Tuesday February 26 2013
The two faces of Montolivo

Riccardo Montolivo has stepped up to the challenge of playing for Milan, but he’s still an enigma for Italy. David Swan writes.

Silvio Berlusconi described him as "our Andrea Pirlo, now and in the future". And with those words the Milan President explained in a nutshell exactly why Riccardo Montolivo has stepped up and demonstrated the ability many people have been expecting from him for years at the top level, and at the same time struggles to impose himself for Italy.

He is now the main man in midfield for his club, a situation not too dissimilar to the one he had at Fiorentina. And just like his time in Florence he is responding with the performances we are still waiting to see with the national team on a consistent basis.

The comparison between club and country is not a completely fair one to make, but it offers insight into why there is a difference in performance. At Milan he is surrounded by comparatively inferior players technically so he naturally becomes the first option in midfield, and probably their only option given the lack of ability around him.

The passing stats reflect this, particularly in the important games. In those matches against other members of the current top six, Montolivo has made the most passes of any player on the team. He was playing to the right of another player in midfield in all bar last weekend’s derby and the home defeat to Fiorentina, so these numbers have not arisen by virtue of playing in front of the defence. Of course his position is not inflexible, but he tends to be a little further forward when Massimo Ambrosini or Nigel De Jong are stationed in front of the central defenders, meaning he is not always an easy short pass from the back four.

When he joins up with Azzurri it is a different story. At best he is the second option for the team and in a full strength Italy XI that drops to third. He still gets the ball, but perhaps mentally he does not feel as valued or as important when there are other players who receive it first.

The game against England at Euro 2012 is a good example, primarily because Italy were so dominant from around the 20th minute onwards, yet Montolivo was largely anonymous. The top two passing combinations had Daniele De Rossi and Pirlo as the ball receivers – and that is despite the former only playing 80 minutes, whereas Montolivo played the whole 120.

Indeed in the entire list of Italian passing combinations Montolivo’s name as a ball receiver does not appear until you reach the 11th combination, even though the total number of passes received shows he was found by teammates more than most of the other players in that night, leaving him ample opportunity to make his mark.

His position for Italy is a factor – he naturally will not be involved in as many combinations playing his unique brand of faux-trequartista football – though his average position in the England game was not that much further forward of Pirlo, hence why only the No 21 received the ball more during the match, and it does not stop his Milan colleagues from ensuring they find him on a regular basis. Yet while he continues to impose himself on games for the Rossoneri, he cannot do so for the Azzurri despite his teammates’ best efforts

Unless Milan continues to buy defensive midfielders, this is a problem he is going to eventually encounter at club level, with players of a similar technical ability playing in midfield alongside him. If he remains the go-to guy, all is well, if not, the mental hurdle he faces around 12 times a year is going to hit him every day.

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Have your say...
Francesco, I'm not being aggressive towards u. U called my comment confusing and false. I replied. U then thought the word midfielder is vague. I disagreed. I'm glad in principle u agree. I do not share your optimism in respect of marchisio and monty. As a juve fan I've been hoping marchisio wud b replaced for some1 better. He is good, but certainly not a champion. Italy and juve need champions. I don't see any in Italy so far.
on the 2nd March, 2013 at 6:22pm
Ok, I can see that some people only come on here to start arguments with people. If you want to have a friendly discussion about football, then calm down and try again.

In principle, as I said I agree with you, I hope Marchisio and Monti keep improving.

And it's FrancescO, hence the O. No need for the aggressive nature.
on the 1st March, 2013 at 9:10pm
Francesca, midfielders is vague? Can football Italia please allow for illustrations to be drawn in order to help Francesca as she or he thinks saying midfielder is vague. There are no young good Italian midfielders left bar the three i have mentioned
on the 1st March, 2013 at 8:09pm
Midfielders is extremely vague. DDR is a holding midfielder who protects the defence and who demonstrated in the Spain group game in the Euros he can even play centreback.

Pirlo is a game controlling deep lying midfielder. And Totti in his prime was a number ten.

The three are totally different, positionally and in terms of attributes.

