The last three matches has featured changes in the spine of the team each and every match. Now this is an area critical to the tactical choices of a Coach; CB, CDM, CAM, and CF contribute to the way a team operates and how it may be deployed. Balance in the spine is crucial and if you tweak a few positions it can make a big difference in the way the team operates. Fill it with ball winners and you will frustrate opponents but may struggle in moving the ball through the middle. Fill it with ball plaing midfielders and you may find the opponent running straight down at the CBs. It has taken Clarence a bit more time then expected to figure this out but he seems to have gotten a hint.
The fact that Milan kept two straight clean sheets, one of them with Mexes at CB, is a small miracle. The more common theme in the last three matches has been the better functionality of the double pivot. Having suffered an injury on 3/18 the lack of Montolivo has forced Seedorf into Muntari/Essien and NDJ partnerships. This has shielded the defense and kept opponents at bay in front of the CBs. It has not helped the flanks but the last three matches were against teams who could have played wide but did not find the space and comfort to do so. Without Montolivo there are two similar players operating as a partnership in the true spirit of the double pivot. As NDJ holds Muntari presses and vice versa. There are no longer situation where Montolivo was inclined to hold and then not be able to execute on defense.
It begs an interesting question on what happens to Montolivo who is a perfectly good player in the right system. He excelled under Allegri in the 4-3-3 as he was able to hold a space in front of the defense with enough protection from two ball winners to cover his defensive issues. In the 4-2-3-1 he is asked to move more, defend more, and hold less because he lacks the technical defensive skill to make him a true play making CDM. It remains to be seen if the injury will be the only keeping him off the pitch and time will tell on that.
The team has also performed better with Kaka at RAM and Poli at CAM but not in terms of results so the rewarded hasn't been there. Honda may also provide that fix but Seedorf continues to opt against it. Sunday's result was an interesting one because it showed how much more dangerous Kaka can be on the sides of the eighteen yard box and how much more precise Honda can be in the middle but the switch hasn't been made and may prove the next step Milan needs to continue to progress in this formation.
As it stands, the team is making progress in the 4-2-3-1. While I still contend it is nowhere near a good formation for this group of players they are evolving, slowly but surely. The issue of wingers still exists, and if Seedorf wants to play it with three CAMs as he has shown, things will need to change at fullback but the what was once stubborn lack of flexibility now appears to be good masonry work for laying the foundation of what this formation should look like.