A long Serie A campaign came to a close this Saturday for AC Milan. The Rossoneri traveled to the capital to take on AS Roma, in need of a single point to seal their 18th Scudetto title and their first since 2004. Some might have considered it
simply coincidence while others may have called it fate, but it was also against Roma [at the San Siro]that Milan had clinched their 2004 Scudetto under Carlo Ancelotti.
It was a great moment for coach Massimiliano Allegri who had performed so well over the course of his first season in charge and now stood to reap immediate success. Indeed Allegri is only the fourth AC Milan coach under Silvio Berlusconi to have won the Scudetto in his first year, the others having been Arrigo Sacchi, Fabio Capello, and Alberto Zaccheroni.
It was a tense encounter, with Milan under slightly less pressure to win given that a draw would have sealed the title. Roma on the other hand were vying for the all-important fourth Champions League qualifying spot and needed to get a result from the game, given the chasing trio of Lazio, Udinese, and Juventus. Record-breaking Francesco Totti had re-found his fine goal-scoring form, seemingly at the perfect time for the Giallorossi, after his recent brace against Bari had made it five goals in his last five games and put him on 206 goals and thus eclipsing Roberto Baggio’s Serie A record.
In the end, when it was all said and done, the Rossoneri won it on a goal-less draw that sparked much livelier celebrations than the evening’s proceedings. Zlatan Ibrahimovic had returned [from suspension]to the starting lineup and paired Robinho in attack. Kevin Prince Boateng slotted in his usual trequartista (playmaker) role. In the middle of the park, Mark Van Bommel anchored in front of the defense, Clarence Seedorf operated in the regista (deep-lying playmaker) role, and Gennaro Gattuso completed the midfield trio. The defense was unchanged, with all the usual suspects present. In spite of the scoreline, Milan were well in control of the game barring a couple scares when Christian Abbiati, Ignazio Abate, and Thiago Silva were all at hand to clear away any danger. The 66% possession the Rossoneri enjoyed speaks to this, despite managing only one of their eight shots on target.
However Milan were able to conserve ‘good’ possession, that is to say in the right areas of the pitch and not too deep into their own half of the field. The Roma setup had much to do with that in fact. With Francesco Totti playing as a prima punta (target forward) and Mirko Vucinic playing off of him and slightly to his left, there was very little pressing of Milan’s back-line by the Giallorossi forwards. As a result Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva were always able to comfortably distribute the ball from the back and retain possession for large spells of the game. Roma coach, Vincenzo Montella would have had done well to instruct Fabio Simplicio to do the pressing ahead of Totti, as the Brazilian played in the hole but with strictly roaming instructions to arrive late into the box and supplement the attack.
Milan created a few chances throughout the match, those coming in the second half having been the best with Robinho’s curling effort from the top of the box that crashed against he upright being one of them. The other came from Ibrahimovic playing in Kevin Prince Boateng, who latched onto the Swede’s pass and lifted a delicate chip over the on-rushing Doni but only to see his effort go agonizingly wide of the far-post. Milan really did seem to struggle in attack, with many of their moves breaking down in the final third of the pitch and really not reflecting what was decent build-up play from the Rossoneri. The main reason for this was Ibrahimovic’s movement throughout the game. The Swede operated as the prima punta but did nothing in fulfilling that role. Ibrahimovic would too often drop deep or hang wide at the edge of the box instead of actually roaming in and around the penalty area. As a result Milan lacked the focal point to spearhead their
attacking moves and this resulted in over-elaborate [and often too slow]passing spells in their efforts to work the ball into the box. Defensively, as it’s often been the case under Allegri this season, the Rossoneri were solid. Allegri once again got his tactics right, especially in the positioning of Van Bommel to mark the spaces Totti likes to drop deep into and thus stifling the Roma captain’s creative influence on the game.
There are many deserving of praise for Milan title-winning season and the first that should come to mind surely has to be Allegri. The Italian tactician has done so well to adapt to his new environment and fostered a real team spirit. On a tactical
level, he managed his resources and the move of Boateng into the trequartista role and re-inventing Seedorf into the regista well have been the standout examples of his managerial acuity. Also helping Ignazio Abate improve as a right-back is another success that must not be overlooked. In terms of his man-management, he prompted the team to strive to work for the group, succeeding where most have failed in coaxing Robinho to work so hard defensively and track back to help in
midfield. He also got the best of Gattuso, who we all thought was done as a player. Gattuso however managed the whole season, captaining the side and embodying that great warrior spirit he is known for. The winner he struck against Juventus by far remains one of the great highlights Milan fans will have of their captain this season. Furthermore Allegri had the courage to offload Ronaldinho – when it was clear that Silvio Berlusconi wanted to Brazilian to remain – and bench the big-name players as well as managing the egos.
Gattuso said it himself when questioned about his coach’s performance this season: “Allegri has done very well, especially managing the dressing room. Before him, only Ancelotti could make us sit out… I give Allegri a 10, he is the architect of this Scudetto.”
Allegri himself is more humble and thanks the great backing he received from the likes of Adriano Galliani and Berlusconi. Indeed the pair does deserve much praise, having led a great mercato where the likes of Ibrahimovic and Robinho were brought in the summer and Antonio Cassano and Van Bommel in winter. All had big impacts during the course
of the season.
Nesta echoes this as well when asked about the star players of this Scudetto and simply answers: “Ibra and Thiago Silva.”
Indeed the Swede, despite his late-season slump has been instrumental to Milan’s Scudetto campaign, and further proving that he wins wherever he goes. As for Thiago Silva, the Brazilian has become a rock at the heart of the Milanese defense, showing real maturity and composure even in the absence of Nesta. Indeed Milan are the best defense in Serie A with only 23 goals conceded. At the heart of this statistic we see that Thiago Silva and Nesta have played together on 19 occasions when they have only conceded eight goals, and never more than a single goal in a game when they’ve started.
So as we see defense was very much the bedrock onto which the Scudetto was attained and Milan are well and truly the deserved winners, having beaten both their challengers [Internazionale and Napoli] home and away over the course of the
season. So much praise must fall onto the players, the coach and the staff. Berlusconi will be taking much of the plaudits as well for having been willing to spend this year. As for Galliani, amongst his genius transfer campaign, the appointment of Allegri was a masterstroke that must not be underplayed.
When asked about it, the Milan vice-president simply answered: “I watched his Sassuolo side and they played good. I watched his Cagliari side and they played good too. Remember that Sacchi never even coached in Serie A before we chose him. Sometimes you need to take risks, and sometimes they work.”
It has truly been a great year for the Rossoneri, who now set their new ambitions on the Coppa Italia, and looking forward to returning home to the San Siro as champions of Italy.