Under-pressure Milan boss Massimiliano Allegri has done some good things too this season, writes David Swan.
Massimiliano Allegri has been taking criticism left, right and centre this term. Five defeats in eight League games does not help his cause, but such is the weight of anti-Allegri feeling this season, and even during parts of the last campaign, it is very easy to forget the positive aspects to his reign as Coach.
To ensure the good parts of Allegri are not buried in the negative, here are four things he has got right in 2012-13.
Allegri was hounded last season, and rightly so to some degree, for not having a Plan B. So he addressed that this year with the introduction of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1.
This was not a panic switch after Milan started losing games, as many would like to believe. Milan spent as much time, if not more, in pre-season playing with wider forwards and Boateng as the central attacker, as they did with 4-3-1-2.
That is not the sign of a man panicking, but a man planning, a man aware that his team needed to evolve. He was probably forced to try it competitively a bit earlier than he would have liked – injury to Alexandre Pato and Giampaolo Pazzini not being ready meant he deployed it in the very first game. But its success this season, relative to the struggles with 4-3-1-2, has seen him stick with it. Mind-meltdown in the first-half against Lazio aside.
Protecting Mattia De Sciglio
It is clear De Sciglio is very talented, and the way he is playing this season means he is easily one of Milan’s top two full-backs and thus should be starting most, if not all, games. So far he has started six out of 10 matches, which is perhaps not enough to qualify as ‘most games’, but it is the same figure as Luca Antonini. The natural comparison, in terms of age at least, is with the younger Stephan El Shaarawy, but it is too simplistic to use him as an example.
He had a full season playing in Serie B at Padova, who reached the play-offs that year, and made fleeting appearances in his first year at Milan in a season where they were near the top of the table. His footballing development has been far more rigorous.
De Sciglio has made a jump from Primavera football straight into a first-team that is now struggling. There has been no loan to Serie B, and precious little gradual integration, bar five appearances last year. He is good, but he is not so good that he should be thrust into every game.
Allegri may also have Inter’s experiences with Davide Santon in the back of his mind – a player who was more talented than De Sciglio at the age of 19/20 years, but who struggled mentally with the pressures of a top team.
Not something he gets much credit for, perhaps because there is a lot of focus on those players playing below their level this season, for which many hold Allegri responsible. Nevertheless, Ignazio Abate has gone from being a right-winger out of position under Leonardo to arguably Italy’s first-choice right-back and a Euro 2012 finalist.
El Shaarawy has bags of natural talent, which is always a help for a Coach, but he was not influencing games like he is now, part of which is of course down to the fact he is now playing in a position more comfortable for him on the left.
Antonio Nocerino has been playing in Serie A on a consistent basis for five years, but had the season of his life under Allegri. Kevin-Prince Boateng was struggling to get a game at Tottenham and ended up at relegated Portsmouth, but with Allegri he became a very important player whose absence was noticed, particularly last season.
That we are now talking about the latter two and Abate being out of form is testament to how well they were playing in the previous two years, both of which were with Max.
Removing the old guard
This had to be done. He could have placated them, and some fans, by persuading Vice-President Adriano Galliani to offer them all new contracts, but he knew that most of them were not offering enough to the team and were only going to get worse.
The squad misses their know-how, but for some their ability on the pitch was at the bottom end of the group. For example, Nigel De Jong is a significant upgrade over Gennaro Gattuso, but he is not a legend with over 450 appearances, while Gianluca Zambrotta’s release has given space to De Sciglio.
The ones he did want new contracts offered to – Alessandro Nesta this summer and yes, Andrea Pirlo last summer – rejected them. The man cannot force the players to put pen to paper.
His only mistake was not starting this process a season earlier, rather than having a mass exodus that has left a small experience gap.