Tester Team ME Win % PPG AGF AGA GD PL W D L
FelipeGuardiolas Milan 23.5.0 79% 2.5 2.3 0.5 66 38 30 6 2

Hi guys, today I am introducing to you my attempt to emulate Fabio Capello’s Milan tactic.

Fabio Capello became manager at AC Milan in 1991 and he made some slight changes to Arrigo Sacchi’s tactics. The difference between the two managers is that Capello preferred a more defensive tactic, and his priority was not to allow the opponents to score. We can divide Capello’s period at AC Milan in two different phases, one before Van Basten’s ankle injury and one after it. 

In my analysis I will mainly focus on the latter, seeing how Capello developed a even more compact and narrow defensive structure thanks also to Marcel Desailly who replaced Frank Rjikard since summer 1993. The French defensive midfielder often drops down in front of the defense to help the defense. The two wingers were usually Eranio on the right and Donadoni on the left side but after Eranio’s injury in season 1993-1994 Capello replaced him with Donadoni and placed Boban on the left. The other midfielder was Albertini who was the core of Milan’s building phase, like Andrea Pirlo in Ancelotti’s Milan. 

Just like Sacchi, Capello adopted a 4-4-2 formation but he didn’t share Sacchi’s feeling on universality preferring a more pragmatic approach, as said above, he gave much more importance to the defense, no longer were all eleven players expected to press the opposition, when they weren’t ahead, they would be expected to close down the opposition if they got quite close, with their teammates tucking in to cover gaps, but otherwise, Milan’s players would drop off and wait for the opposition to come to them. Once they got their goal, Milan would shut up shop, relying on the super defence of Tassotti, Maldini, Baresi and Costacurta who protected the keeper Sebastiano Rossi. Thanks to them Rossi made the record of clean sheet (929’) in Serie A, (a record that last until 2016 when Buffon made 973’ without allowing any goal). So, even if the players were the same, we had two completely different styles of play, while Sacchi’s Milan played great football, scoring a lot of goals and winning European cups, but managed just one Serie A title, Capello won 4 Serie A (1991-1992, 1992-1993, 1993-1994 and 1995-1996) during his first 5 years at Milan, leaving only the 1994-1995 season to Juventus, partly due to the fact that many Milan players were very tired after USA World Cup 1994. In 1993-94 season, Milan managed just 36 goals, but conceding just 15, and the “1-0 Massaro goal” wins were quite common. Despite their record at home, the fact they only won one European cup (the 1994 Champions League against Crujiff’s Barça) could be seen as a failure, but the questionable validity of Marseille’s 1993 win, the perfection of the 1994 win and the bonus final a year later mostly cancel it out. 

In the final against a top team like Barcelona who won 4 Liga in a row and Champions League in 1992 (against Sampdoria), and without Baresi and Costacurta (who got banned in the semi-final against Monaco and were replaced by Panucci and F. Galli), the game plan adopted by Milan was to find the central players in the attacking third through long balls. Being defensively tight, they could not play penetrative short balls and this meant also that Barcelona tried to play centrally instead of creating overloads in the wide areas. Once Milan won the ball back, there was much space upfront for their counter. In the defensive position, Milan was in 2 banks of four while Barcelona left huge spaces in the wider areas by wide players who emerge forward with the ball. The full backs too high positions in later stages of the game and helped in counter attacks. The midfielder in position could often find one of the 2 full backs in space through long balls and the full back could lay the ball off to the central striker who during the counterattack emerged from the midfield and moved into the space just in front of the penalty area. Milan dominated the midfield against Barcelona, first because they outnumbered the Spanish team (4 midfielders against 3) and when the wide players moved to the flanks either one of the two central midfielders dropped deep to restore balance. Guardiola was always tracked by one of the two Milan strikers; in other cases the ball far full back/winger was always left free as the concentration towards the ball carrier was increased. This meant that focus was more on the position of the ball rather than occupying spaces. However, Barça failed to utilize the runs into space. Milan players had no problems playing various positions because they mastered it under Sacchi’s guidance. Desailly, despite being a center back, had no problem in playing as the destroyer in midfield and provided cover to the defenders behind him.


