Seeing a club sacking a Coach after a victory is a sight that we don’t witness too often. In fact, Marco Giampaolo has the right to feel at least a bit unfortunate with the timing of his Milan dismissal, as the Rossoneri host Lecce next in a game that could’ve easily seen the ex-Sampdoria boss winning two in a row.
While this would’ve bought Giampaolo some more time to work on his ideas, very few people can blame the club for opting to part ways with the 52-year-old tactician, as the Rossoneri looked clueless during the majority of his seven games at the helm of the club.
However, dismissing Giampaolo was the easy part. On the other hand, finding a proper replacement at this stage of the season is far more challenging and with the Rossoneri having to act quickly, they opted for a low-cost solution in Stefano Pioli.
The former Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina boss was never the most popular choice among the Milan faithful, not only because of his past with the Nerazzurri, but also because of his rather mediocre results in recent years.
The 53-year-old lost five and drew two in his last seven games at Inter, while his win percentage of 36% at Fiorentina was the worst one for La Viola since the Delio Rossi days almost a decade ago. So how can Pioli be the right man for Milan based on that?
While the Emilia-Romagna-born tactician rarely shines with tactical innovation, he is actually very good at keeping things simple on the pitch and that is exactly what Milan need right now.
Unlike Giampaolo, who seems to be overly attached to the 4-3-1-2 formation that worked well for him at Sampdoria, Pioli doesn’t necessarily stick to one module and prefers to field his teams based on the players’ strengths.
In fact, this might be the biggest difference between Pioli and his predecessor, as Giampaolo tried a bit too hard to fit certain players into his ideas instead of adjusting his tactics. This was evident from the very beginning of the season, as putting the goalkeeper and the defence aside, Krzysztof Piatek was the only player who featured in his natural position in Giampaolo’s official debut against Udinese.
Fabio Borini is not a central midfielder, Samu Castillejo is not a striker, Suso is not a trequartista and Hakan Calhanoglu is most definitely not a regista. This was evident for everyone, as the Rossoneri lost 1-0 and barely troubled the Zebrette, but Giampaolo didn’t learn from the defeat. His experiments continued and eventually saw other players like Lucas Paqueta suffering while playing in a deeper role on multiple occasions.
Therefore, the first step that Pioli should take in order to steady the Rossoneri ship seems to be quite simple - field players in their best positions.
Milan’s current roster shows that 4-3-3 is probably the best formation and there is no surprise that according to reports, Pioli will try to rediscover the team’s identity with this setup.
It makes perfect sense for Milan, as Suso can take his preferred place on the right, Ante Rebic should finally get a chance to start on the left with both Calhanoglu and the once again fit Giacomo Bonaventura ready to deputise in case the Croat is struggling.
Rafael Leao and Piatek will be battling for a starting place in the heart of the attacking trident with the Portuguese youngster looking like the better option at the moment. The Pole’s struggles in front of goal and misses in crucial moments of games mean that at least temporarily, Piatek should be dropped to the bench. Leao has looked fitter, sharper and more capable of leading the line so far.
Giampaolo’s choices in midfield have also proved to be ineffective, as Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer have looked far from their best physically, which inevitably affects their performance. It really seems that the Africa Cup of Nations has taken its toll on both players, so Pioli might opt to be more careful in their usage at this stage of the season.
Fielding the fittest players in their best positions and not necessarily insisting on a certain formation that doesn’t work. That might not seem to be too complicated a task, and yet for some reason Giampaolo failed to achieve it.
While Pioli is not the most decorated Coach in the industry, he is experienced enough to learn from his predecessor’s mistakes. The current Milan team is not good enough for the Scudetto, but it is definitely worthy of a top four challenge.
In order to achieve that and get the team to the desired levels, Stefano Pioli does not need to reinvent the wheel. He should just stick to the basics.