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Milan’s Midfield Dynamics


This post has a trick title. Because the biggest problem in Milan’s midfield is that there are no dynamics. Mihajlovic has done his best to try to find the right combination, but the truth is there just might not be one with this group of midfielders. Not that this would be a surprise to the fans, who have long begged for a quality midfielder. But since management do not value the fans or their opinions (or winning, apparently,) we are stuck with what we have. No midfield dynamics.

Who is the real regista?

Let’s start with the back and build forward. We have two obvious contenders for the regista position, each with different “qualities.” I have written a bit about this in recent match reviews. Montolivo loves the long ball, whereas De Jong is more clinical with short passes. Montolivo is often seen as more fluid, having more “vision,” but most of that vision is represented in lateral passes. Which is why you have seen the trequartista position suffer so much since Montolivo has been playing again.

De Jong is more defensive minded. He is better at not getting dribbled past, not losing the ball, and tackling, for example. His short passing better suits maintaining possession and working the ball forward like Mihajlovic said he wanted to see after Sunday’s debacle. While he is more likely to see the short range options and allow his teammates to also make short complete passes, Montolivo is more likely to send balls forward and hope his teammates find them. De Jong is more likely to get forward, get into the fray and send a rocket in on goal or head a ball into the back of the net, Montolivo prefers to shoot from distance like a blindfolded child, with much the same accuracy.

"So about the regista postion..."

So who plays? Both have their strengths and limitations. Most people think Montolivo has a higher successful pass percentage rate, but last I checked, it was actually De Jong with the higher pass completion percentage, despite being played out of position a couple of times. The thing I like about De Jong is that he runs more, plays harder, and inspires his teammates with his grinta. His positive relationships and leadership with teammates are so much more visible, it’s ridiculous. He is a better team player, in that the team literally plays better overall with him as regista. So he would be my first choice. And for the record, I did not care for the experiment of playing them together with De Jong on the right. Not effective, and putting two of our slowest midfielders together was just tragic.

On the left and the right, we have more options. I’m coming to terms with Bonaventura and Bertolacci starting, but Kucka’s grinta is also impressive, he might earn Bertolacci’s spot from me soon. But all of these players have different qualities. Bonaventura is the Jack of all trades in the midfield, but I think it’s his heart that is his best quality. For me, more than just about any other player, he leaves it out on the pitch to the final whistle every single game. But his two goals and three assists show that he also gets it done, no matter what it is that he’s asked to do. Definitely our most versatile midfielder.

The man can win a Derby all by himself. It's actually a crime to sit him or play him out of position.

Before his injury, Bertolacci was starting to win me over. Not €20m winning me over, but maybe starting spot winning me over. I thought he was going to be a bit of a whiny princess, but he is really tough, and has some creativity, too. Kuco (Kucka) impressed me as well, I knew he was tough and could foul from watching him play against us. But under that tough guy exterior, he’s got some decent skills as well. I’d go into more details about the others, but for the sake of time and sleep, I will leave it that I believe these are our most likely starters.

Then there is the cursed trequartista position. Cursed for many years at Milan, the new curse is that Mihajlovic seems pretty sure about the 4-3-1-2 for now, but he hasn’t convinced the midfield to actually play the ball forward to the trequartista. Honda has been demonized on social media (sometimes I wish there was an IQ requirement for a Twitter account, and a minimum IQ for people to be allowed to follow, too.) But the bottom line is he’s been forced to play very deep and defensively since Montolivo’s been playing, and whereas he played very well before, now his teammates seem absolutely blind to his very existence. It’s like watching a really sad game of “Monkey in the Middle,” but bless Honda, he keeps trying to get that ball not matter what. The same thing was true on Sunday with Bonaventura in that spot, it’s like a dead end for passing.

Jovetic, meet Milan's midfield.

This is the other reason I’d put De Jong back at the regista position, as when he played, the midfield functioned with moderate success as far as maintaining possession, completing passes, etc. However, not so successful at creating attacking options. People worry about the attacking chances with a trequartista who has been hobbled, but we have averaged 15 shots per game in the last three games with Montolivo as regista. We'll naively say for now that the finishing is really more up to the forwards, but with the trequartista stranded on an invisible island or playing as a fifth defender, we actually got more shots off than we did with a moderately functioning midfield. Basically, we play better on 10 men with Montolivo’s qualities. Same system on paper, but a very different outcome on the pitch. (You must also take into account the various opponents and their style of play, etc., but it does seem to be a running theme.) And yet defensively, we played worse without Honda. You add or take away one piece and you get a whole new set of problems.

I think the fourth official had a heart attack being so close to that much grinta.

And this is why the title of this post is a trick one: are there actually dynamics happening in midfield? Other than creating a second team that our defenders have to defend against? Is it possible for us to have a functioning midfield three with a trequartista that actually links the midfield to the attack? There are obviously other dynamics within the system, like the various attackers and their style of play, the fullbacks, etc. But it is a headscratcher for Mihajlovic for sure, who is also trying to balance the team’s mentality of so many years of failure, too. Certainly it all could take some time. Perhaps, as many fans dream of, it will require a new midfielder being introduced. But even then, do we find a more creative midfielder (we have been in a creative drought in the midfield for some years now,) or do we find a defensive one, or someone who is really versatile? Or do we make more wholesale changes, perhaps finding a totally different regista and more? I suspect Galliani has no clue, hence this hodgepodge of talent that doesn’t ever quite add up to one whole midfield in the first place. So I guess we are all going to have to see if Mihajlovic can work miracles and forge a midfield out of this lot, creating Milan’s midfield dynamics.


This post inspired by the music of The Pretenders’ “Middle of the Road”


Our next match is
Milan vs. Napoli
Sunday, October 4 • 20:45 CEST (2:45 EDT)


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