How will David Beckham fit into Leonardo’s Milan side?

January 9, 2010

David Beckham returns for his second loan spell in Serie A hoping for regular first-team football, to prove to Fabio Capello he has the ability and fitness to justify a place in England’s 23-man squad this summer. The problem for Beckham, however, is that he’s joining a side who are both bang in form, and appear to have found upon an unusual formation that suits their top players well. How will Beckham fit in?

Last season, under Carlo Ancelotti, Milan seldom used wide midfielders, and therefore always played at least four, sometimes five, central midfielders.

Since Leonardo took over in the summer, Milan play a completely different shape. The early-season experiment with 4-2-2-2 was abandoned after Milan scored just four goals in their opening seven games, a run which included getting thrashed 0-4 in the derby, losing to Udinese and drawing against Bari, Atalanta and Livorno.

Leonardo has now opted to play an adventurous 4-2-1-3 formation (detailed on the left) and Milan have since won eight of their last ten Serie A games, scoring 2.4 goals per game.

So the question is simple – where will Beckham fit in? There are four potential positions for him to play….

Option One – Right-sided forward

This was where Beckham started against Genoa on Wednesday, playing high up the pitch in place of the injured Pato. By all accounts, he had a very good game in the 5-2 win, coming infield to offer a goal threat, and also typically pinging in crosses to Boriello. However, he was helped by Genoa’s attacking 3-4-3 formation that left him plenty of space and time on the right hand side, with neither Genoa’s left-sided central defender not the left-wing-back given the specific brief to pick him up. It’s questionable whether he’d enjoy such a free run against a side playing four at the back.

It’s also extremely doubtful that Leonardo will drop Pato, who has been sensational this year. There is the slight question of whether Pato will remain at Milan past January, with Real Madrid preparing a €50m bid, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll spent that amount of money on a player that won’t be able to play in the Champions League this season.

Option Two – Attacking midfield

Although this probably seems the most likely role for Beckham, in place of Clarence Seedorf, the reality is that he’s never played this position in top-level football. Although he has occasionally played in the centre of midfield, most notably for Real Madrid, he generally played a deep-lying midfield role, whereas Seedorf’s job this season has been to offer driving runs from the centre of midfield, generally starting close to the holding midfielders, but aiming to make contact with the front three.

That said, Clarence Seedorf is probably the least secure of Milan’s midfielders, and Beckham’s fitness levels look impressive.

Option Three – Defensive midfield

Beckham and Pirlo would surely be too flimsy to trust defensively, with Rino Gatusso appearing the most natural replacement for Ambrosini, who has finally emerged as a key player for Milan, in his first season as captain. Could Milan drop Pirlo on a permanent basis? It seems unlikely, although Beckham would be an appropriate replacement for Pirlo’s dead ball ability..

Option Four – Right back

Hardly a familiar position for Beckham (although he played there for one half against Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 World Cup) but with Massimo Oddo out injured, the position is up for grabs. Ignazio Abate, himself more familiar on the right side of midfield, has done well there.

Beckham himself fuelled the rumours he may start in defence by saying he was happy to do so – Leonardo responded by saying he wasn’t planning to use him there, but he didn’t rule it out.

Milan might well employ him in a squad rotation system, and in a variety of positions, but it will still be interesting to see which role he takes up. Fabio Capello was in the stands for Beckham’s (second) debut against Genoa, so is clearly keen to track his progress first-hand. Will he be providing competition for Aaron Lennon on the right wing, or for out-of-form Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the centre of midfield? Leonardo’s decisions might have a key impact on England’s World Cup chances.

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