While all the talk centres around the arrival of Antonio Cassano, the impact of Zlatan Ibrahimovich and the emergence of Kevin-Prince Boateng, one man at Milan is arguably doing his job better than any of the aforementioned trio.
Yet unlike them, and indeed the plethora of other starts currently wearing the famous Rossoneri shirt, you rarely hear much said about his influence. Perhaps it is because the owner is so gregariously loud or the sheer number of headline grabbing stars, but coach Massimiliano Allegri has almost gone unnoticed while quickly adapted to his new surroundings.
Crowned Winter Champions after topping the table at the halfway stage of the season – an honour given much prestige on the peninsula – he has his Milan team covering their glaring weaknesses well while utilising their strengths impressively. And make no mistake, this truly is Allegri’s Milan. Silvio Berlusconi has regularly passed comment on his coaches in the past, often telling Carlo Ancelotti how many strikers to play or extolling the virtues of his personal favourite in Ronaldinho.
But the former Cagliari man has, without retorting or grandstanding, ignored these whims and set the team out the way he wants it. Of course it was not all smooth sailing and in the early part of the season the side were clearly being carried along by the belligerent spirit of Ibrahimovich who won a number of games almost single-handedly.
Yet in recent weeks, whether by accident or design, Allegri has stumbled across a framework that has seen the team improve and begin to look like a real unit. Last week’s win for Milan over Palermo has confirmed that this season the Rossoneri are the serious title favourites despite two draws since then. Not only did the win confirm Milan to the top of the Serie A table, but it was done so on the back of a performance that again highlighted that this is a team on the up.
A novice in comparison to some of his rivals, the 44-year-old Allegri has done exceptionally well with a squad that while clearly being world class in some aspects, is distinctly below average in others. Despite the arrival of star striker upon star striker the squad has significant gaps in both midfield and defence, particularly the full back positions.
The midfield conundrum is one Allegri seems to have solved by default. Moving Boateng into an advanced trequartista style role has been something of a revelation while the deployment of Andrea Pirlo was inspired. Out of the side through injury he has been installed on the left of midfield instead of his usual deep centre role and has thrived. Shorn of some if not all of his defensive duties his probing and intelligent play-making abilities have come to the fore.
The re-emergence of Gennaro Gattuso has been perfectly timed too, gone is the worn-out aging warrior of the past two season, the snarling, snapping one-man defensive shield is restored as as the robust and fiery stalwart enjoys a fantastic return to form, once again imposing his attitude on the rest of the team as his infectious desire and determination seeps into the other members of the squad.
In defence the same problems remain – without Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta in tandem the side is fatally flawed – as the astonishing 4-4 draw at home to Udinese proved. Mario Yepes, Daniele Bonera and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are simply not good enough. At full back it is even worse and that should be the focus for the January transfer window in order to give Allegri the best possible chance of delivering on this early promise.
Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani targeted their new coach very early last summer – following the bitter departure of favourite son Leonardo – and it seems to be an intelligent decision thus far. Things are looking good for the Rossoneri and their continued presence at the top of the classifica is looking ominous for the rest of Serie A.
In what seemed set to be perhaps the most open and unpredictable title race in over a decade, it now appears that this could indeed be Milan’s year. If it proves to be so, the coach will still probably remain the man in the background. But amid so many giant sized ego’s it would be another wise move from Massimiliano Allegri.
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