Milan secured a vital victory in Bergamo on Sunday, defeating Atalanta 1-0 in a weekend full of upsets.
In light of Juventus, Lazio, Inter, Fiorentina and Roma all dropping points, Massimiliano Allegri will be absolutely delighted to have gained further ground in the pursuit of a Champions League place.
There is a fascinating tactical evolution from Allegri that is currently undergoing, which has involved a clever tweak in the personnel by the manager in recent weeks.
The emergence of M'Baye Niang on the right side of a trident has given the Rossoneri a boost. Allegri has deployed him as a right winger in a 4-3-3, not the 4-2-3-1 that he has tended to use for the majority of the season so far.
The change is hardly groundbreaking—pushing Niang and Stephan El Shaarawy farther forward and dropping Kevin-Prince Boateng a little deeper to join a trio of midfielders—but it seems to have struck a chord with the team, who now seem to have developed a greater balance between their attack and defence.
Kevin Constant's incredible energy and stamina to bomb up and down the left side means that Milan can afford to allow El Shaarawy to occupy himself farther up the pitch and partake less defensively without the ball.
Ignazio Abate performs a similar job on the opposite flank, which has allowed Allegri to field a more direct, forward-thinking type of winger in Niang.
Bojan Krkic and Robinho are more technical than Niang, but the Frenchman can offer explosive pace and the ability to burst beyond the opposition's left-back on the outside and cross from the byline—an option that Milan have seldom offered in recent years.
Niang is considered primarily a striker, but the opportunity of game time will certainly satisfy the former Caen starlet for the time being. Evidence of his more preferable role through the middle could have been seen in the buildup to the El Shaarawy goal against La Dea.
With Robinho's future still not completely decided and Bojan's tendency to drop deep and come inside far too often, Niang offers the best variety of skills to give Milan versatility.
With a fairly limited group of players, Allegri has been able to fully explore the options at his disposal and gradually pulled the Rossoneri back into contention for a Champions League place.
The priority, tactically speaking, that reaped the greatest benefit was the deployment of El Shaarawy, as he leads the side with 14 goals in the league.
With Il Faraone most comfortable from the left, it was all about trialling different formations that included the 20-year-old in this role, in order to generate more results from the rest of the group.
The 4-2-3-1 has seen plenty of action, while the 3-4-3 has also been tested, but Allegri might have finally stumbled across the answer—for the time being—in the 4-3-3.
The only question will be whether the impending arrival of Mario Balotelli—Milan set to bid £17 million, according to The Observer—scuppers the newfound momentum and the charge for the top three.
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