What AC Milan Must Do to Beat Juventus in Coppa Italia Final

Blair Newman@@TheBlairNewmanFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2016

What AC Milan Must Do to Beat Juventus in Coppa Italia Final

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    This Saturday, AC Milan will take on Juventus in the Coppa Italia final in what represents the club’s last opportunity to reclaim a place in Europe for the 2016-17 season.

    After succumbing to Roma last weekend, the Rossoneri were condemned to a seventh-place finish in Serie A, missing out on continental qualification through the league. As a result, they must beat the reigning champions in the cup final to salvage their European hopes. However, this will prove an extremely difficult task.

    Juventus have lost just once domestically since last October, rampaging their way to a fifth consecutive Scudetto in the process. Along the way, they defeated Milan both at home and away.

    If Cristian Brocchi’s men are to have any chance of winning the Coppa Italia, they will have to improve drastically upon their recent form. To do so, some specific tactical alterations will be necessary.

    Here, Bleacher Report breaks down what Milan must do to beat Juventus this Saturday.

Change the Basic Shape

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    For much of this season, Juventus have operated in a 3-5-2 system, something that is highly unlikely to change for the Coppa Italia final. This will involve a back three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, with Stephan Lichtsteiner or Juan Cuadrado as the right wing-back and Patrice Evra or Alex Sandro on the left side.

    Their midfield will likely be comprised of Paul Pogba, Hernanes and—assuming he returns to full fitness in time—Sami Khedira. Up front, Paulo Dybala will look to drop deep, while Mario Mandzukic will lead the line.

    Brocchi has preferred a 4-3-1-2 since he took the reins as Milan's head coach, but this has not seen good performances or positive results. For such a consequential match, it is advisable that he tailor the shape to the opponent in question.

    As the Rossoneri lack the players required to undertake a back three successfully, they cannot simply mirror Juventus. They should, and will, persist with the back four that they have used throughout this campaign. However, modifications to the midfield and attack could pay dividends.

    Utilising a midfield three would allow Milan to match their opposition man for man, but using a trequartista behind a strike duet is unlikely to prove effective against a side with such central defensive solidity and the ability to compress central space well.

    Instead, Brocchi should look to make use of wingers in a 4-3-3. The advanced wide men would look to exploit space behind Juventus’ wing-backs and stretch their back three with their movement, which would create space for a lone striker in turn.

    Possible lineup: Gianluigi Donnarumma; Ignazio Abate, Alex, Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia De Sciglio; Juraj Kucka, Riccardo Montolivo, Jose Mauri; Keisuke Honda, Carlos Bacca, Giacomo Bonaventura

    NB: Luca Antonelli is set to miss the cup final as, according to Transfermarkt.co.uk, he is injured until May 31.

Focus on Maintaining Defensive Structure

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    The system is important, but the style of play and more specific tactical ploys are even more vital. What exactly would lining up in a 4-3-3 entail?

    Milan’s primary emphasis in this game should be on maintaining their defensive shape. This would involve ceding the majority of possession, forming a compact and deep defensive block and reducing the viability of forward passes or runs into dangerous central areas from Dybala and Pogba, Juventus’ main attacking threats.

    Massimiliano Allegri’s Bianconeri are a functional outfit with a highly effective defence built on an aggressive man-oriented marking approach and the creation of numerical overloads through the middle. They make it difficult for teams to play through them, something that shows in their results against Serie A’s possession-based sides.

    According to WhoScored.com, Napoli, Fiorentina and Roma enjoy more possession than anyone else in the league. However, in a combined six matches against Juventus, these three teams have won two and lost four this campaign.

    Milan would thus be better served in this match to allow Allegri’s side the ball in an attempt to draw them out and create space in behind to counter-attack. Therefore, in the defensive phase Brocchi should instruct his team to form a deep 4-5-1 shape, with little room between the defensive and midfield lines.

    The full-backs, Abate and De Sciglio, should be more conservative, creating a compact back four with the centre-backs and inviting Juventus' wing-backs forward. The intention here would be to free up room in the outside channels for the Rossoneri wingers to drive into.

Avoid Elaboration When Building Attacks

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    Holding Juventus at bay is one thing, but Milan will need to pose an attacking threat of their own in order to win. Against such a well-organised, man-marking side, it would be advisable to eschew over-elaboration in favour of a more incisive, counter-attacking approach, as touched on in the previous slide.

    Should Brocchi instruct his full-backs to remain deeper in the defensive phase, at least one of the Bianconeri’s wing-backs will likely push further forward in order to take advantage of the increased space. If this does indeed happen, the Rossoneri should look to exploit the situationally weaker side of the champions’ defensive shape.

    To do this, Milan’s wingers, Bonaventura and Honda, must avoid man-marking their opposite men, instead allowing them to roam forward where they can be dealt with by the full-backs. They can then focus on making themselves available on the counter, using their movement to find areas of weakness in Juventus’ setup following the breakdown of attacks.

    One quandary Brocchi may have is who to pick up front in a 4-3-3 system. The lone striker must make himself available to his wider team-mates if the counter-attacks are to be effective.

    While he has scored in each of his last three appearances, Carlos Bacca is lacking in link-up play and prefers to play on the shoulder of the last man. He will be the first choice for this position based on form, but if he is unable to assist in unlocking Juventus’ tight defensive scheme, the more fluid Mario Balotelli should be introduced from the substitute’s bench.

    Regardless of Milan’s choice of striker, their attacking play must be quick. The slower the game’s tempo, the happier Allegri’s side will be. Brocchi’s men cannot allow their opposition to comfortably transition to an established defensive setup if they wish to score.