Play Like: Ancelotti’s Milan 2007

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Football Manager 2021

This new series will take you through how to evoke the memories of classic teams over the years, recreating their tactics in Football Manager to (hopefully) win games and (definitely) have fun in the process.

Club sides, international teams, league winners, cup winners and just all round entertainers, the series will focus on the most notable tactical styles which you can then recreate in your FM save. This first piece will look at Carlo Ancelotti’s 2007 European Cup winning side, analysing how you can still play iconic football with Milan, even without some of the best midfielders ever seen.

The Carlo Way

Carlo Ancelotti’s time at Milan is well documented, from his arrival in 2001, his handful of cup wins, the Serie A title in 2004 and the two European Cup victories, in 2003 and then again in 2007. With a few near misses thrown in for good measure – Serie A runners up on several occasions and an infamous evening in Istanbul – Ancelotti created an iconic Milan side.

Of course, the team was made up of deniable superstars throughout his reign, from Kaka, Pirlo, Seedorf and co in midfield, Shevchenko, Crespo and Inzaghi taking turns up top, and the likes of Maldini and Nesta in defence. But what made this team so historic is how the tactics were created to fit each and every one of these mercurial talents.

For this particular tactic, we will be focusing on their 2007 Champions League winning team, the side that defeated Liverpool in a rematch of the final two years earlier.

Most notable about the formation was its 4-3-2-1 Christmas Tree shape. Three central midfielders dominated possession, whilst the free roaming attacking midfielders took up positions in and around the striker when in possession, but dropped deeper and wider when the ball was lost.

Seedorf, for example, on that left hand side would drift wide when out of possession to create a 4-4-1-1 setup. But when the ball was won (usually by either Ambrosini or Gattuso in the centre) he would move into the half space, as Kaka pulled into the hole to gather the ball and create an attack. Inzaghi played off the last man, hence the Sir Alex Ferguson quote “Inzaghi was born offside”.

Pirlo refined the role of the CDM, removing the inherent requirement of defensive solidity and instead conducted the play from a freer position, spraying long switches of play, cutting through balls and metronomic passes when required to keep the team on top.

The defensive partnership was effective in nullifying opposition attacks, Nesta sweeping more conservatively behind the more aggressive Maldini, whilst the full backs needed to provide width on the flanks, so had plenty of license to roam forwards.

Play Like Milan

Of course, the current Milan team is lacking some of these superstars, but that doesn’t mean the same tactics cannot be applied. It does mean that you need to look for the right attributes to make the tactic work.

Clearly, in the current Milan side, Donnarumma is in goal, and the back four will consist of Hernandez, Kjaer, Romagnoli and Calabria, going left to right. Hernandez and Calabria are the epitome of attacking wing backs, so will be able to channel their inner Jankulowski and Oddo with ease. Kjaer and Romagnoli are not at the same level as their 2007 counterparts (is anyone), but can fit into clearly defined roles – Romagnoli as the Maldini stopper, and Kjaer as the Nesta coverer.

It is crucial to get these players the right way round, as we look at the midfield. The CM’s consist of Bennacer, Tonali and Kessie. Kessie is the ball winner, Bennacer the box to box, and Tonali is the new Pirlo elect, with similar attributes, positioning and hair style (although in reality a slightly different player, but he’s perfect for this). Here we have the perfect midfield.

As Kessie is naturally more defensive and therefore sitting deeper on that right hand side, Kjaer must be deployed with the covering duty on the right side of the CB partnership. Similarly, as Romagnoli pushes forward to stop oncoming attacks, he has the space to do so as Bennacer ventures further forward. Switching either of these partnerships will cause clashes, and might impact the balance of your team.

Moving higher up the pitch, this is where tough decisions need to be made. As can be seen here, I have two attacking midfielders in the form of Calhanoglu (playing the Seedorf role) and Brahim Diaz, filling the boots of Kaka.

Although Kaka did often push forward to become like a second striker, that’s not going to be quite so doable with Diaz – a fine player, but not quite the same level. As such, I will be keeping him with the Attacking Midfielder role, albeit on Attack.

Calhanoglu has a slightly more complex positional role, needing to be able to drop out and help the defence if required. Of course, this defensive effort is not what Calhanoglu is known for, but this is more an exercise in getting him into the right positions.

As he tracks the opposition right back, that pulls him over to the left side of the pitch, out of possession. This then means that when the ball is won back, he runs into the half spaces from the wing, in same way Seedorf would do. In this space he can play a pass, hold up the ball or, most likely, take a shot.

On the other side, Diaz uses his dribbling skill and passing ability to link the midfield and attack, and should be the man to play the final ball through to the striker, sitting on the last defender.

Who that striker is, is the conundrum. Ante Rebic suits the Inzaghi style, Rafael Leao is a quick and pacey attacker. But there would be something wrong with me if I didn’t pick Ibrahimovic. While his physical attributes don’t necessarily match up with Inzaghi, his goalscoring ability should match up with either the 11 goals of Inzaghi or the 16 goals of Gilardino – probably both.

The ball can then be progressed through the middle of the pitch, with plenty of options for short quick passes. Bennacer in the Pirlo role will have the option to fire it wide to the onrushing wing backs if it is too congested, and again the sizeable Rebic will be an asset in the air for crosses coming in.

As with all Ancelotti sides, the name of the game is to express flair, intricate passing and silky dribbling, something which the current Milan team has certainly got the capability for.