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Allegri's Milan Complete Tactical Transformation vs Arsenal in Champions League

Jack Alexandros Rathborn@@jackrathbornContributor IIIFebruary 17, 2012

CESENA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19:  Players of AC Milan celebrate during the Serie A match between AC Cesena and AC Milan at Dino Manuzzi Stadium on February 19, 2012 in Cesena, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

AC Milan sent a message to the rest of Europe on Wednesday night when they dismantled Arsenal 4-0 in the first leg of their Champions League tie.

The Rossoneri emphatically declared their intention to challenge both favourites Barcelona and Real Madrid to be the footballing kings of Europe.

Of course Arsenal were limp, abject and outright appalling at times, but this should not dent the near-perfect display of calcio that Massimiliano Allegri conjured up at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Wednesday night, less than two years after succeeding Carlo Ancelotti.

Milan had a thoroughly effective side 12 months a go, that was able to dispatch all challenges that they faced in Serie A. It was a different story in the Champions League though.

At the same stage last season the Rossoneri succumbed to Champions League rookies Tottenham Hotspur, a defeat that took some time to recover from and led to the side's surgery over the summer at Milanello.

Allegri did the unthinkable by letting one of Italy's greatest ever players, Andrea Pirlo, walk away for free to their nemesis Juventus, due to a stalemate in negotiations over the length of his contract renewal. Pirlo surely deserved to be made an exception to the rule whereby Milan offer players above the age of 30 one-year rolling contracts, but Silvio Berlusconi put faith in his manager.

This move allowed Milan to fully define the shape of their side by deploying Mark Van Bommel as the anchor of the team that Allegri decided to build around. Massimo Ambrosini, despite being the captain, is not an automatic selection due to his similarity to the Dutch veteran.

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 15:  Robinho of AC Milan celebrates his second goal with Kevin-Prince Boateng of AC Milan during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between AC Milan and Arsenal at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15, 2012 in M
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The Rossoneri legend lacks dynamism and the ability to spring counter attacks on the opposition once Milan seize possession, a key facet to this new-look side. Less gifted players such as Urby Emanuelson and Antonio Nocerino have been handed starring roles in flanking the Dutch veteran and have thrived as a result.

Further forward, Kevin-Prince Boateng has been deployed as a trequartista, despite his lack of craft and ingenuity. The Ghanaian's lack of conventional attributes for this role have not deterred Allegri In fact, it has inspired him to reinvent his greatest asset of them all, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

One would think with the above changes that Allegri is moulding together a side comprised with athletes and players that possess better physical attributes than technical. This is true to an extent, but it hides the genius of the most telling change to the Milan side of last season. The reinvention of Zlatan.

The giant Swede has relished in his new-found role as the side's creator and inventor by often dropping deep in order to find the ball at the earliest point of Milan's attacks, when the trio of ball-winners have broken up the opposition's attack. What follows is fascinating.

Ibrahimovic's strike partner, normally Robinho, is required to be the pivot of the attacks by maintaining an advanced position often with his back to goal in order to facilitate the Swede exchanging passes before surging beyond the Brazilian.

The variation to Milan's attacks comes when Ibrahimovic takes the ball off of Van Bommel, which is a trigger for the carilleros to burst past Milan's number 11, alongside Boateng, in to the space beyond.

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 15: Mark van Bommel of AC Milan challenges Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between AC Milan and Arsenal at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo b
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It is then that Zlatan's job is to use his wonderful vision and array of passes to pick out his team mates, who take up these advanced positions which confuse an opposition deploying a conventional man marking system.

Evidence of this on Wednesday night was the naivety of Alexandre Song, who tracked Ibrahimovic too far up the pitch which vacated the space in front of his back four for Boateng and Robinho to run riot.

In summary we have seen a new formation, as such, when Milan are in possession. We see almost a 4-1-3-1-1 or when the carilleros are even more adventurous, a 4-1-1-3-1, with Ibrahimovic the central figure of the "three" in the first formation or the second "one" in the latter formation.

Jack Alexandros is a football analyst for Football Radar covering Serie A. You can follow him on twitter @jackalexandros and @FRcalcioJack.

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