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Milan need patience to avoid another 'year zero'
Inzaghi's side seem to be pretty good in attack, and not too bad at the back. They need to keep working according to Pippo's philosophy. And, maybe, they need a real poacher
by Ben Cousins
The origin of this season spawned yet another ‘year zero’ for AC Milan, after a desperately weak campaign last year saw the Rossoneri miss out on European qualification. With it came the departures of Max Allegri and later, perhaps harshly, Clarence Seedorf. Galliani promoted Pippo Inzaghi from Primavera (Milan’s youth side) with whom he had very much impressed, now aiming to return the Italian giants to Europe’s premier competition. So with almost a third of the season passed, we take a look at his attempt thus far.

Currently sitting in seventh, Milan lay only four points adrift of emerging through that thick ectoplasm separating three Champion’s League places and the rest of the table. A few weeks back they needed only to win to position themselves neatly in third place, yet they slipped at the mercy of Palermo, a resurgent Napoli now sitting comfortably in third, where they did for so long last year. It still feels completely achievable for Inzaghi’s men to overtake Benitez and co, but that feeling of grasping for something just out of reach appears to sum up their efforts throughout the early phase of the season.

Inzaghi as a player was of course a notorious poacher, seldom contributing anything to a match outside of scoring a six-yard tap in, always managing to get a touch on whatever then seemed out of reach. He wasn’t one to drop deep, link up with a number ten, and spread the ball out to a winger. That appears to have proliferated as a modern archetype, and Inzaghi himself has now joined the swarms of managers opting to play, not just without a poacher, but without a true striker at all.

In 2014 this is not exactly an earth-shattering tactic; Guardiola and Messi made this commonplace over five years ago. But there is an amusing irony in Inzaghi, the poacher-y-ist of poachers lining up with Jeremy Menez as his number nine. An even more so, this diversion from what he was so good at as a player is perhaps one reason behind Milan’s frustration. They seem to have so much of the ball, but not that focal point to aim it towards.

Now far from advocating they stick Fernando Torres or Pazzini on the pitch and chuck it at ‘em, instead there is an element of responsibility spread throughout the team to make runs in the box and get behind the defenders when playing with tactics like this. This is a problem that plagued Milan last year, with Balotelli all too eager to drop back and link up with midfield, deserting the 18 yard box with no one to fill the space.

El Sharaawy hitting some form after that spectacular strike against Sampdoria could certainly remedy this, and besides, it would be somewhat fair to say their attack is not the issue. Before Juve’s 7-0 demolition of Parma, Milan were Serie A’s top scorers, although they did score eight of their 20 goals in their first two games.

Instead you could look to improve their defence, which has been pretty average considering the quality of players they signed in the summer; Diego Lopez is potentially the best ‘keeper in the league, and Adil Rami & Alex have so much quality between them. Yet they don’t even look especially vulnerable defensively, they just seem to concede at inconvenient times and through individual errors.

So it’s all a bit unclear then – they seem to be pretty good in attack, and not too bad at the back, especially if they can clear out a few unfortunate errors. So… how do they improve?

Patience. Moving rapidly into Sampdoria’s half last weekend, Stephan El Sharaawy and Jeremy Menez found themselves alone on the attack. They had the calmness to retain possession, wait for reinforcements, and spread the ball amongst the team when they arrived. Several passes later, and with an overload on the right wing, Philippe Mexes ran up to the ball and smashed a poor shot out of play. As well as a completely asinine decision from the Frenchman, it was an unnervingly accurate metaphor for what Milan must not do off the pitch.

Had Mexes retained the ball, passed it out wide, and allowed the build-up to continue, there was a decent chance for the Rossoneri to score. Likewise, if the fans and the management stick behind Inzaghi and his players, things should work out, as he is an extremely intelligent manager, and he has the team moving in the right direction, albeit with creases to iron and hurdles to jump. If Galliani and Berlusconi run in and kick Inzaghi out of the door, it’ll only mean they must experience another ‘year zero’, and delay the return to where Milan feel they belong.

Give him time, and he might just sneak in to get on the end of something others couldn’t reach.


Monday, November 17 th, 2014
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