If you mean that Italy hasn't produced players of the quality of the three I understand, in time let's hope Marchisio and Monti come on strong!
on the 1st March, 2013 at 12:21am
Francesca, DDR, totti, Pirlo play primarily as midfielders. I accept totti sometimes can b in strike. So how on earth can u say they are three completely different positions.
on the 28th February, 2013 at 8:07pm
I should also add that any suggestion DDR shouldn't be in the Italy team, given the number of recent goals and assists despite his recent problems at Roma (further demonstrating what a great soldier he is), is absolutely ridiculous.
on the 28th February, 2013 at 2:32pm
There are some incredibly confusing and false comments in this article...they don't make midfielders like DDR, Pirlo and Totti any more?! What, three completely different players with different positions?!

Monti is a decent player, for me one of the only players who came out with credibility in South Africa, and in the Euros I'd say both he and Marchisio played a part but were camouflaged by Pirlo and De Rossi who at times were unbelievable...They still played well.
on the 28th February, 2013 at 2:29pm
Please stop talking about Pirlo he is world class agree, but no longer Pirlo of 2,3, or even 6 years ago. People get older that is a given, body no longer is the same, that is given. What annoys me about Italian football despite being a hardcore fan of it is that they keep milking the same player until they are dead. Start Verrati,give Monty chance, stop playing Pirlo and Di Rossi, time for a fresh new blood.Same attitude happenend in WC2010 and it was disaster.We will know if we see them!
on the 28th February, 2013 at 1:14pm
I agree with boss the other teams should follow juve, monty is average
on the 28th February, 2013 at 12:05pm
Montolivo was one of the best players for the Azzurri last summer at the Euro's. And he's playing even better now with AC Milan. Montolivo has to be in the starting XI for the Azzurri as we head to the next WC.
I dont know how anyone can say that De Rossi deserves to start ahead of Montolivo for the national tem.
on the 27th February, 2013 at 10:50pm
why are you all making Girlo out to be some god? Yes he passes the ball well at times. That is for him. Against him is that he moves as quick as a turtle, he cant defend, he looks like professor snape. As for monty, he is on par with marchisio. Average player he is, saviour of Italy he is not.

Now write a blog about how great juve are and how other italian teams should follow in our foot steps.
on the 27th February, 2013 at 10:00pm
Beautiful how the juventini pretend that Pirlo has been one of them forever and a day. Guys, he was a milanisti when he won two CL finals, the world cup for Italy and it was Ancelotti who re-invented him in the holding role he has been playing so masterfully since. I don't like the Montolivo comparison either because contrarily to Andrea he can actually win a defensive challenge for the ball. Monto played that delicious long ball to Balo against Germany. Excellent midfielder, worldclass.
on the 27th February, 2013 at 9:02pm
scola, the only thing woeful is your username, sounds like a cheap beer. if u class monty as a star, what do you make of ronaldo and messi? Im guessing you have a mat rolled out before their pictures with some candles and an old sweaty pair of messi's socks that you worship.

