Thursday, September 2, 2010
Good times have always come in threefold for Milan. Be it the arrival of the Golden Swedish trio of Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm in the early 50’s or the years of Dutch supremacy led by van Basten, Gullit and Rijkard in the mid 80’s. It happens to be the year of 2010 however, when the world is eyeing Serie A once again with a new freshness for the introduction of what is being termed the “Fabulous four” – namely Pato, Ronaldinho, Ibrahimovic and Robinho – forming the attacking line for Europe’s most elite football club AC Milan. Although only Ibrahimovic and Robinho from the four being the new signings for the season, the golden quadruple that it shapes up at front has made the world take a new view on Pato and Ronaldinho’s roles too. Vice-president Adriano Galliani has proved he had saved his best for the last and has come up with two mouth-watering deals in an absolutely envious fashion. The whole Europe today re-regards the Rossonerri with a new hope to see them play the football they are known to play. Things look just set to break the shackle of Inter’s dominance over the scudetto for five years.
Things of course do not end but start here. The charming line-up that it now looks on paper has surely brought comfort to coach Masimillano Allegri while strategising a plan. Where 4-2-3-1 looks to be the most probable design he would be thrilled to begin with, let us try to dig things a little deep and asses each compartment’s sustainability over various tactical and physical ideas.
Goalkeeping: Having lost a legendary but off-the-focus in later years goalkeeper in Nelson Dida, it remains a question mark who would be Allegri’s preferred man at the nets. Investing huge money over forwards has ensured that Milan have not focused a lot on the guarding job. Marco Amelia who is on loan from Genoa looks to be the favourite to make it to Allegri’s starters whereas Christian Abbiatti too has bright chances. Neither of these goalkeepers has had enough of the first-hand experience at the big stage to predict how would they deal with an iota of pace especially while contesting in Europe. Flavio Roma is another option for Allegri but as long as the former two are in thick of things, he would seldom feature on the field.
Verdict: Things look genuinely worth a concern. None of the three aforementioned is in a position to match even a tattered Nelson Dida and a lot would depend on how quick the chosen guy transits himself into a typical AC Milan goalkeeper who for years has been expected to be one of the better ones in Europe.
Defence: Now it is not really so Milan-esque to say there are concerns over their defence but I must admit there are. One cannot expect Alessandro Nesta to remain 25 all his life. The number-13 for Milan who has almost become synonymous to the Milan-idea of defence post the Maldini era would once again hold the key at the heart of their defence. Nesta’s most likely partner in the centre would be the talented and promising youngster from Brazil – Thiago Silva. Together the two form a fairly formidable partnership and without much scrutiny, Allegri would opt for the duo as his certain starters. In case of doubts over match fitness for the either of the two, there are the new signings who can take up the job and live the moment without much of the hazards. Sokratis Papastahopoulos has exhibited the known antics of Italian defence in his times at Genoa and is much expected to deliver things again. Age is on his side and physically he is the material to deal with pace and power.
Mario Yepes too gives Allegri more choices in case he wishes to introduce a sweeper during the crucial times of an encounter. The 34- year old Colombian is not exactly that lucrative a signing but he has saved the day on numerous instances for Chievo with his skills to deal with dead balls in a well-stretched proximity.
Massimo Oddo and Gianluca Zambrotta should be starting on either side of the back line although Marek Jankulvoski and Daniel Bonera too may step in when the time comes. Out of these four players, only Zambrotta offers the flexibility to play as a wing-back on the either side but other than for him, the rest three are fairly conventional and disciplined players.
Luca Antonini is another exciting wing back who loves to break through the opponents’ half. However his temperamental play coupled with inconsistency limits his chances for a permanent place in the XI. The American Oguchi Onyewu after a reasonably good show in South Africa may catch Allegri’s attention when the need arises for a denser centre defence.
Verdict: Creativity from the defence would be something Milan better do not expect. That however, would not be the need of the hour given the personnel taking care of their attack. The centre backs should not face a problem with Nesta remaining fully fit but the full backs may find it difficult to deal with paced wingers. Galliani has done a tremendous job this season but still one feels he could have cracked Domineco Criscito on loan with yet another transaction with Genoa. All in all, things look more worse than better. Full backs may just not be good enough while in Europe but as far as Serie A is concerned, things look in shape.
Midfield: 'No matter you sign Johan Cruyff of the 60’s, Milan’s heart remains in Andrea Pirlo’s play.' The belligerent leading the midfield for the team for as long as eight years now may just feel this is his year. In the 4-2-3-1 game – which looks quite risky a scenario – Andrea Pirlo should find all the time and space in this world to hold the defensive line of midfield and play his all time favourite role of deep-lying playmaker unlike in the last few seasons where he was seen running closer to the attacking line taking care of receiving and redirecting the balls created. With an out and out winger in Robinho present at the right, Pirlo may confine himself to the job he does best of being the sole architect of the crosses delivered with utmost precision.
