Should AC Milan Copy Juventus and Switch to a 3-5-2?
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With talk of the comparative virtues of the 4-3-3 and the 4-3-1-2 abounding in the press, should Milan also consider adopting Juventus' successful 3-5-2 formation?
What has been abundantly clear in all three of Milan's scoreless home outings so far this season is that they lack ideas going forward.
You only had to observe Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League win on Tuesday to see that Zlatan Ibrahimovic gives you an easy option in this area: Play the ball up to him, and he can single-handedly win the ball, hold off several players and play in one of his teammates.
If Milan think, as seemed likely in their dour 0-0 on the same night, that Giampaolo Pazzini is capable of the same kind of play, then they desperately need a rethink.
If you can no longer play this more direct style—and it's not something on which a team with pretensions of winning the Champions League should rely too heavily in any case—then you need to be able to create chances through your midfield or down the flanks. Preferably both.
The system that Antonio Conte has implemented at Juventus does both of these things, with the midfield trio of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio being both industrious and creative. The same can be said for the "wing-backs" Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah.
Much like the system that has brought Barcelona so much praise in recent years, the success of this system requires an extremely high level of conditioning. Lichsteiner and Asamoah are required to regularly cover the entire length of the pitch and, again like Barca, all players press the opposition when not in possession.
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Instilling this kind of work rate in a team is perhaps the hardest thing to get right, but taken purely man for man, Milan may have the personnel to play a similar system.
Taking a further example from this week's Champions League results, we saw the difficulty Chelsea had in dealing with the runs of Marchisio. Time and again he found space, with Vidal scoring and Pirlo playing his usual precision passes. It is very difficult for any team to adequately nullify the threat these three provide, such is the fluidity with which they all interchange.
The best like-for-like midfield Milan could play would probably be Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel de Jong and Urby Emmanuelson.
The question mark is whether De Jong can provide enough going forward in this kind of system, and it's arguable that Kevin-Prince Boateng could be more well suited to this kind of position than as a trequartista. Let's not forget that one of Carlo Ancelotti's greatest masterstrokes was to convert Andrea Pirlo in much the same way. Similarly, Emmanulson and Antonio Nocerino could be interchangable.
So Milan are not lacking for options in this area.
But what makes the system particularly applicable for the Rossneri is the presence of such suitable players in the wing-back positions. Both Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonini are more adept going forward then they are at the back, but their defensive duties can restrict their ability to get forward.
This system is actually tailor made for their talents.
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Milan are weak at centre-back, and this system requires a team to field three of them. A back three of Mario Yepes, Philippe Mexes and Daniele Bonera is hardly full of pace, but in order to cover for Abate and Antonini's forward runs, holding a deeper line could be a solution to both issues. Milan will nevertheless need to invest in this area, regardless of formation.
Up front, Milan do actually have good options, despite their lack of goals this season. Robinho and Alexandre Pato is arguably a better pairing than Sebastian Giovinco and Mirko Vucinic at Juventus, with Kevin-Prince Boateng and Giampaolo Pazzini another good alternative.
All in all then, there is much reason to presume that this system could fit well with the players Milan already have.
If Milan are going to improve this season, something will have to change. Time is always a necessary factor in building a new team, but the current formation looks toothless in attack.
Juventus' approach is a more modern and dynamic one.
It will require a lot of commitment from the players to implement successfully but could be the key to Milan turning the corner.
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