Thursday January 19 2012
Merkel – Milan’s midfield saviour?

Scott Fleming suggests that Alexander Merkel can solve Milan’s creativity crisis, but only if he’s played in the correct position.

A year ago tomorrow 18-year-old Alexander Merkel scored his first professional goal, on his second Milan start, against Bari at San Siro in the last 16 of the Coppa Italia. Last night Merkel, now 19, appeared for the same team at the same venue in the same round of the same competition, with Novara the opponents.

The two performances, 363 days apart, were very different however, and not in the way you might expect. Against Bari he was assured, audacious and at the heart of all Milan’s attacking manoeuvres, scoring with a rasping left foot shot and providing a perfectly weighted assist for Robinho. Against Novara he was muted and somewhat unsure of himself, dilly-dallying on the ball and rarely venturing anywhere near the opposition box.

Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Last January he was virtually unknown and very raw, now he’s a year older and fresh from half a season of first team football at Genoa.

An explanation could lie in the circumstances of Merkel’s abrupt and unscheduled return to Milanello. Milan are in the midst of a creativity crisis. Kevin Prince Boateng, Alberto Aquilani and Antonio Cassano, the men responsible for 16 of the club’s 24 assists in Serie A this season, are all unavailable to Massimiliano Allegri, the former duo for a month, the latter for anything up to six months as he convalesces from serious illness.

The Rossoneri failed to convert 66 per cent possession into a single clear-cut goal scoring opportunity in Sunday night’s Derby della Madonnina. Earlier that day Merkel shone as Genoa ran out 3-2 winners over Udinese. For Adriano Galliani the solution was obvious and on Tuesday, just over six months after selling half of Merkel’s contract to Genoa, he persuaded the Rossoblu to give the boy back on a loan deal until the end of the season.

Having been born in Kazakhstan to Russian speaking parents, moved to Germany aged six, and then on to Italy aged 16 when Milan nabbed him from Stuttgart in 2008, such to-ing and fro-ing is nothing new for the teen, and neither is being fought over, the federations of Russia, Germany, Kazakhstan and even Belarus have been squabbling over his eligibility for years now.  

The question is whether his return is a low cost quick fix for the Diavolo or a genuine expression of faith in one of their most precious youngsters. Much depends on his deployment. “Merkel proved that he is an important player,” Allegri declared last night, but it was a generous assessment. The difference between Merkel and the player he swapped places with in the summer, Stephan El Shaarawy, was night and day.

Playing on the right hand side of Milan’s midfield three seemed to sap the exuberance from the German Under-20 international, just as it did Boateng in the derby. Merkel’s characteristics are surely better suited to the trequartista role, and with Boateng injured and converted left-back Urby Emanuelson looking so out of place in the position behind the strikers, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to play him there.

Barring a change of formation by Allegri, it’s arguably the best solution for everyone involved at a difficult and decisive stage of the season, with so many players missing and important fixtures in Serie A, the Coppa and the Champions League rapidly approaching.

Play to his strengths and Merkel could be a revelation, play him as a square peg in a round hole then discard him when others recover from injury, and you risk setting his progression back years.

Keep up to date with the latest news and action from Spain's Primera Division with Football Espana - from the team behind Football Italia.

Have your say...
@jonv1 - you should become a comedian.

I'm sick and tired of these comment sections dominated by little kids born and brought up on football in the late 90s and early 00s. Maldini this maldini that. Maldini isn't even Milan's greatest player so please stop with the exhuberant praise.

robbie keane? milito? why is this website allowing comments from minors?
on the 25th January, 2012 at 12:23pm
ditch abiati bonera urby robinho el sha nesta zambrotta and bring through some of the youth players and give them a run in the team thats how players like MALDINI were created I put his name in capitals because he was a god and we will never see the likes of him again

summer signings cavani montilivio robbie kean miccoli milito
on the 23rd January, 2012 at 11:21pm
i feel El-shaaraawy and merkel need more playing time they realy are such a great talent to b left in d bench and Emmanuelson should be played more in left back position our young stars should not b taken for granted player should not be left till dey are 30 or above b4 dey are played in Milan tanks MILAN FOR LIFE
on the 23rd January, 2012 at 10:32am
Gourcuff did not play and was sold because he was lazy and didn't want to work hard, not because he lacked talent.

