If the rumors circulating in the blood-thirsty Italian press are to be believed, Clarence Seedorf is in a fight for his future in his already short tenure at the helm of the Rossoneri. Reports in the La Gazzetta dello Sport and Corriere dello Sport claimed the Dutchman was given an ultimatum — win against Lazio and Fiorentina or be sacked.
Further rumors of rifts and divisions in the dressing room exacerbated issues along with claims that Seedorf wanted to do away with three quarters of the squad he inherited from AC Milan’s former manager Massimiliano Allegri. Scathing words from former captain and club icon Paolo Maldini made matters worse in what turned out to be a week from hell for the Rossoneri.
The only positive in a week of negatives was the fact that the opponent they would face that Sunday were coming into the match in just as much turmoil. Both Lazio and AC Milan came into the encounter in poor form and under pressure to turn their seasons around for the better. A glimpse of hope from Kaká’s Twitter post reminded everyone that “in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”
Seedorf used this opportunity to give Giampaolo Pazzini the start at the expense of Mario Balotelli, who himself has felt the ire of impatient fans looking for someone to blame for what has become a season to forget. Adel Taarabt, who was replaced by Keisuke Honda, joined Balotelli on the bench. AC Milan would also play without the suspended Christian Abbiati and injured Ignazio Abate.
Lazio had a better start, with Novaretti missing out on a chance to put the Aquile ahead from a free kick. However, it was Kaká’s fortuitous cross that gave Milan the lead. To everyone’s surprise, Kaká’s cross deflected off the face of Lazio’s goalkeeper Konko and past Berisha at the near post before hitting the ball was in the back of the net. The Rossoneri nearly doubled their lead before the halftime when Honda got on the end of a free kick, but his header went sailing over the bar.
Early second-half substitution came for AC Milan as Honda made way for Balotelli. But it was Lazio who pressured Marco Amelia’s goal and finally found the equalizer in the 60th minute through Alvaro Gonzalez who beat Amelia with a header from six yards out.
Frankly, neither team played well enough to win and both were lucky to escape with a point at all. The point is a step in the right direction for AC Milan but whether it is enough to save Clarence Seedorf is another matter.
If the game against Lazio was an attempt by the players to rally around their embattled manager and save him from the axe, it was extremely unconvincing. The Rossoneri looked disjointed with very little confidence going forward. The four players used in the advanced positions were often unable to link up with their teammates and the side showed very little cohesiveness. The two holding midfielders De Jong and Essien struggled under pressure and were not able to maintain possession. On the attacking end, despite his best efforts, Balotelli could not make an impact coming off the bench.
AC Milan were able to avoid fourth straight defeat and gained their first point in a month, but the draw was not enough to keep them from dropping to 12th place in Serie A. With the players seemingly unable to reach the levels expected of them by their manager and supporters, the key to saving Seedorf’s job may lie with the manager himself.
The Dutchman seems to be fixed on certain ideals – despite claiming the contrary on Domenica Sportiva – sticking with a 4-2-3-1 formation, which clearly hasn’t had the desired impact since his arrival in January. His refusal to use two strikers has left Balotelli and Pazzini hung out to dry on many occasions. Balotelli especially has not looked comfortable playing alone up top. Kaká and Honda, both players more accustomed to playing in the middle, are regularly played on the right and left wing where they remain ineffective for most of the game.
One can hardly blame Seedorf for players’ inabilities to adequately adapt to his desired formation. The squad lacks competent wingers, but has a plethora of central attacking midfielders. Then why use a formation that doesn’t suit the players at your disposal?
Seedorf is trying to play champagne soccer on a beer budget. The tactics and philosophy being applied are clearly not bringing the required results and one can hardly blame Seedorf for the situation he inherited, but what can be blamed on Seedorf is an inability to compromise and find the right balance for the players he has at his disposal. Instead of forcing the current formation on his players, Seedorf must show willingness to adapt a new philosophy that would better suit his players’ abilities.