Milan 1-1 Real Madrid – two similar shapes cancel each other out

November 3, 2009

Strange one this. Cracking first half, very mediocre second – the exact opposite of the game at the Bernabeu 13 days ago. Few lessons for tactical battles as a whole, but certainly some interesting things to note from both sides.

The teams broadly played the same shape – Real with a slightly lopsided 4-2-3-1 (a left-back on the left wing, and a striker on the right wing.) Kaka tended to search for space by drifting to the left, but with Marcelo so deep, Oddo was relatively free to pick him up without leaving the right side empty.

On Football Weekly this week James Richardson described Milan’s shape at the weekend as a 4-1-2-3 – today it was a 4-2-1-3, with a slightly defensive shift in the midfield triangle, and Seedorf clearly more advanced than Pirlo and Ambrosini.

Milan’s wide players, Pato and Ronaldinho, showed no interest in tracking back whatsoever (making it a 4-2-1-3 rather than a 4-2-3-1), meaning that Real’s main threat came when Benzema moved to his traditional forward role ((a), where he pounced upon a rebound to put Real ahead) and Sergio Ramos bombed forward (b) to support the attack.

One interesting aspect was how closely Seedorf marked Xabi Alonso whenever Real had the ball (d) – even if Seedorf was further up the pitch than the ball. In other words, even if the ball was with Benzema or Marcelo, Seedorf wouldn’t track back, and would instead prevent the backwards ball to Alonso. This was excellent at stopping Real from creating from deep, but had the inevitable knock-on effect that whenever Milan won the ball back, Seedorf wasn’t in space.

Therefore, the two spare players in midfield in the first half were Diarra for Madrid, and Pirlo for Milan. Clearly, Pirlo is the more creative player, and in the San Siro a point was a better result for Real than for Milan – therefore for the second half, Pellegrini shifted Diarra forward onto Pirlo (c), making Real’s shape a 4-1-4-1 but cancelling out both midfields.

This meant that pretty much every midfield player was nullified, and the second half meandered towards the inevitable 1-1.


  • Real look for Xabi Alonso as their outball at every opportunity, but he lacks the positional freedom in this system to go looking for the ball, so near-man-marking him is rather effective.
  • Benzema is currently not intelligent enough in terms of positioning and movement to play in a wide role.
  • When Milan play Pato, Ronaldinho and Inzaghi/Boriello in a forward three, all look to make forward runs whenever Seedorf or Pirlo get the ball, which is quite easy to defend against. Ronaldinho, in particular, needs to be more intelligent and move laterally into the centre to cause teams damage, especially to open up space on the left, which Zambrotta can exploit. This is precisely how Milan won the penalty they scored their only goal from.

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