What you see during a match is not all there is to football. Just saying.......
on the 23rd January, 2012 at 6:34am
Allegri is a very good coach. Genius might be a big call, especially since he can't accept that Emmanuelson is horrible as a mezza punta. He did get Cagliari to play some great football when he was there and he had a squad that were just good enough to stay in Serie A. He has also managed to control the plethora of hot-headed forwards at his disposal. Arrigo Sacchi was an AC Milan coach who won in spite of his "coaching". His time with the Azzurri showed what an imbecile he was.
on the 21st January, 2012 at 8:02am
Mr.Author, please tell Mr.Allegri that he needs to without thinking cast away his man named BONERA. He's the most IDIOT player on planet, he costs Milan too much in many games. Secondly, Milan quickly hi-jacked my Batak cousin Nainggolan, tell him his Indo cousin says HORAS (FORZA) Milan for life don't give Juve chance to win him. Thirdly, get Ganso now and sell Pato, then bring in Montolivo and Ballo in Summer. HORAS Milan for life.
on the 21st January, 2012 at 12:35am
Milan play too slowly, no cutting edge since Cassano got ill, no proper passing since Pirlo left. The only player who seems to want to do anything is Boateng.They struggle against teams who press them and don't allow them time on the ball. Not selling Pato may prove a big mistake. I still think that Allegri is a good manager.
on the 20th January, 2012 at 11:31am
Frankly speaking Alegri is just can you play Emmanuelson as a trequartista...Whats Bonnera still doing in the team.Antonini is not that good but he's better than bonnera...and also right footed...robinho has lost...just give El Shaaraawy and Merkel a is not about age..Emmanuelson was useful at left back againt Inter than in midfield.
on the 20th January, 2012 at 9:42am
1st it's great to see the FI with comments.

2nd you can't judge Merkel by one game. Last year he played very well in a normal midfield position. His speed and strenght I think make him ideal to play a little further back in the MF.

Think of what a Milan Team with Merkel, Pato, and El Shaaraawy will do in the coming years.
on the 20th January, 2012 at 3:21am
theago silva.
6.van boomal.7.boatin.8.merkel.9.pato.10.robinh611nocirino
on the 19th January, 2012 at 10:46pm
I agree with trinimilanfan here. He hardly had much time to settle before he was thrown in to a game. I think I read a quote from Merkel last year (on this site probably) saying he preferred playing in midfield over the trequartista role.
I certainly hope he gets a decent amount of playing time for the rest of the season. I'd use him as a replacement for Aquilani on the right side of midfield and El Shaarawy as the trequatista.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 10:24pm
@MB Mehdi,

