Football managers always keep on looking for ways to tinker and adjust with their teams’ style and structure to cope with the continuous challenges rising every day in footballing arena. The Italian and the Dutch (and later Spanish) football schools have always remained the hot bed of football innovations in regards of tactics. Today we shall discuss an Italian Manager who has won three UCLs and is one of the most revered names in football, Carlos Ancelotti. Once a stalwart in the midfield of the famed AC Milan under the legendary Sacchi, Carlo came into football management with stints at various clubs, but it was at his beloved Milan that he truly established himself as a great. When he started management , he was a firm follower of the styles and methods of Sacchi. So ingrained was the influence that he played only one formation , a flat 4-4-2,and refused to change his system passing on the chance to acquire some great players. But with time he started experimenting and reinventing himself and when he started his stint as the manager of AC Milan, he was far more flexible and experimental than his early managerial days.
He won the 2003 UCL playing a 4-3-1-2 variant. He had a multitude of play makers in his team like the Brazil 1970 team, but he had to find a way to sustain his team structure and stability.The style and system adopted by Brazil 1970 was redundant by that time due to introduction of pressing, major improvements in player fitness and stamina and major improvements in the general competitiveness of football. Hence he had to find a way to juggle and include Seedorf, Pirlo, Rui Costa, Rivaldo, Serginho etc in his side while playing his favourite two striker system. First of all , he recognised the abilities of Pirlo and convinced him to convert from a no 10 into a regista. We all know the outcome, Pirlo is the definition of a modern regista. Next he flanked Pirlo with Seedorf and Gattuso to let him release his creativity without thinking too much about defensive cover. Seedorf was wonderfully versatile and sacrificed his attacking instincts for a more defensive role. AC Milan won the UCL 2003 with this midfield and Rui Costa playing in the hole behind Pipo Inzaghi and Shevchenko. But Carlo knew that it was a waste of the attacking prowess of a player so versatile like Seedorf, and he continued on with tinkering his system. He played various formations like 4-3-1-2, 4-4-1-1, 4-3-2-1 etc but it was a flattish 4-3-1-2 which he played most. Ricardo Kaka joined Milan at this time and with his presence , Ancelotti finally got the pieces required to deploy his system without stifling creativity of Seedorf and Pirlo but also having enough balance and flexibility in his system. He played the 2005 UCL with his 4-3-1-2 with Kaka in the hole, but he already had started deploying his 4-3-2-1 and finally shifted from his favourite two striker system to a single striker system. The 4-3-1-2 was perhaps stifling the attacking abilities of players like Seedorf,Kaka and Pirlo to some extent since either or all of them were not playing to their complete strengths in that system, but 4-3-2-1 solved all such problems. He played and won UCL 2007 playing his 4-3-2-1 and entire footballing world marveled at this system. He now flanked Pirlo with a ball carrier in Ambrosini and a destroyer in Gattuso thus giving Pirlo both the defensive cover as well as the outlet.Thus ambrosini replaced Seedorf as the ball carrier thereby freeing Seedorf to move further upfield. His fullbacks moved up and down the flanks to compensate for the narrow shape and when the fullbacks pushed up, Gattuso and Ambrosini provided cover in the flanks. Seedorf was finally paired with Kaka and together in tandem they wrecked havoc with their continuous movements and connected by the clever passing of Pirlo from deep. Up front either Inzaghi or Gillardino played the traditional focal point role. Kaka was immense and was almost unplayable at times. His power, speed,skill and finishing meant he was almost like a one man counter attacking system within himself aided properly by the strength and skills of Seedorf. The team had discipline, balance, strength, speed, skill, structure etc and it truly showed the world the perfect way to deploy the 4-3-2-1 aka the Christmas Tree Formation.