From European Ambitions to the ill-fated sack | The Story of Vincenzo Montella

Vincenzo Montella | FI

Top 10 features the top ten stories from the previous month from across the footballing world. The featured articles may be about a massive headline or a result from the previous month, or a culmination of a particular story that needs to definitely be noticed and discussed about. This feature is to bring a different flavor to the breaking news we see and talk to others about and aimed at constructively looking at the point in discussion. The stats used in the article below are accurate as of November 30, 2017.

When Vincenzo Montella was appointed as the manager of AC Milan back in 2016, many thought that they have finally got themselves a coach who could help them excel in Italy and take them to the Champions League. Considering the fact that Milan have won the Champions League an astounding seven times, there has been no particular significant process and progress to improve that record, except for their league victory in 2011.

Since that league win under Allegri, no one has gone near to satisfy the Milanisti faithful and it was announced in 2016 that Montella would take over as the manager after poor stints from Seedorf, and others. It gave the fans a huge boost as Montella had proved himself at a very young age when he took Fiorentina to good heights as his team finished fourth in all seasons in his stint of three years.

2016/17 season:

Everything started very well for Montella in his time at Milan as he won 10 of the 12 opening matches in all competitions.

In that season, Montella got off to a great start. However as the season started to unfold itself, a lot of doubts arose regarding the style of play and approach in the game. Montella was not expected to win the league immediately as many thought he would take the team to top four at least and build for the next season. He even gave more confidence to the Milan faithful when he landed silverware in the form of SuperCoppa Italia which they won against Juventus.

However after sometime into the league, Montella’s team often failed to kill the games and lacked the cutting edge. They drew almost 9 games along with the 18 wins from 38 games. These numbers were the third highest in terms of number of draws in the league for the previous season and they have lost games after leading at times. This shows how clearly his team lacked the character in the hour of need.


There were a lot of combined problems for Milan as Montella also got his tactics wrong along with the absence of important players. The key players were injured time in time out and Montella was unable to set up a particular standard idea around the second half of the season. This was a team that had been on 3rd place for almost 7-8 weeks nearing the end of the 2016 and stumbled to seventh as they reached the mark of 30 games and entry to Europe looked uncertain.

Such were the huge expectations when Montella’s Milan side were making great strides in the league by maintaining the third place position for nearly a quarter of a season. This made the fans dream of a Champions League return which they hadn’t seen in the past 6 years.

Milan somehow scrapped out a place in Europa League qualification spots by finishing sixth as they won just twice and drew thrice losing three times in the final eight games. Their home form in that season was also unpleasing as they lost five games at home.

Montella’s ideas of playing the 4-3-3 and implying his possession based philosophy into this side was initially working. However as the league grew in weeks, the players became weary and there was significantly no big backups to make up with the injuries of key players. With the Chinese investors taking over in between the middle of last season, it was expected that money would flow in heavily and so, it did!

Poor investments and differing personalities

With the new Chinese owners taking over, almost 200 Million Pounds were spent on players in the following summer. With the signing of Bonucci being the talk of the summer transfer window, they also had brought in the likes of Frank Kessie, Conti, Mussachio and Ricardo Rodriguez among several others. This definitely should have given him the much needed depth which he lacked last season. However rumours circulated that most of the players were not actually wanted by Montella.


Most of the transfers directly involved the board and hence certain clashing personalities came to the fore at Milan. This did not help the manager as he was unable to up the morale of the team in many instances and they were not ‘his players’ to an extent. Also, the lack of trust in manager did not help the players as they were unable to play according to the Gaffer’s philosophy. And the problem lied with the manager as well in most cases.

Milan were unable to score in many games and it was mainly because they lacked the cutting edge in the final third. Montella played Nikola Kalinic in many occasions even though he failed to perform. The ex-Fiorentina manager considered the summer signing as his key player even when he played and this caused frustrations among the fans. This was mainly due to the fact that Kalinic played in the XI at the expense of last season’s leading scorer Carlos Bacca, who has been loaned to Villareal.

Montella’s set up for Milan – 2017/18:

Last season Montella was involved with shifting within the two formations 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. This season with Bonucci at his disposal, Montella often favoured the back three formation, with two midfielders behind the striker, Nikola Kalinic. Also, he fielded Locatelli too far advanced in certain games with Suso on the other side when the team played 3-4-2-1. Bonucci was played at the heart of the central defence with Romagnoli and Musacchio on either side.

In the image below we can see that Montella had used the 3-4-2-1 initially against the leaders Napoli. Many questions were raised as to why Locatelli was played behind the striker as an attacking playmaker as he is a developing central midfielder for his age and had shined few games of the last season in a three men midfield. In this game against Napoli, attack minded players were used in both the wings as Borini and Bonaventura started. Given, Napoli’s attacking prowess, one would argue that Montella should’ve played a bit more defensively

In many instances, Locatelli would play centrally allowing Suso to play alongside Kalinic. This shifted Milan to a 3-2-3-2. With the trio of Bonaventura, Locatelli and Borini played ahead of double pivot Kessie and Montolivio. Milan obviously lacked numbers to break out though they managed to see off Napoli’s press in most of the instances. With not many chances to hit Napoli, they suffered. Napoli also played brilliantly in all departments as they were once again tactically astute under Sarri.

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Napoli 2-1 AC Milan

In the Milan derby, Montella went defensive initially. The defensive trio of Bonaventura, Biglia and Kessie started in the centre of the five men midfield which was flanked by Borini and Rodriguez in both the wings. The back three was once again favoured as Suso started off the striker, Andre Silva. Playing the 3-5-2 has been one of the key tactics of Montella as his possession based approach to the game is well supported by this shape.

However it was the first half in which Milan suffered. Inter dominated the game as Milan settled back. Icardi was on sublime form as he put Inter ahead in the first half which saw the black and blue half dominate. In the opening minute of the second half, Montella brought on the attacking Cutrone instead of Kessie. The shape was altered due to this change and Milan came back into the game.

And in the end, though Milan lost the game only to penalty converted by Icardi, they fought back well to come from behind twice. Even if one should praise Montella for their second performances, questions arose as to why he couldn’t set up the same strategy from the word go.

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Inter 3-2 Milan

Made using TacticalPad

The 4-3-3 was the obvious plan as it was widely used by Montella in the previous season. It was in the early stages of this season when the Italian used this system and it didn’t reap good things. In the game against Lazio, Milan were heavily battered when they used this system and it was lesson learnt for Vincenzo.

Lazio 4-1 Milan

These were some of the many ideas used by Montella in the 2017/18 season and few points as to why Montella failed tactically on the pitch and/or was failed by the players at his disposal.


Though Vincenzo Montella has been a tactically astute manager, he has failed to deliver the same set of ideas for his players to understand and show it on the pitch. Also, Montella should not be the only reason as to why Milan have been very poor in the season so far as the likes of other reasons such as the lack of goals and cutting edge inside the box, the involvement of board and ineffective implementation of tactics as a whole have paved way for his sack.

Of course, when Montella was appointed at Milan, he was seen as the next big thing of the managerial prowess in Italy and one should state that the pressure of handling such a big club in Europe should have caught him. From European ambitions to the sack in the span of just 17 months, Vincenzo Montella’s career as the Milan boss has ended in no time.