How to emulate it on Football Manager

Capello used a 4-4-2 so we start with a 4-4-2 tactic.

First, the mentality. I chose a positive mentality because I already instruct my team and each player to be more careful in defense, and choosing a balanced or even cautious mentality would lead my team to allow too much space to the opponents. 

In the possession phase, the attacking width is fairly wide, because (this was clear in the game against Barcelona) Milan tended to play in the center and create more density to stop the opposition but Milan wide players (the full backs and the wingers) could also move to the flanks to exploit the wide spaces. So I let the players decide according to the instructions (I will explain them later) and the situation. I selected overlap on both sides to tell my wide players to exploit wider areas. The passing directness is standard / slightly shorter with the positive mentality, because here also the players can decide according to the situation. The tempo is slightly higher but, in the counterattacks, you will see that they play quite fast. I chose whipped crosses to help Giroud but if you don’t have a player with a good heading skill and tall like him maybe you can choose lower crosses too.

For the transition phase, once lost the ball, as we said, Milan players got close to the ball carrier only if they got quite close, with their teammates tucking in to cover gaps, but otherwise, Milan’s players would drop off and wait for the opposition to come to them. So I choose regroup (you can also avoid to choose one of those two options) to emulate what Milan did once lost possession. 

Instead, when Milan won possession back, they launched fast counterattacks, so obviously I chose “counter”. As for the GK instructions, distribute quickly and distribute to the central defenders. 

In the “out of possession” phase, to be as realistic as possible, I chose a low block and a standard defensive line to reduce the space between the midfielders and the defenders. The pressing is more often, than I chose (but you can remove it if you see you get too many yellow or red cards) get stuck in and drop off more, because Capello prioritized defending to high pressing and off-side trap. 

Trap inside: Capello wanted to force turnovers in advantageous areas and create density in the center.

Let’s see now each player’s roles and instructions and the corresponding players on Milan’s formation. 

Sebastiano Rossi: goalkeeper, defend, no instructions.

Mauro Tassotti: Wing-Back support: cross from byline, cross aim far post, dribble less, stay wider, mark tighter. 

Alessandro “Billy” Costacurta: Central Defender-defend: take fewer risks, close down less (those two instructions to avoid that the defender gets caught off the position by long balls played by the opponent), mark tighter, tackle harder. 

Franco Baresi: Central Defender-defend: like Costacurta

Paolo Maldini: Wing-Back attack: the more attacking of the two wing-backs: cross aim far post, shoot less often, stay wider, close down more, mark tighter.

Roberto Donadoni: (he replaced Eranio after Eranio got injured): Wide Playmaker-Attack: more direct passes, get further forward (Donadoni and Boban on the other side tended to move to the center and create density, leaving wide spaces open for the wing- backs to exploit). 

Demetrio Albertini: the team brain, a deep-lying playmaker on support. Why on support? Because sometimes during the game he was called to support the attacking duo creating a diamond shape midfield with Desailly at the bottom and him on top): dribble less, close down less.

Marcel Desailly: ball winning midfielder-defense. Why on defense? Because he dropped down to help the defense behind him when needed. Mark tighter, pass it shorter.

Zvonimir “Zvone” Boban: Inverted winger-attack: take more risks, sit narrower, more direct passes, shoot more often. 

Dejan “Genio” Savicevic: deep-lying forward on support (it could be also a complete forward, but I think the deep-lying forward works better when he drops down to link the play and also to help defensively that was what Capello asked Savicevic to do, or maybe forced Savicevic to do…): dribble less, shoot more often, mark tighter. As said before in the match against Barça, one of the two forwards was tracking Guardiola back. 

Daniele Massaro: advanced forward, attack: shoot more often. 

This is all for this tactic, as you can see from my video I won the treble and had great results, best attack and best defense. 

I hope it works for you too. Thanks everyone. 

A hug from your Football Manager Tikitaka Master. 


Test Results


1 year ago
20 hours ago
23.5.0 79% 2.5 2.3 0.5 66 38 30 6 2

Carcarlo Pravettoni
7 months ago
3 hours ago

thanks, i'll try soon!

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