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Tactics Tuesday: The Return of the XMAS Tree

In case you didn't notice Milan beat the CL Champs this weekend, Chelsea, a truly remarkable feat considering we are terrible and all. More importantly Allegri rolled out an alternative formation to his preferred 4-3-1-2 which many believed he was incapable of, but for me at least the return of the 4-3-2-1 was not a welcome site.

Formations for me have always been a matter of using the players you have, while a Coach can prefer a formation it is the players that dictate the final deployment. Milan sorely lacks the players for anything other than midfield centric formation or two striker formation. 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 are all formations calling for wingers, wingbacks, and attacking midfielders and Milan frankly doesn't have any of those or even the depth to make it work. So the 4-3-1-2 makes perfect sense, but I don't believed the 4-3-2-1 does at all.

Going back to Carletto's preferred formation is a bit of a tactical regression, first and foremost because most of the league figured out that if you stop Pirlo you stop Milan. Thankfully, the Pirlo reference is no longer an issue, but without a midfield link, a proper striker to play up front and alone, and the right attacking midfielders to make this formation work, you are merely deploying players in a system that doesn't suit their strengths and here are my three reasons why:

1. For better or worse Pato is the only lone striker "type" player we have, and for the most part he can't complete a season without injury. So if you shelve him for 1/3 of the season, I am being nice here, who plays alone up top? Robinho, Cassano, SeS? I think Bendtner can make that work, but clearly many don't agree, preferring a striker who can't stay fit to one who is physically gifted, but oh well, I think you see my point. We have strikers but not the right kind.

2. We lack true attacking midfielders to be deployed behind the strikers. If you use Robinho, Cassano or SeS in those roles you end in a 4-3-3 not a 4-3-2-1 and you really begin to struggle in terms of balance. You lose the presence to of pressure and when the other team is in possession your shape will struggle to stop the ball in front of the CB's. No reason to make things worse in that regard already. We barely have one proper CAM with Prince and Urby fitting the bill, why make it worse by needing two? Neither player is really the answer there, but both have performed adequately, the problem is who covers?

3. Finally, while I firmly believed Monty can fill the CM link role with various supporting midfielders, I don't think we should regress away from last season's midfield goal fest. The beauty of last season was the late runs from Urby, Nocerino and Boateng when they were deployed in the three man midfield line. Why force those players to sit back and defend and cover the wide fullback runs and take away another goal scoring option. Without Zlatan we need to be more dynamic and going to a 4-3-2-1 will probably only make the team more static and one dimensional, do we really want to play the ball from CB to Monty and hoof it to Pato? At least with Zlatan he could distribute, what is Pato going to do when he get it? Run straight at CBs and get dispossessed, we all know he can't pass, and if you play a shorter ball to Urby and Prince you are relying on those to link play instead of playing to their strenghts off the ball with runs.

At the end of the day you can ask a few questions, does this shift pave the way for Kaka? Maybe? But he is not a Milan player yet, and we may be better suited playing him as a second striker than an attacking midfielder. Simply put, I can agree to a "Plan-B" if you have the players and it makes sense tactically, I just can't agree to this.