed to being man marked by the RB or CB. This is actually an intriguing side plot to this match because of the potential of an XMAS tree with Pato and Robinho behind Zlatan, a variation that they will most likely be playing for the Selecao and there is no reason Allegri can not exploit this to his and the team's advantage. The caveat is that Zlatan will have to be much more dynamic moving laterally along the defensive line creating space for Pato and Robinho to run at the defense and be lethal, as much as we don’t need to relive the Carletto years, but the XMAS tree may be the answer…
So the burning question, what happens with Parma?? The last time these two teams met Parma was victorious and robbed Milan of three very important points so this match is not to be taken lightly. Allegri now has a plethora of options, 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 (diamond mid/sometimes called 4-1-2-1-2), or 4-3-2-1, with neither of them being all that surefire or instilling comfort. So the questions start first with personnel. If Pato is available I think there is no time like the present to try the 4-3-2-1 with Robinho alongside him behind Zlatan. The 3 man midfield should include Pirlo, KPB, and Flamini, with Abate and on the right flank to provide some width. This shift may be just the what Milan needs to shock a team like Parma, and as long the players are tactically training for new formations no reason to not try this now, while no one is comfortable!