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How Will Milan Line-Up Under Stefano Pioli? 4-3-3 vs 4-2-3-1

Players of AC Milan pose for a team photo prior to the Serie... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

There's a little over a week to go for AC Milan's first game under their new manager Stefano Pioli. Milan will face newly promoted side Lecce as they look for a boost after the tumultuous international break. Stefano Pioli is used to playing an attacking brand of football and he tends to rely on a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 to get his teams creating. Given the options at Milan, he has plenty of depth to sustain either formation and should be able to hit the group running if he picks the 4-3-3 as Milan employed it this season and under Gattuso.


As a 4-3-3 Milan would focus on creating through the wingers and have a target man in the middle while the midfielders would bear the load of the transition play. The wingbacks would join the attack often and the regista would drop back into a defensive role when the team is attacking high and defending. The preferred attacking trident would consist of Leao at LW, Piatek at ST and Suso at RW. The midfield trio would most likely be made of Paqueta, Biglia and Kessie. The wing backs would be Hernandez on the left and Calabria on the right while Romagnoli and Musacchio would hold down the centre. Donnarumma would be in goal. There are a few potential changes to this line up as follows: Bonaventura/Rebic could play LW, Leao can play as ST and Bennacer to be the regista. This is a solid line-up as it gives Milan more attacking options integrating the wing backs and midfielders into the attack well. The importance will be the form of the target man as if Piatek is misfiring, Milan will struggle as a 4-3-3. Also, the consistency of the wingers is key as if Suso or Leao have a bad game, Milan can be pinned down quite easily.


The 4-2-3-1 is an intriguing option as it has the potential to maximise Milan's attacking force and their options up the field but there are a number of issues. The wing backs will be wasted as they do not have as much freedom to roam. The midfield can be easily overpowered as duo will play centrally and can be stretched on the counter and when the opposition is in possession. There LAM and RAM will need to attack the box more than spreading out to the wing, going against the natural style of Suso. The line up in this scenario would have Piatek as the lone striker. Rebic and Suso as the Attacking Midfielders on the wing while Calhanoglu is the CAM. The midfield duo would consist of Biglia and Kessie while the defence would remain the same with Hernandez, Romagnoli, Musacchio and Calabria. Donnarumma will play in goal. Alternatives would see Leao at ST, Paqueta slot in at CAM and Rodriguez replace the LB. This formation would be harder to integrate for Pioli as it is less based on the possession play Milan are used to under Gattuso and Giampaolo and will need the team to work very hard off the ball to win possession before using speed in their attacks. The 4-2-3-1 is very much a counterattacking philosophy where teams get hit on the break and throw all their weight behind the attack and the press high up the field.


In my opinion, Pioli will stick to the 4-3-3 for the Lecce game for a number of reasons. Firstly, Calabria is suspended hence Conti will be filling in and he is only of use of the attack which is facilitated in a 4-3-3. Secondly, Pioli will look to include Leao and Paqueta in the line up to appease the fans and to make use of their momentum after Genoa and both these players fit better in the 4-3-3. Thirdly, Lecce have been unpredicatble this season, they have beaten Torino and SPAL using their quick attacks but they have been effectively shut down by strong midfields in the games against Atalanta and AS Roma thus Pioli will know not to leave the midfield open by playing the 4-3-3 with Biglia.