It wasn't all smiles for Zlatan in Cesena last night

A week or so ago I wrote an article discussing the permutations open to Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri with regards to his recently-assembled attacking unit of Robinho, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Pato. In that piece I discussed the relative viabilities of 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-1-2 – all of which apparently leaving Milan a little short of defensive cover in the midfield.

Last night’s game against Cesena saw the Rossoneri go with a 4-3-3, opting to leave Robinho on the bench and deploy a forward line of Pato, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinho. As was expected by some, this system left Allegri’s team terribly vulnerable to the counter-attack as they fell to a humiliating 2-0 defeat away at Cesena.

While Pato looked dangerous on occasion, Ronaldinho and Ibrahimovic were particularly disappointing. Ronaldinho, playing on the left flank, predictably made no effort to fulfil any defensive duties and was responsible for giving possession away on countless occasions.

Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, looked frustrated all evening as he was starved of clear goalscoring opportunities and effective service from the flanks. When he did get the chance to claw a goal back from the penalty spot the Swede failed to deliver, hitting the post and further compounding his team’s misery.

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Part of Allegri’s problem stemmed from the fact that there was far too much space between the midfield and attack.

An ageing and defensively-minded central three of Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Massimo Ambrosini simply didn’t have the spark required to drive their team forward.

Deployed in the Regista role, Pirlo seemed to be drawn even deeper than usual, often sitting just in front of the defence and struggling to create in his usually effective fashion.

Gattuso was used as the most advanced of the central midfielders, the Italian often pushing up on the right side of the trio in an attempt to provide a greater cohesion between the two banks of three.

However, ‘Rino’ simply doesn’t have the fitness to carry out such a role these days. He looked tired remarkably early in the game and, shackled by Giuseppe Colucci and failing to make much of an impact, was promptly replaced by Filippo Inzaghi.

While Allegri’s starting line-up proved underwhelming, the substitutions he made did add an impetus to Milan’s performance. The introductions of Robinho and Inzaghi during the course of the second half saw the Milanese get into better forward positions and, with the former Manchester City man more willing to track back than Ronaldinho, a marginally better overall balance.

An injured Thiago Silva’s replacement at the heart of defence by Ignazio Abate also appeared to give Milan more confidence at the back, although the improvements all came a little too late.

In sum, this was a Milan performance characterised by a carelessness in possession and an alarming susceptibility to the counter attack – Cesena’s second goal being a case in point. Allegri may have a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal, but his primary concern is to find a system which provides more efficient defensive cover as well as optimising the offensive potential available to him.

There may be some sleepless nights ahead for the Rossoneri coach.