With the Champions League clash against England’s Manchester United ahead, Milan’s manager, Leonardo, has a few tough choices to make.
Given that they lost 3-2 at home, they’ll need either a mountain of goals or at least a 2-goal victory at Old Trafford. It’s not likely, but it’s possible.
Milan have received two pieces of great news this week. Alexandre Pato will be fit and Wayne Rooney is not expected to be available for the Red Devils. Pato is Milan’s only elite finisher at the moment and Rooney may be the best forward in the game.
All that said, coach Leonardo needs to make some important considerations regarding his squad and tactics if he wants to pull off the upset.
Field a Forward Line with Some Punch
With Ronaldinho manning the left wing of Milan’s 4-3-3, or behind the strikers in a 4-3-1-2 as against Roma, the other two forwards need to be finishers.
Despite being an over-the-top Huntelaar backer all year, I’ve finally given up on him after the Roma game. He looked tentative, awkward on the ball and his movement up front was questionable at best. Had he played well with Borriello or consistently put threatening shots on net, he may have earned a spot.
That leaves Borriello and Pato as the best options. Pato brings pace, ball control and finish down the right side, and may even force Patrice Evra to concentrate on defense. This alone would be worth having him down the right as Evra has been the key Man U’s attacking width down the left.
As for Borriello, he can be an incredibly wasteful striker and usually shoots rather than find an open player, but he’s the best Milan has to offer up front. At the very least, he seems to have found a connection with Ronaldinho.
Find a Way to Defend Man U’s Right-sided Attack
As this article at Zonal Marking shows so well, Manchester United have a tendency to attack down the right lately. Milan will likely need to field Antonini at left back and Ambrosini from midfield in purely defensive roles on the left side.
If Antonini can keep Valencia out wide while Ambrosini provides support, then Man U’s attacking pattern will have to be altered.
Beware of the ‘False 9’
I’m obviously pimping the content at Zonal Marking a lot here, but take a look at this breakdown of Wayne Rooney playing the ‘False 9’ role to perfection. While Rooney may be out, Dimitar Berbatov has plenty of talent to play this role for Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. Whether the historically lazy player is up for the work rate this role requires is a different story.
Milan would do well to have Thiago Silva mark the center forward and leave Alessandro Nesta to cover space behind him. Silva has the pace to get back into the play after tracking a forward up the pitch and Nesta is an extremely intelligent defender who can cover.
Force the Action Through Midfield
In my mind, Manchester United hasn’t been all that stellar through midfield this year. There’s a good chance that Man U will field Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes as the trio in the middle of the park.
All three players are good, but none would be considered true holding midfielders, giving Milan one way to exploit them. Andrea Pirlo has the ability to unlock a defense, but must be shielded defensively by the other 2 midfielders in Milan’s system, especially against top competition.
The answer is definitely NOT David Beckham, despite the fact it would be great to see him play in Old Trafford again. He may be decent sub, but most definitely shouldn’t start.
Leonardo will field Ambrosini, but he needs to play Mathieu Flamini again, just like he did against Roma. Flamini has the stamina to play all over the pitch, tackles with authority and found his way forward on a regular basis. He’s probably the best two-way midfielder that Milan have on their squad, yet is incredibly under-used.
My proposed Lineup for Milan
The only reason I would pick Abate at the right back position, is to ensure that the side is built more for attacking than defending. Daniele Bonera was quite good in a defensive role against Roma but offers almost nothing on the attack.
Milan need to play this game well from the beginning and avoid letting United grab the early goal. Unfortunately for Rossoneri fans, Ferguson has made a career out of tweaking his squad perfectly to close these games out. Milan will need to do the same if they want to move on.