AC Milan continue their remarkable unbeaten streak to eleven games after defeating Ludogorets Thursday in the Europa League. The key figure in AC Milan’s surprising success is clearly Gennaro Gattuso, as he is truly displaying his ability to coach at an elite level.
When AC Milan sacked Vincenzo Montella and appointed Gattuso in his place; pundits across Europe expressed concern over Gattuso’s lack of tactical knowledge. With initial scrutiny boiling uncontrollably among Serie A’s elites, Gattuso himself eventually admitted his potential shortcomings stating in late December: “perhaps I am the worst coach in Serie A but I always want to win, even when playing in the garden with my son”.
After those words confidently left Gattuso’s mouth, AC Milan have gone on for two and a half months without losing a single game. Throughout this surprising mid season revival, the Rossoneri have convincingly defeated the likes of Lazio, Inter and Sampdoria; all teams they had previously lost to under Vincenzo Montella.
While Gattuso has certainly injected the Rossoneri with a fresh dose of grit and passion, he has also revolutionized the tactical approach from his predecessor Vincenzo Montella. While his players feverishly storm the pitch with renewed confidence, Gattuso must be grinning deep inside as he has proven that he possesses the “tactical knowledge” critics thought he lacked.
— James Horncastle (@JamesHorncastle) February 23, 2018
Committing to a Simple Base Formation
When Gattuso took over AC Milan in December, he initially played his team in the same 3-5-2 formation as Vincenzo Montella. However, after losing to Rijeka 2-0 in the Europa League, Gattuso decided to play a balanced 4-3-3 formation used by most clubs around Europe.
With the new formation change there were initial growing pains as Bonnucci had to quickly adapt to the four-man defense. After a few games however, AC Milan looked extremely positive in possession with talented offensive players Calhanoglu, Suso and Bonaventura playing with renewed confidence.
The Patient Build Up
On offense, Gennaro Gattuso has drilled his team to play patiently. In fact when AC Milan have possession they often switch formation, going from the 4-3-3 to a more offensive 3-4-3. In order to make this formation change mid game, Gattuso’s men rely on both center backs and the center defensive midfield to retain possession, while both right and left backs push up the flanks of the pitch.
This 3-4-3 switch allows both Calhanoglu and Suso to push deeper into the box, putting them in great position to utilize their tremendous shooting ability. With both wingers pestering about in the opponent’s box, Gattuso’s midfield players can also push up freely and either pass around the defense or put a clear shot on goal.
#ICYMI: @acmilan head coach Gennaro Gattuso urged promising striker Patrick Cutrone to find a girlfriend and 'make love' in order to maintain his upward career trajectory. https://t.co/DaGMu2VJlb #KickOff pic.twitter.com/f88AiTASjY
— Kick Off (@KickOffMagazine) February 24, 2018
Quick and Aggressive Defense
Under Gattuso, when AC Milan lose the ball they immediately swarm the ball in bunches in an effort to get a quick turnover. If they are unable to successfully win back possession, Gattuso orders his men into a 4-5-1 formation.
In the 4-5-1 configuration, the wingers tread back to provide adequate defensive help on the wings and midfield. With the 4-5-1, AC Milan are set up in a way that covers all areas of the pitch. While not perfect this defensive change has played a major part in AC Milan’s tremendous defensive record, where they have only conceding four goals in eleven games.
Gattuso is old school. pic.twitter.com/JnC4Ibtvry
— Football Tweets (@FutballTweets) February 21, 2018
The Long and Painful Road Ahead
If AC Milan continue this streak of form, they could very well put themselves back in a Champions League position. However, in order to do so AC Milan must face the toughest month of the season playing the likes of; Roma, Lazio, Inter and Arsenal in the span of two and a half weeks. If Gattuso manages to best those teams listed, he will have officially brought AC Milan back from the brink of total collapse and positioned them to be a dominant football power house once again.