I guess I can only dream to be as smart as you tough guy lol.. Like I said, never been a fan of Allegri and never will be. I especially don't like the way he takes way too long to make his subs. Playing Bonera, Ambro, Antonini? Learn the game Mehdi! Oh yeah, have a great day to sunshine!
on the 19th January, 2012 at 9:34pm
Basically Merkel is a good young talent but the facts are as soon as the useless aquilani comes back from injury Merkel wont get a sniff which is a shame, I would send aquilani packing and give Merkel a run in the side-reminds me of a young Beckham, montolivo should be signed asap as for formation when all fit: Abbiati, Abate, Mexes, Silva, Emanuelson, Van Bommel, Boateng, Nocerino, Robinho, Ibrahimovic, Pato, get rid of Antonini, aquilani, Taiwo bring back Didac and MALDINI into the backroom!!!
on the 19th January, 2012 at 9:04pm
honestly i must be watching a completely different game. he was just a run of the mill player last night. as he always has been when i have seen him. last night he had at least 5 opportunities to cross balls into the box unchallenged and every time the ball hardly left the ground. either im blind or this guy is very overrated.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 8:31pm
I am an AC Milan fan...I have been following the team since January ' I have a limited 7-year experience of witnessing how the team handles its young players...and history certainly does not favor El Shaarawy and Merkel...just like many other young players that came before them...this is without a doubt the aspect that frustrates me the most about AC Milan...I hope I am wrong, but history is history...JC
on the 19th January, 2012 at 7:09pm
Marc F you're a fool. It's Allegri who reconstructed the Milan midfield, it's Allegri who deployed Boateng so successfully in the trequartista role. It's Allegri who first gave Merkel a chance and saw how detrimental Pato had become. Under Allegri Milan won the scudetto in what should have been a transitional year. The man is a genius. Emanuelson is his major mistake. Gourcuff had one great season at Bordeaux and has been a bust since.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 6:41pm
I am always shocked seeing, a great former left back like urby playing as trequarista. and for the merkel dilema i got to agree, just look at how he played for genoa, his passing and creativty was excellent! allegri is lucky to have this player, if allegri had the squad that anchelotti had when he got sacked, then he wouldn't have lasted a year, and never won the scudetto. Anyways hope this don't turn into another gurcuff... i was so sad when that kid left.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 6:24pm
I remember a young Viera... he was discarded too... he turned out alright ;)
on the 19th January, 2012 at 5:40pm
The hype then started and he put in a string of competent performances. Nothing incredible. The same goes for Paloschi, who scored a wonderful goal on his debut and has failed to live up to expectations since. I hope i am wrong, but i don't believe we should be building a team around him yet. He is definitely not ready to be our #10.

We should have paid a little cash to push the (inevitable) Montolivo transfer through in January instead of waiting until June, he could even play in CL too..

on the 19th January, 2012 at 4:46pm
As an AC Milan fan, I worry slightly about the hype around Merkel. People praise Allegri for throwing him into the mix when he was young. I have even heard the word courageous used. However, to understand the situation a little more clearly you have to think back to when he came through. Both him and Strasser, this time last year, against Cagliari, when Strasser scored. Allegri was not brave here, he was desperate, Milan had an unbelievable injury crisis and thus were forced to use the youngster
on the 19th January, 2012 at 4:42pm
If playing Emanuelson as a trequartista and Boateng/Merkel at right CM is problematic, is the easiest solution to switch Emanuelson to left CM, Nocerino to right CM, and deploy Boateng/Merkel behind the strikers? This would play to each player's strengths much better, because as has been mentioned, Emanuelson looked like a fish out of water in the derby.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 4:11pm
Actually Guys Allegri Loves Merkel And He Was The One Who Gave Merkel The Chance To Play Last Year , Them After That Merkel Went To Genoa To Gain Experience And Now Milan Needs Him So Allegri Called Him And He Is Back Again !

For Me Allegri Is One Of The Best Coaches In Italy ! And By Time You Will Discover What I Am Talking About !

Forzaa Mister . !!
on the 19th January, 2012 at 4:00pm
A bit rushed conclusion considering he had not trained with the team yet.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 3:51pm
I've never been a fan of Allegri nor will I ever be. Milan win in spite of him, not becuase of him!
on the 19th January, 2012 at 3:00pm
oh what do you know, a talented young player milan dont play, anyone remember gourcuff.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 2:49pm
I think it would be veryy good if milan would play El Shaaraawy and Merkel more, if they dont play then they wont have expierince?, Milan always puts expierince above talent, and when the talents turn into 31 then they play them. Thats very wrong..
and this comming from a Ac Milan fan.

Forza Milan

And please use those kids more.
on the 19th January, 2012 at 2:22pm

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