Film Focus: Milan Tactical Switch Delivers Derby Win over Inter

Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

GENOA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 23:  Coach Clarence Seedorf of AC Milan issues instructions to his player Adel Taarabt during the Serie A match between UC Sampdoria and AC Milan at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on February 23, 2014 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

After some initial problems, Clarence Seedorf appears to have steadied a previously stumbling Milan, correcting many of the problems left behind by his predecessor.

In almost four years in charge, Massimiliano Allegri never appeared to give the Rossoneri an identity, constantly changing formations as his best players were sold on by the club’s owners.

Arriving almost as soon as the winter transfer window closed, the former Dutch international knew he had a settled squad and immediately implemented a 4-2-3-1 shape to draw the best out of the the players at his disposal. In his first 19 games in charge, the formation was the one constant, and with five wins in the seven games before the derby it was beginning to bear fruit.

Even before the game with Inter kicked off on Sunday, the starting line-up appeared to fit that framework, but Seedorf would have a surprise in store for Milan’s neighbours. Faced with the 3-5-2 that Walter Mazzarri has employed for almost his entire coaching career, the Rossoneri boss would switch to a 4-3-1-2 to negate its strengths.

“It was very important to keep an eye on Cambiasso,” Seedorf told Sky Italia shortly after the final whistle (h/t FootballItalia). From the kick-off it was clear that—having identified the Argentinean as the key man—Milan would deny him any space in which to operate, as the image below highlights.

According to, Cambiasso is Inter’s second-most prolific passer, his average of 49.6 passes per game trailing only Hugo Campagnaro in the Nerazzurri squad. Completing 82.8 per cent of his attempts, the 33-year-old is a vital member of the side and sets the tone for much of their play.

Seedorf’s tactics clearly limited that impact, with showing that the former Real Madrid midfielder was limited to just 25 passes on Sunday and completed just 72 per cent.

The player chiefly responsible in achieving that was Milan’s Adel Taarabt, who was fielded much deeper than usual and charged with keeping a close eye on Cambiasso whenever the Rossoneri lost possession. It was a move done with one aim in mind, as Seedorf explained in the aforementioned post-match interview:

[Cambiasso] can become very dangerous when Inter have possession and often combines with Palacio, so we tried to limit that connection as much as possible.

Looking closely at the stats from last night, Cambiasso and Palacio didn't complete a single pass to each other, with Taarabt and the Milan defence neutralising them completely. The Moroccan stepped up to the task well, making three tackles despite only averaging one per game since moving to Italy in January.

His stifling of Cambiasso meant the Inter front line was starved of service and mustered just three shots in the entire game—none of which were on target. As the following tweet from Opta reveals, it was the team’s most inept attacking display in over a decade.

There have been many questions surrounding Seedorf, and his future has been constantly brought into doubt over recent weeks, with speculation about who could replace him never far from the headlines (h/t FootballItalia).

However, his intelligent coaching in this match should not be overlooked. Seedorf displayed an insight and awareness that could serve him well in the future. One result cannot be used to justify his presence on the Milan bench, but Clarence Seedorf’s tactical approach was clearly responsible for this important derby victory.