This hasn’t been a eventful summer market for AC Milan so far and now Vincenzo Montella seriously has to start working on next year’s tactics with the players on the roster at this moment.
Milanisti know that Montella loves a system based on ball possession, patience and a lot of movement, but Adriano Galliani still hasn’t provided any significant upgrade to the roster, except for Gianluca Lapadula - who wasn’t really necessary considering how many forwards call Milan home... So, how can he manage these players and make his system work?
Option 1: Stick with the old 4-3-3
This is probably the most obvious option, given that the roster is basically the same as last year. Gianluigi Donnarumma surely deserves the starting role after an awesome season in 2015/2016, while the rest of the defensive line could change slightly compared to last year. Mattia De Sciglio could earn the starting spot as left back thanks to his incredible performances at the European Championship, while Cristián Zapata or Gabriel Paletta — if they both stay at Milan — are in the race to take Alex’s position at center back. Luca Antonelli could be provide a solid alternative at left back with Ignazio Abate and De Sciglio, and Davide Calabria in the race for the right back role.
The midfield doesn’t seem as solid as the defensive line. In effect, Montella can only rely on Riccardo Montolivo as deep-lying playmaker at the moment since Manuel Locatelli is still a bit too young to start in that position. If the Rossoneri can’t find anyone to fill this spot it will be really hard for them to apply Montella’s system. However, Milan have better option for the other two positions: Andrea Bertolacci will certainly try to do better than last season playing in his natural position, while Juraj Kucka could fill the other spot and contribute with his energy.
The Rossoneri surely don’t lack in depth in their offensive line, but do they fit well in a 4-3-3? The answer is maybe. Giacomo Bonaventura is a good option for the left wing since it’s his natural role and Carlos Bacca may be the best choice to play at center in this system, but Mbaye Niang isn’t a natural right winger and would have to adapt to play in that position. Milanisti saw Keisuke Honda play a lot of minutes on the right in the last two season and even Suso can play there, but they’re both better as central attacking midfielders and still fit worse than Niang as right wingers in a 4-3-3. Lapadula is still an unknown quantity at Serie A level but could fill either the striker and right wing position thanks to his versatility in case of suspensions. Also, Niang showed he can play at center in Milan’s friendly match against Bayern Munich, so Montella has plenty of options for this offensive setup.
Option 2: How to make a better use of wings with the 3-5-2
3-5-2 is an interesting option for the 2016/2017 version of Milan. Montella used this formation a lot in his days at Fiorentina and the team performed extremely well combining this tactical disposition with his playing system.
The Rossoneri don’t have enough defenders to play with a 3-men line and they’d have to move De Sciglio to left-center back to fill it. However, both Zapata and Gabriel Paletta (if he doesn’t leave) know extremely well how to play with an odd(ish) defensive line and could help the growth of the young Romagnoli. If Milan make a move for a defender on the market this idea could become reality.
The real problem with 3-5-2 are the central midfielders. Antonelli or De Sciglio and Abate fit perfectly in a 5-men midfield, but the rest of the line would have the same problem as explained before. Montolivo is a decent deep-lying playmaker, but is still far from being the kind of player the Rossoneri need for that role, while the other two can surely provide a lot of energy even if not much quality. If only Zio Fester made a move for a skilled midfielder...
At forward the situation is extremely better than in the other positions. Luiz Adriano is the perfect striker to fit in this system thanks to his ability to help the team and fight against strong defenders, so it’s quite likely that Montella would prefer a quick, mobile player to put as trequartista/second striker. Niang and Suso could both fill this role perfectly, but even Bonaventura could find some playing time there in case they need it. On the other hand, Bacca might not be really useful in a 3-5-2 due to his limited ability to work for the team.
Option 3: What about a creative 4-2-3-1?
This is more a imaginary scenario rather than a real option but this is why it’s even more interesting than the other two explained before.
The 4-men defense would be the same as 4-3-3 in terms of players but the two full backs have a slightly different role due to the lack of midfielders. In effect, Abate and De Sciglio need to close the gap between them and the wingers as much as possible and pay attention not to leave the two center backs alone.
Midfield struggles, again. Montolivo is the only option the Rossoneri have to play with Montella’s system so he’ll be a starter in any tactical disposition they’ll try. In this case a muscular player like Kucka or Poli would be better than Bertolacci to form the midfield duo with Montolivo, just for a matter of balance. It’s clear that if Milan acquire another playmaker (Borja Valero? Leandro Paredes?) Montella will choose him instead of Montolivo, but this seems quite unlikely at the moment.
This is a hyper-offensive lineup so it would be necessary to pick the right players to put on the wings to be effective. Bonaventura seems the natural choice for the left side, while Niang, or maybe even Suso, could play on the right but they might lack in the defensive phase forcing Abate to do some extra work. Suso is arguably the best central attacking midfielder Milan have in their roster at the moment and ,in his time at Genoa, he showed he’s really dangerous in that position. However, transfer rumors regarding Arda Turan and José Sosa might be the signal that they’re still looking for reinforcements for those positions.
The first two international friendlies played by the Rossoneri showed that Montella is doing a great job managing the current roster, especially considering how good the midfielders looked in these two matches. The 4-3-3 seems to be his preferred tactical disposition, but anything can happen before the beginning of the season.