The transition from graft to craft is usually quite tedious, and more often than not, deliberate. A club intentionally attempts to adopt a different style of play, which could lead to the reinvention of it’s footballing philosophy. This evolution at Chelsea, driven by Roman Abramovich, is still a work-in-progress. Juventus have also experienced a visible shift in their brand of football following the signing of Andrea Pirlo from AC Milan in 2011.
AC Milan under Massimiliano Allegri were a team that dominated possession, even if in essence, the possession was inconsequential. Ball-playing midfielders were a rarity at the club after the departure of Pirlo, and Allegri had to make do with players several fans refereed to as ‘lumberjacks’. The situation has changed, since.
With Filippo Inzaghi as coach, Milan appear to have become a counter-attacking team that relies heavily on the pace of Jeremy Menez and Stephan El Shaarawy to exploit open spaces. However, when playing against a team that simply shuts down and plays with a low-risk approach, Milan have faltered, placing their dependence on fortuitous penalty decisions.
From the onset, Inzaghi put his faith in midfielders who were primarily defensive in nature. But, latest developments will force the coach to make amends. Nigel De Jong is currently recovering from a hamstring injury and is expected to return this weekend, but might be fully fit in about two-three weeks time. Sulley Muntari’s performances this season have been nothing short of catastrophic. Andrea Poli has played fringe minutes and Michael Essien has merely done the job.
With the return of Riccardo Montolivo to full-fitness and with Marco van Ginkel’s positive display against Udinese, Inzaghi is now presented with options that could entirely transform the functionality of AC Milan’s midfield.
Van Ginkel possesses the technical ability to keep the ball rolling in what is otherwise a static midfield. Against Udinese, he did not attempt anything spectacular. Instead, he kept it simple, unselfishly complimenting Essien and Giacomo Bonaventura, who had designated duties of their own. Van Ginkel admirably distributed the ball when in possession while almost entirely staying true to his job description. In some way, that very attribute has been sorely missing in AC Milan’s midfield since Montolivo’s injury.
Bonaventura, on the other hand, contributes with a directness that every other Milan midfielder desires. He tracks back, can pick a player with a pass and can run at defenses as well. His versatility is possibly his greatest asset, but as a central midfielder, he can run with the ball and connect the defense with the attack seamlessly. Inzaghi has probably identified that Bonaventura plays best when employed in a deeper role, thereby making available to the coach, a genuinely unique type of midfielder.
Montolivo’s return naturally alters the dimension of Milan’s midfield. The ball will move forward more often and less so laterally, which might also lessen the burden of creativity on the front men. The midfield will be expected to create more chances without sacrificing their defensive responsibilities, which is entirely plausible given the scope of van Ginkel and Montolivo’s skill-set.
In Marco van Ginkel, Riccardo Montolivo and Giacomo Bonaventura, Inzaghi can consider fielding a mobile midfield, equipped to function as a unit along with the rest of the team and not as a silo.