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Tactics Thursday: Conceding

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Before we can have this discussion one has to admit that Milan's attack of late has been potent. 17 goals in the last six games is nothing to be ashamed of, but when you look at the amount of goals conceded, 7, you have to wonder if maybe the team that was called defensive heavy by some, is now to attack heavy?

I have always been raised on the belief that if you can keep the opposition at zero you will never lose a match. Sound logic, and sure you may drop two points and draw nil-nil, but at the end of the day you still earned a point and kept the opponent off the score sheet, a victory in itself. It really only takes one goal to win, and at the end of the day a one-nil win is just as good as a 3-nil win in the points column. Somewhere along the way the modern game seemed to lose this notion and teams began pouring more and more players into the attack, creating more chances, but creating highways for the opponent to counter. As Milan fans we have seen the full spectrum, the relentless invincibles of Sacchi, not conceding a goal for 929 minutes, and the polar opposite in Leo's 4-1-fantasia in which it felt like Milan conceded within ten minutes of scoring almost every game. (Stat: for every four goals scored that season Milan conceded a goal ten minutes later on three of them, so they conceded 75% of the time within ten minutes of scoring!?). Last season Allegri righted the ship, the team had a 41 goal differential and the best defensive record in the Serie A, the true mark of a Champion. Playing a 3 man bull dog midfield the team was rarely caught out on the counter, and often times were able to score by committing no more than 3 players to the attack.

This year's Milan is a bit different while the goal differential stands at a paltry 5 after 9 games, the fact that we are at -2 away from home is a bit of a concern. Many fans wanted to complain about missed chances against BATE, but to be brutally honest, PK or not, had Milan not conceded it wouldn't even be a question. Which is why it is imperative to sure up the defense. Strikers can be streaky, and scoring every chance or even 1 out 3 chances is a lot to ask, so instead of relying on goals why not rely on what won us the title last season, defense. You won't always come out on top of shootouts like the one against Lecce or the game against Roma, so sure up the back.

So what makes this Milan so different? I think it's two fold stemming a bit from fatigue but mostly from tactics. When you play two games a week for the first two months of the season, with a long list of injuries, the team will suffer a bit in the pace department. This can't be any clearer than with Mark Van Bommel, a success last season, who this season simply looks exhausted and it's not even December. However, I don't believe it's all on him but more on the team tactics. A big part of Milan last season was retaining possession on the edge of the attacking third with Robinho darting back to collect the ball and kick start attacks. This season Milan are still retaining possession but doing so at the edge of the 18, and their build up is not three or four players, but sometimes seven! The longer Milan have possession the more likely we are to see Abate, Taiwo/Zambro/Ants, and Nocerino join the attack. This has paid dividends but on the defensive side of the ball creates space for opponents to attack and counter. So what should Allegri do?

The easiest thing is take a page out of Sacchi's book and play a higher defensive line, cut down the space between the CB's and the attacking run of play and hope that the opponent gets stifled before they break the counter. Risky yes, but when done properly it is amazing to watch, and those that remember Sacchi's Milan can attest to that. The other option is to more strategically deploy the fullbacks to simply not join the attack at the same time, always assuring that four players are behind the ball to slow down opponent attacks. If Abate is pressed forward Taiwo stays back and vice-versa. This may actually improve as Nocerino continues to learn the system and do what Rino did last season, read and cover the spaces, but until that happens Allegri needs to put his coaching hat on and fix the problem.

I firmly believe this Milan team is an improvement over last season. Faster, stronger, and more potent in attack, but if it as the expense of the defense, then this team won't win a thing. Champions defend first and score later, sure it may not be exciting champagne football, with seven goals a game, but at the end of the day it is winning football. Last season's recipe for success was clear, no reason this year's should be any different.