Another weekend has gone by and yet another defeat for Milan, their fourth consecutive loss in all competitions and the worst run of form in the Montella era.
In a game largely dominated by the Rossoneri, they were made to pay for their missed chances in front of goal when Gabriel Paletta brought down Fabio Quagliarella for a penalty in the 70th minute, which Luis Muriel converted. A late flurry of attacks near the end came to nothing when Gianluca Lapadula easily missed the best chance of the game late on and Sampdoria held on.
However, it was the double change in the 72nd minute which got the attention of many Milan fans especially considering how the game was progressing. Carlos Bacca was replaced by Lapadula and club captain Ignazio Abate replaced Mario Pasalic to give Milan width on that right hand side. The entire match, the Colombian was crying out for support in the attack. Sampdoria’s defence were stationed deep and nullified any threat from the attacking trio. Lapadula coming on should have been to support Bacca upfront and increase the pressure on Sampdoria. Instead, it was the change we’ve seen a lot lately in each of Milan’s defeats: Bacca coming off to be replaced and not have the support he so desperately needs in these kind of games.
It’s becoming very frustrating to see in these types of games. A smaller team – with nothing to lose – coming to the San Siro and sitting back waiting for a mistake or a chance on the counter-attack. Montella has not adapted to the situation quick enough. It took until the 72nd minute for the first changes made in the game where Milan needed to search for the victory.
With three centre-backs already on the field for Milan, couldn’t Montella have shifted to the 3-5-2 system to accommodate Lapadula and Bacca together?
One of Montella’s strengths in his time at Fiorentina was the various tactical setups he had his side playing on a week to week basis. From his trusted 3-5-2 set up to the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, the coach had multiple ideas on how to shape his team. It’s quite surprising to see the Italian tactician not mixing it up in this horrible run of form with the players available to him.
We have seen a setup of 4-3-3 shifting to a 4-4-2 in the attack earlier in the season with Niang drifting from the left side to support Bacca, and Bonaventura drifting over from his mezz’ala role to occupy that space. However, it didn’t work to the liking of Montella as the current Watford loanee often played for himself and not the club.
In recent months, the likes of Inter, Roma and Juventus have all adapted and adjusted formations after a poor run of form. Since Stefano Pioli took over the Nerazzurri back in November after De Boer’s sacking, the former Lazio manager has stuck to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system and with seven successive wins after the defeat to Napoli back in December. He then went to Juventus Stadium deploying a 3-4-2-1 system and ended up matching the reigning champions for large periods of the game. Despite the loss, it gives Pioli another system to work with going forward. They’ve climbed up the table to fifth and have overtaken Montella’s side by five points.
The same can be said of Luciano Spalletti’s Roma side who started off the season playing a 4-3-3 system, before transitioning into a 3-4-2-1 system which has benefited the side with the excellent form of Federico Fazio. A move designed to help a struggling defence, it has seen the Giallorossi climb up to second before their defeat to Sampdoria last weekend.
And finally Juventus. At one point it was Milan who seemed to be the Bianconeri’s closest rivals for the Scudetto after their emphatic win at the San Siro back in October. Massimiliano Allegri’s side have gone through a number of different formations over the last few months. The trusted 3-5-2 system had disappeared and come back, only to switch to 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2, 4-4-2 and now the 4-2-3-1 system which gets the best out of the team. It also enables the clubs five best attacking players – Pjanic, Cuadrado, Mandzukic, Dyabala and Higuain – to take the pitch at once.
All these sides have changed their trusted systems to adapt to results and the players available to them. So why hasn’t Montella explored this same route like his rivals have done to jump ahead of them in the league table?
After four defeats in a row, things are now getting to a desperate stage to qualify for Europe when it seemed certain based on the first half form. Milan now sit thirteen points behind third placed Roma and five points from rivals Inter who possess the last Europa League spot.
Recent reports suggest that Montella will rotate the side against Bologna. Full-backs Abate and Vangioni are expected to come into the side, while Lapadula replaces Bacca upfront, however it seems Montella will stick by his 4-3-3. Defeat again would be the nail in the proverbial coffin for the season, especially if he neglects to make adjustments and be flexible similar to his Fiorentina sides of the past. He’s got the personnel to shake things up and get Milan back on track, but the question remains: Will he do it? He needs to look no further than above him in the league where rivals have revitalized their entire season and are now above Milan in the table.