AC Milan are fresh off of a 3-1 defeat to Napoli at the San Paolo this past weekend, with many of the same issues continuing to plague the team. Poor defending, a multitude of individual errors and an overall lack of direction were evident once again in this makeshift Milan side.
New manager Clarence Seedorf undoubtedly understood the magnitude of the job he would be taking over, given his 11 years spent as an essential player on one of the most consistently successful sides in the world. Yet even he must be surprised by just how far 11th-place Milan have fallen.
There is no shame in losing to Napoli in Naples, as third-place Napoli have shown themselves to be one of the up-and-coming sides in Europe with their displays in the Champions League and Italy this year. Yet through six games (four Serie A and two Coppa Italia) under Seedorf, the team's performances have not changed drastically from the dreadful earlier days of the season.
Seedorf brought about a new formation, the 4-2-3-1, to replace former manager Max Allegri's defensive, conservative approach on the field. The idea behind the 4-2-3-1 is that it encourages dynamic, open attacking play.
The question, however, is whether Milan currently have the personnel to make it work.
The center-backs on this squad are frankly below average, with the lone exception being Adil Rami. Philippe Mexes is simply no longer good enough to start, let alone captain Milan, while Daniele Bonera, Cristian Zaccardo and Matias Silvestre do not belong at this level. Cristian Zapata could be useful as a backup, but not when relied upon to start week in and week out.
The defense remains the most pressing need that Seedorf must fix in the summer transfer window. Mattia De Sciglio, at 21, is still learning the trade and is not consistent right now. With time, however, he and Ignazio Abate can form a potent wing-back duo.
The "2" in the 4-2-3-1, or the pivot/defensive midfield roles, have been occupied mostly by Nigel de Jong and Riccardo Montolivo. Michael Essien started his first match for Milan in Naples, but was ineffective, mostly due to a lack of pace at this stage of his career. Right now, de Jong is the only consistent option here, with Montolivo going through a tough year.
The three attacking midfield positions, as well as the single forward, appear to be Milan's strength, especially with Stephan El Shaarawy returning from injury soon. El Sharaawy, Keisuke Honda, and one of Kaka, Adel Taarabt and Robinho can be played behind Mario Balotelli or Giampaolo Pazzini.
That being said, the team hasn't looked very menacing at all, apart from some individual moments of magic like Taarabt's opener this weekend. The squad is clearly in dire need of strengthening in the summer.
As such, it is fair to wonder if perhaps Milan would be better served playing a different formation that may suit their current personnel better. For example, a 4-1-2-1-2 may work, with both Pazzini and Balotelli able to play together in front of Honda or Kaka—and most importantly without Robinho in the side.
Unfortunately for Milan, there is no quick fix for the problems plaguing the side.
While the 4-2-3-1 looks good on paper, it hasn't produced the immediate rewards many were hoping for. Yet it may represent the best choice in order to give the squad experience with the formation heading into next season.
More than anything right now, Milan need to rid themselves of some deadweight on the squad and bring in players who fit the vision Seedorf has for this team. He will get that opportunity in just a few short months come summertime. What he does with that opportunity may well define his managerial career with Milan.