To accompany Pirlo in the above mentioned system, Allegri needs to think out of his skin to single it down to the best man for the job. Gennaro Gattuso, Massimo Ambrosini and Clarence Seedorf have all been his long term allies in the Milan midfield zone. However, none of the three can be thought of to handle the tri-directed attack from the modern sides and may just fall a bit off the pace to fit into the system where only two standard midfielders are representing the holding fold. However, the reputation of the three veteran members in the squad should earn them a place but a certainty to start looks far from possible. Ambrosini having assumed the arm-band may still fit the bill to partner Pirlo whereas Seedorf may steal into the left midfielder’s role as a substitute while the team is trailing given his accuracy of passes and ability to force clean tackles.
Kevin-Prince Boateng has hogged enough limelight last season having potentially ended Michael Ballack’s international career. This year though, he is no more in England. Having had a tremendous world cup, he fits into the credentials for the other man Milan need to join hands with Pirlo. Boateng, being a box-to-box midfielder adds to the tempo of the game with his hurried runs.
Mathieu Flamini looks to be the soft victim of the major spending by the club but he has never really been able to cast himself into the Italian style of play. The most underutilised talent in recent years at the San Siro, I must say may well be on his way parting with the club.
Amongst the others, Rodney Strasser and Ignazio Abate too may add to the list of Flamini- likes and for most of the season they may have to warm the bench. One never knows though, destiny does knock the doors at the most unexpected moments and that is how the Vieris and the Panuccis have come.
Verdict: The 4-2-3-1 may highly be vulnerable but is the only architecture that justifies the big money spent. Much like all these years, the fortunes would rise with Pirlo shining and would sink in the other case. The winter window may see one if not two holding midfielders being availed on loan.
Wing/Attack: Few in this world dribble the ball as beautifully as Ronaldinho does but at the same time he tops the charts amongst the laziest guns too. It was the last season where this Brazilian stalwart got back into rhythm and was involved in almost half of the Milan goals with artistic assists and passes – not to mention the fierce shots too. Ronaldinho with his trademark rollover dribbles can deceive any defender on the face of this earth and his strikes can curl, swing, spin, protract and falsify beyond the earthly rules.
His much younger compatriot in Alexandre Pato gives the world a velocity that is sought right after Ronaldo – “The Phenomenon” rested his boots. He brings in a lightened ray of hopes but has often fallen on the wrong side of physical fitness. His injury-struck seasons have caused him enough playing time to absorb to the Italian rationale. This is the year albeit, when he would see himself play more of a Second Striker cum Right Forward’s role. Pato’s strength lies in his composure in handling and resting the passes. He may not be one of the better players when the physical aspect comes into play and is prone to being the target of opponents’ more hefty counterparts. Howsoever, with the highest fitness he is set to rock the San Siro this time as this formation is going to benefit him more than anyone else.
Despite all the flair and flavour the former two Brazilians pursue, all the eyes are set at another one. Robinho is the name San Siro was chanting on the D-day of the transfer window and when the news arose, Milan went party. In the gap of two years, Robinho is professionally representing a fourth team and he is that ‘one bad boy’ in Milan that any team would love to have. Robinho is blessed with a right foot that even the bests in the world would kill for but has never yet been able to associate himself with any of the teams he has represented. His role would definitely be of a winger or a second striker to Ibrahimovic and his performance will lot depend on how fast he jells along with Pirlo & Co. in the midfield. Robinho is just the spark that Milan need but by all means he must get off the sluggish act on the field and should be looking to chase the ball all around.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not exactly the name the Rossonerri have loved. He has scored plenty of goals and won as many titles for Milan’s arch city rivals Inter. Ibrahimovic is one of the few players of a non-Italian origin who understand the game in this part of the world in an epitomised comprehension. A natural Centre Forward that he is plays proliferative football in a methodical harmony. Having played a ‘best to forget’ season in Spain for Barcelona, Ibrahimovic would be elated to return to Italy. The only problem he may face is that the attacking line which is supposed to form the right ball for him is made up of three highly ambitious players themselves. With four of them on, collisions are highly likely to occur and cohesive football may just suffer here.
Verdict: Arguably the best attack at present in Europe. Allegri has the luxury to create all sorts of variety out of this attacking set and if the dressing room is maintained proper, the results must show. 100 goals for the season may not be a daydream.
Conclusion: Post 2007, it is for the first time AC Milan look to be not only the team to beat but a force reckoned to cause some serious threat across Europe. The squad is an excellent blend of players from different origins and methods. Milan is known to be a club that is one of its kind and could well be on the path to reclaim the glory. But for the attack, there are lacking parameters almost everywhere and it remains to be seen how Allegri deals with the issues – off the field ones more importantly than the ones on it. Nesta and Pirlo hold the wand that may turn the fortunes. Titles and glories though are a matter of chance, this team promises excitement, energy and vigor in abundance.