get real son, monty a star, how daft.
on the 27th February, 2013 at 2:48pm
His name should never be mentioned in the same sentence as Pirlo. Their is only one, he has a beard and plays for Juventus.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 10:43pm
You guys seriously should find another writer, this guy barely wrote something informative and Montolivo was praised in Euro 2012, so I don't know where this Swansong dude got his idea. Lol at some newbie fans saying Montolivo overrated but doing the same to Verrati. Maybe this Swan dude himself making his own comments?
on the 26th February, 2013 at 10:20pm
Woeful article. He's a star and has always been one: Prandelli's sides that played CL football were due in large part to his magic in the middle and then as a mezzala in a 433. His technical and tactical abilities are in the elite bracket. His workrate now matches them. To say that he cant impose himself with the nazionale is hardly a strike against him: Pirlo, DDR and Marchisio are all top 10 european mids for the 2nd best side on the continent and his reputation was enhanced this summer.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 9:54pm
i agree with boss just to wind viktor tbh
on the 26th February, 2013 at 9:34pm
Stop with the damn Pirlo comparisons. Aquilani was also the next Pirlo, remember him? Montolivo is average. Overrated. They just don't make midfielders like Girlo, totti, DDR, anymore.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 8:25pm
oh i forgot this was about monty and milan just shows how much they suck that i forgot about what this blog was actually about.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 7:50pm
hes over rated at international level never looked much cop in florence and looks decent in a below average milan team,what can you say verratti looks a much more polished player but i would prefer verratti playing behind a front two rather than playing so deep im not keen on this defensive play maker i want him where he can do real damage in the final third not sitting in front of the back four i personally would play pirlo behind the front two for juventus and let vidal do the donkey work,
on the 26th February, 2013 at 7:49pm
For some reason the first part of my comment got caught out so it makes no sense. I was trying to say that Italy should play 4-3-3 which is bad news for Montilivio since the midfield 3 would be De Rossi-Pirlo-Marchisio with Montilvio cover for all 3 alongside Veratti. It is hard to think of other world class Italian central midfielders atm. Does Thiago Motta play for PSG? Possibly there's Poli. Who else?
on the 26th February, 2013 at 7:31pm
Hey guys we forgot the fact that against Germany in Euro, this man was all superior to Pirlo. He was the main engineering the centeral activities, since Pirlo was totally enclosed by, but what we saw eventually after game, was trophies all vouchsafed to Pirlo.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 5:49pm
Bar the missed penalty he had a solid Euro's not spectacular but nor bad by any means.

@Maldini's Heir

SES is the real deal yes but diamanti should kept as far away from la nazionale as possible!!
on the 26th February, 2013 at 5:37pm
Can you do a blog on....Inter Milan's world class front line of Rocchi and wait for it John Carew! hahaha Oh my the should hve tried to get Vieri back!
on the 26th February, 2013 at 5:12pm
He is still stuck to that hype that was built around him when he was 20. 8 years on and the lad has done nothing to warrant a starting place in Italy. Last year he played poorly while waiting for the already decided move to Milan. At the Euro's he was barely visible & im not saying he is a bad player his occasional displays of quality prove that he is good. But like Giovinco and a few others he seems to put in the bare minimum for a professional.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 4:45pm

I just love when individuals who trash talk gave te need of a anonymous signature. Dropping a bunch of youngsters saying their gonna take Monty's spot when they yet haven't proven anything is just ridiculous. At this point Monty is doing well and I'm pretty certain safe an the azzurri
on the 26th February, 2013 at 4:07pm
He is a fantastic player. His composure, first touch, close-quarter skills, vision and passing are all excellent. Although he prefers playing in Pirlo's position. I like it when he pushes forward to support the attack because he is incisive with his passing and also has a good shot on him. IMO, he has been Italy's best midfielder this season.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 3:12pm
He has improved for Italy. while Pirlo is the regista, he has no chance to sominate. but then again, why should he want to? International football is about playing a good role for the team and against England Germany he did that. Had a great first half against Iner, but then Milan lost their impetus a bit all over the park in the second. He's started to demand the ball now at Milan and he is a key player. I'd be happy to see him start in midfield while Verratti develops as an understudy.
on the 26th February, 2013 at 3:04pm
he is simply not at the lvl is hype is, at fio n milan he was best among the inferiors. He sucks get over it better talent is arrving by the time pirlo n DDR retires the likes of poli, verratti, bonaventura n florenzi will be there to take over. ofc with marchisio leading them. P.S. FI improve ur quality u have started making nonsense like barring a few good articles n blogs (by labbate mostly). pls dont drop to that standard
on the 26th February, 2013 at 1:58pm
Sorry, but this comparison doesn't make any sense. The Italy midfield is one of the finest at present, the Milan midfield a disaster only averted by Monto. For Italy he is asked to do a lot of the legwork for the ageing genius that is Pirlo while for Milan he is the creative force. Contrarily to many opinions on here it is the midfield that is Milans biggest building site and not their defense. Lets judge after some technically gifted players have been added to the Milan squad ...
on the 26th February, 2013 at 12:00pm

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