As you will have seen in the first update of my new save with AC Milan, it’s been quite a tumultuous summer for the Rossoneri. A quite frankly ridiculous amount of average players were sold, loaned or released, amassing £103M total in player sales. A massive part of that was any players that can play on the wings. I had planned to use a 4-4-1-1, with Giacomo Bonaventura on the right wing as a WM-A, and Suso on the left as a W-A, with a few iffy rotational options to provide backup to those two. I had attempted to sign Gonçalo Guedes – who wouldn’t talk to me – and Nicola Sansone, but as you’ve seen, he would rather go play for Roma and earn £15,000 less a week. Their mistakes.
However, Bonaventura would go down with a torn calf that would put him out for 3-4 months, and Chelsea would come in for Suso on deadline day with a bid that when eventually negotiated up to £29.5M (with extra fees etc.) I simply couldn’t refuse. This left me extremely weak on the wings, my only real options being Simone Verdi (really a Number 10) and Manuel Locatelli (a central midfielder). There were also no realistic options out wide that I wanted to sign, with my ethos for the save being to create an Italian core with a foreign contingent (much like Milan have throughout their history). This effectively ruled out the 4-4-1-1 as a viable tactic, and as a result, I’m committing to playing a narrow formation.
This article is going to serve as a tactical think tank for me to plan my ideas on how to move forward with the Rossoneri. I hope that through seeing my mental processes, you will be able to see how I formulate a tactic, and how I assess my squad in order to create a tactic that should be successful.
So, going narrow effectively limits my options in terms of formation. I’m left with a 4-4-2 diamond, the old fashioned 4-3-3, a 4-2-2-2 box, 3-5-2, 4-3-1-2 and 4-3-2-1 as options, as well as a few others. However, I can rule out any back 3 immediately because we simply don’t have enough good centre backs to utilise a back 3 to it’s fullest extent. I could perhaps look at this in future years when we’ve signed a few more talented CB’s, but for now I only really have faith in Stones and Romagnoli. Plus, there are only 4 decent centre backs in the squad itself, so I simply don’t have enough cover in that position to risk a back 3, considering injuries and suspensions.
4-3-3 is also a non-starter. I don’t have enough strikers in the squad in general anyway, so to play that many upfront would be nonsensical. Plus, I like Niang, but I very much see Gabigol and Belotti as the first choice pairing, and I signed Belotti in order to partner Barbosa upfront. That choice therefore commits us to playing two strikers, and the formation obviously needs to fit to that.
Here’s our midfield corps. What you’ll notice is that we’ve got more central midfield types than defensive midfield types. Although Mauri is classed first and foremost as a DM, M(C), I feel he’s much more of a central midfielder, and he’s fantastic when he moves further forward and executes long range crossfield passes. Bazoer is much the same, and I like him operating as a holding playmaker, but from the MC strata. He’s got too much talent as an attacking force to be held back as a defensive midfielder. Montolivo is perhaps the only true DM in the squad, but even then I feel he’s more than capable of playing in central midfield.
We also don’t have a great number of AMC’s, especially considering that Bonaventura is currently injured and out for 3-4 months. This leaves me with just Wijnaldum and Bertolacci, and Bertolacci is more of a central midfielder. This leaves me likely having to use a formation that only uses one AMC and features central midfielders.
So we need a narrow formation, featuring central midfielders heavily, only one AMC at most, and two strikers. That effectively leaves us with just one choice. 4-3-1-2.
My next move is to draw out the formation itself, and plot a rough example of my first choice team, along with the available backups. As you can see, we have adequate cover in all positions, apart from possibly upfront, a weakness I intend to eradicate in the winter transfer window. Should this continue to be an issue, a switch to 4-3-2-1 may be on the cards, but that’s a tactical experiment I would rather attempt at a later date – and also when I’ve found this save’s Kaká.
Anyway, back to the 4-3-1-2, and from here it’s time to figure out what I actually want from the formation itself. The 4-3-1-2 lends itself nicely to control of the ball, with the amount of midfielders in the centre of the park allowing for swift ball movement. Furthermore, it also allows the addition of more playmakers than you’d usually be able to get on the pitch. AC Milan used a 4-3-1-2 in 2003 when they won the Champions League, with a team featuring 3 central playmakers in Manuel Rui Costa, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf. So in a basic sense, I want fluid strikers who will move around and find space, and at times leave the centre open for my Number 10 to exploit. I want attacking full backs to provide width along with the strikers pulling wide, and I want a deeper midfield playmaker in the central position, along with shuttlers in the wider CM positions.
From that, this is the first plan I’ve devised. This is in no way the final version, and I haven’t even tested it in a game (let’s hope it destroys Lazio).
I’ve gone for a CF-A and a DLF-S upfront, who will hopefully move wide and create space for runners. Belotti has the ‘moves into channels’ PPM already, and the CF-A role also has it as standard. I’ve had to add it in for the DLF-S, hoping that he will drop a little deeper than the CF-A, but will also pull out wide. With Gabigol in this position, it could be lethal.
I’ve then put an AM-A at AMC, hopefully to run into the space vacated by the two strikers, and combine with them to produce some nice goals. Behind the Number 10 are two shuttlers out wide, and a deeper playmaker in Bazoer, who will drop into the DM strata anyway. In addition, the 3 man midfield will have more natural width than the diamond, the main reason I prefer it. Plus, I can make the DLP move into that space anyway, so it really is the best of both worlds. I often find the diamond plays too narrow in game, and is easily outflanked.
I’ve gone for a very standard back 4, with two CD-D’s flanked by FB-A’s in order to provide width. I’ll assess how these full backs perform in the first games, and decide whether I want to reign them in, or perhaps switch them to WB-S’s, or something along those lines.
In terms of instructions, I’ve kept things simple thus far. I want us to keep our passing short, since our players are close together, and I want us to work the ball forward intelligently, meaning that we play out of defence and work the ball into the box. I also prefer my teams to prevent short distribution as standard, simply to make things harder for the AI every now and again. In terms of pressing, I think that’s a decision I’ll make partway through the first match, when I assess how easily (or not) Lazio are able to move the ball around. However, at this early point, and considering that it’s the season proper and not pre-season, I’d rather keep things simple for now. I could go complicated straight away, and lose the next few games. For now, stability is key.
I’ve also gone for a control mentality because I want the passing, and defensive line to be positive, and I’d like us to play higher up the pitch and play forward. Again, this is something I’m unsure of at this point, and I’ll assess what needs doing after the first game. In addition, I’ve chosen flexible because at this point I think it’s the safest option to go with, and I tend to like it as a middle ground anyway.
So for now, I’ll leave things there. Fingers crossed, this tactic doesn’t require much work to finalise, and we can move forward and focus on progression in Serie A this season. So until the next update, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thought process regarding the new tactic, and as always if you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section or on Twitter (@JLAspey). Thank you again, and FORZA MILAN!