By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent
When Clarence Seedorf was airlifted in to AC Milan this week to replace the stricken Massimiliano Allegri, it was widely acknowledged that his immediate aim was to survey the wreckage of the club’s 2013-14 season and go about pumping life back into the flat-lining former superpower.
And while the Rossoneri got off to a winning start under their new coach against Hellas Verona on Sunday, the match served to show the extent of the carnage that the Dutchman must clear up before getting down to the serious business of rebuilding.
The 1-0 victory, secured with a late Mario Balotelli penalty, will have put smiles on some faces, but the lack of fluency about Milan’s game spoke of the wider issues Seedorf faces. There may be a new man stood with his hands in his pockets in the technical area, but the same deficiencies will take some time to remove from the landscape.
Verona were largely able to see off Milan’s threat early on despite the home side having the majority of territory and possession in their favour. Seedorf’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, combined with Andrea Mandorlini’s decision to camp his midfield three and his wide attackers in deep starting positions, allowed full-backs Mattia De Sciglio and Urby Emanuelson to attack in unison while Nigel De Jong and Riccardo Montolivo covered.
|ROSSONERI XI v VERONA
De Sciglio - Zapata - Bonera - Emanuelson
Montolivo - De Jong
Honda - Kaka - Robinho
But despite the apparent one-sidedness, there was little threat of Milan ever truly taking apart the bolstered Verona backline. The approach play was often too delicate through the packed centre of attack, with no real threat out wide other than De Sciglio’s crossing ability.
Thanks to Allegri’s shortcomings as a technical coach, this squad remains shy of being any kind of cohesive unit, and that shone through on Sunday night. What was also glaringly evident was that the talent pool has been massively stripped in recent times due to the poor dealings in the transfer market which have seen quality players leave and sub-par, short-term purchases arrive at Milanello.
There is a severe shortage of options within the squad, with the lack of quality width on display against Verona meaning that Seedorf may have to rethink his plan to go ahead with a 4-2-3-1 formation for the rest of this term.
Other than De Sciglio, there was simply nothing coming from out wide, with the lack of advances to the byline or secondary crossing options resulting in Verona finding it easy to keep the home side out for much of the game. If there was at least one more true threat coming from out wide then the visitors would have found life altogether more difficult.
If Seedorf is to use the rest of this season as the bonus lead-in period it was suggested the ritorno could act as, then his options in the wide attacking slots need to be bolstered. If they are not, he will quite possibly be forced to switch formation until the summer and find himself no better off for having come in five months earlier than originally planned. If 4-2-3-1 is his longer-term plan, then that is what he should be using now, yet without the freedom to play his favoured shape with players that are comfortable as part of it, he will still head into 2014-15 behind the eight-ball.
With Robinho, Kaka and Keisuke Honda plying their trade behind Mario Balotelli, Seedorf is going to find himself dealing with three players for whom beating a defender for pace and hitting the byline is not an immediate aim. Milan need more dynamism, more pace, more variety and less predictability in key areas, but that doesn’t appear to be in the locker right now given the squad available.
It has been obvious for some time that the Rossoneri are lacking at the back, but their need for greater urgency on the ball also needs to be high on the agenda when reviewing their business during the current mercato. CEO Adriano Galliani has claimed that there will be no further additions to the squad in January, but he has said that in previous transfer windows only to go back on his word, and this month could turn out to be as key a spending period as any that has gone before.
Allegri was sacked rather than allowed to see out the season so that Seedorf could head into 2014-15 with his plans already in motion. But without the support of those in a position of power, his hastened arrival will have been completely useless.
Just 90 minutes into his coaching career, Clarence Seedorf will already be appreciating just how tough a job he has walked into.