Who is Giampaolo and Where is AC Milan Headed in the 2019/20 season?
Marco Giampaolo is taking the helm at Milan for the 2019/20 season. He has spent the past four season in the Italian top flight with one season at Empoli and three seasons at Sampdoria. He is well known for his adoption of a 4-3-1-2 formation centered on the dominance of possession and has built teams that maintained good defensive records and great attacking ones. He has finished 10th thrice and 9th once but has never performed worse than his predecessor in Serie A.
Formation and Tactics
Giampaolo employs a 4-3-1-2 formation alternating between a diamond and a triangle in midfield depending on the characteristics of his regista. The general outlook of a Giampaolo team is an organised and compact defence, a pressing and passing midfield and a clinical attack. Giampaolo uses the ‘overload’ tactic to dominate possession and to press in the middle of the park, he tends to focus his game centrally using the wings late on in the build up and only when necessary. Short passing is very important to his system as this opens space and creates passing lines between the midfield and the attack. The trequartista and the regista are the most important players in his system as they dictate the tempo of the game and control the transition between the defensive and attacking phases of play. Distribution is managed by the regista, Creation is handled by the trequartista. The two attackers are required to be aware and need to anticipate passes to find space as well as be able to hold the ball up. The CMs tend to flank the regista and support the attack by piling on but are required to track back and cover often. The team maintains a compact shape both when defending and attacking to ensure limited turnover. The style of play requires patience as there is lots of passing until the right moment to attack.
The 4P's Philosophy
Passing - Passing is the core of Giampaolo’s style, his teams have a distinct simple and quick passing mentality that creates space and finds options. The passing is the focal point of the build up play and relies on short passing amongst the CBs and CMs with the CDM acting as the link. The CDM also plays as a fulcrum between defense and attack making him the key cog in forward transitions. The is also an important use of vertical passing to break lines and a mixture of short and long passes when going for an attack on goal.
Pressing - Giampaolo is known for his innovative use of pressing to cover up the fragility of a compact defense. Pressing high and the use of overloading were central to Sampdoria’s play over the past three seasons. Often, the attackers would pile on to the opposing CBs and block passing lines to recover the ball early. When defending down the wings, the RB/LB would follow the ball, the CM would cover and the CBs would draw back. The idea is to pressure the opponent into an error by blocking all exits forcing long balls that can be intercepted and the pressing is used to close down play early and dominate the midfield.
Positioning - The variation between a 4-3-1-2 and 4-1-2-1-2 is subtle in Giampaolo’s team but the constant of the maintenance of a compact shape that resembles a pentagon in defence. In attack the team resembles a hexagon with the two attackers spreading out to provide options and opening up passing lanes. The compact nature of Giampaolo’s sides rely on the high line played by the defence and the strictness of the line. Moreover, the narrowness of the team puts constant pressure on the opponent and gives his sides numbers in the centre of the pitch. The marking in this system is often zonal due to the rigidity of movement.
Possession - The main observable part of Giampaolo’s philosophy is possession play that transcends defence and attack to set the tempo of the game. The strength of many of Giampaolo’s Empoli and Sampdoria sides have been the stacked midfields that simultaneously break down play and get it started. The possession play is noticeable in the build up and transitioning phases as Giampaolo tends to keep his wing backs aligned with the CBs throughout the build-up until the final moments where a vertical run opens space for a lay off and a subsequent cross. The CAM, CMs and CDM are critical in this philosophy as they are much more engaged than usual.
Key Current Milan Players
Krzysztof Piatek - ST - The role of the focal striker is important and Piatek will be expected to be clinical and aware. The style favours strikers who can attack crosses, anticipate through balls and open spaces.
Andre Silva/Patrick Cutrone - CF - The secondary striker is prevalent in Giampaolo’s system to draw defenders, finish off loose balls and provide support to bring the main striker into the game. The hold up play is also key to maintain possession and distribute between the CAM and ST.
Lucas Paqueta - CAM - Paqueta will have the opportunity to play a more natural role under Giampaolo, he will be the creative centre of the team and will have a huge responsibility to open up space and create opportunities for the attackers.
Alessio Romagnoli - CB - Defensive discipline is vital in a compact system that has a high line. Romagnoli will need to command the line and ensure no gaps. He will also be a core distributor of the ball in the build up.
Key Signings Needed
CDM - Once again, Milan are on the hunt for a regista and in this system the playmaker is more important than ever. The CDM/CM in the 4-3-1-2 is the lynchpin of the operation and needs to be calm, a great passer, defensive minded and have vision.
CM - Given all the midfield departures and a shift to a midfield intensive system. Milan will need to invest in some mezzalas to support the system. The flanking CM need to be able to press the ball, pass well and transition into attacking positions well.
Suso - The Spaniard looks out of place in a 4-3-1-2, he has proven ineffective as a CAM in the past and does not have the characteristics suited to be a second striker. Suso best operates when he has space but Giampaolo prefers playing a compact game thus he will be incompatible with the system.
Samu Castillejo - Castillejo similarly looks to fall further down the pecking order given the formation. He may turn into a sub for the second striker or the attacking midfielder but seems destined to be strapped to the bench.
Andrea Conti - Giampaolo’s system focuses more on the defensive and build up contribution of the wing backs where Conti falls behind Calabria. In the attacking phase, wing backs are used opportunistically rather than by default hence Conti will lose out on his key strength.
Fabio Borini - Milan’s favourite sub will also face a struggle for his already limited game time. Borini cannot be used as a like-for-like sub anymore and will unlikely be deployed as a wing back given his poor touch. The former Sunderland man looks like he will be sidelined.
Diego Laxalt - Similar to Conti, his strengths are not integrated into the new system and Rodriguez is a better defensive option thus he seems destined for the bench.
The list above is a mere snapshot of the players who Giampaolo developed in his four seasons coaching Empoli and Sampdoria. The young players who were launched are in Bold while the older players who were rejuvenated are in Italic. One key part of Giampaolo’s game is his ability to nurture talent and deliver consistently when players depart. For example, he lost Skriniar after one year at Samp, the next year Silvestre and Ferrari held the fort before departing. Thereafter he discovered solidility with Andersen and Colley all while maintaining 10th place and rising to 9th. He has experienced huge turnovers and has year-on-year developed incredible talent especially in the defence and midfield.
Giampaolo's Opening Remarks
The important message Giampaolo conveyed was the desire to play entertaining football that was appealing to watch and he hopes to return to quality. A combination of the aesthetics will hopefully lead to winning results. The enthusiasm is there and the deep understanding of the league is present. What I enjoyed most from Giampaolo's opening remarks was his acknowledgement of the quality of small teams and the desire for teams to win at the San Siro, he is showing that he will not underestimate mid-table sides and not drop points.
Can Giampaolo Inspire Beautiful Football at Milan?
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