The mid-block: A potential tactical solution for Pioli to aid Milan’s crisis

By Rohit Rajeev -

After losing the last three games in comprehensive fashion to extend the run to six games without a win, the spotlight is firmly on Stefano Pioli and how he plans to turn things around.

This is without doubt the toughest spot he has been since he began his stint at Milan and many have questioned if he has what it takes to drag the team out of a rut that appears to extend beyond just an unlucky run.

In the last few games Milan’s biggest problem has been what used to be their strength: organised pressing. Previously, when the Rossoneri pressed, more often that not they came away with the ball, but now they failed to retrieve the ball and the spaces left behind are occupied by opposition attackers which becomes fatal.

So how can that be fixed? We look at different tactical changes Pioli can make to help the team…

The mid-block

A football pitch is divided into three parts: defensive third, Middle third and attacking third. Whenever your team plays as a defensive unit in the defensive third it is called as a low block (or more colloquially ‘parking the bus’). When you play in the attacking third it is called as the high block or high press, something Jurgen Klopp has used very effectively. The mid block is when a team plays their defensive unit in the middle third of the pitch.

Role off the ball

When the team don’t have the ball, they go into the defensive shape (mostly a 4-4-2 which Pioli likes) and form a narrow compact block. The most important part of the mid-block is that the players must be compact both horizontally and vertically.

The distance between the back four and the front two must be minimum while the distance between the players must be least to avoid giving any space to the opposition.

The back line must push up and narrow any space between the defence and midfield lines. Players must be disciplined and must not break forward to press unless there is a loose touch or a misplaced pass otherwise the structure can be easily compromised.

Role on the ball

To break down the mid-block, the opposition have to push up the pitch and maintain a high line. This leaves spaces behind the defence and these spaces can be exploited through counter-attacks by quick vertical through balls to prevent losing the ball quickly.

Since mid-blocks require the middle area to be congested the opposition full-backs may pushup to exploit wide areas. This can be exploited with quick switches.

Also, since the distances between the players are short it helps to have patient passing interplay.


The mid-block helps to clog the important areas of the pitch and therefore not give any sort of space between the lines for opposition’s creative players.

This strategy does not require teams to press aggressively and therefore it helps in saving energy.


When you play a mid-block it means that you are far away from the goal and you will need ball carriers and precision passers.

As mid-block requires defenders to push up and maintain close gap with their midfield line, a team with a good creative player and quick striker can easily exploit it with balls over the top.

And since the mid-block is more of a passive tactic it means ceding possession to the opposition team and allowing them to dominate you.

Challenges for Milan

As mentioned above, it will require good dribblers/ball carriers. It is something Milan are not equipped to deal with as Milan only have Leao as the expert ball carrier and teams could easily neutralise him. Back when Milan played a mid-block under Carlo Ancelotti, he had Ricardo Kaka.

It also does not help deal with Milan’s issue of defending set pieces as the goal scored by Lecce showed Milan’s weakness in aerial duels.

If you cede possession and try to pack the centre, teams will look to aim crosses into the middle a lot and good tall centre-forwards can exploit Kalulu and Tomori.

Tags AC Milan


  1. Pioli just has to work on the defense. Give Vasquez a chance. Tata can never provide a sense of security when milan is attacked. It seems that every attack, no matter how simple, will generate points for the opponent. At least, if the Milan players can’t score, neither will the opposing players

  2. The author got a promotion from Pioli’s tactial analyzer to tactical advisor role. So funny.
    Dude there is no varying dynamic tactics under pioli. 3 years and we still don’t have an identity in our way of play. Players got no coordination, anticipation and just don’t know what to do on the ball or off the ball, when to shoot when to pass.

  3. If you keep starting lurch in goal, Milan will keep losing to bottom table teams 5-2.

    1) Stop playing Tatu. Just effing stop it. Tatu doesn’t even try to move for the shots. Look how many goals in the last game. Look how many shots on goal. Enough said. Milan should have signed or loaned someone before the window closed. This was a major major failure on their part.

    2) Start high pressing again, like last season. They probably stopped because of Maignan’s injury and lurch being a statue in goal. Milan used to terrorize the other teams. Now we just sit back and wait, even when losing in the 94th minute. Great! Right?

    3) Stop hiring attackers until a DM or a ball winning midfielder. The midfield is a crap shoot right now and even worse with Bennacer or Tonali out. No other midfielder at Milan can really get the job done. Krunic is passable. Pobega/Vrancx make more mistakes than help the team out.

    4) Switch to 433. Have one holding mid behind the two other midfielders. Less space when Theo pushes up the field and they counter.

    5) Too many players sitting on the bench doing nothing – all season. If they are not Milan quality, sell or loan them. Keeping a handful of useless backups around is preventing Milan from signing a decent player or two.

    This failure is directly related to management and the timing of their decisions. Let’s hope it’s a one off because of new Redbird purchase.

  4. Put Devis in, maybe the defensive unit would less worried about TATA messed up and start focusing on their main job better. We’ll see..

    Theoretically, Leao, CDK, and Diaz are driblers.. Maybe Pioli could try to field Devis – Calabria – Tomori – Kjaer – Hernandez – Krunic – Tonali – Bennacer – Leao – CDK – Brahim by focus on defending and looking out for fast counter attacking through fast ball movement and dribble drive

    But all in Mr Pioli who most likely fielding his 4-2-3-1 with TATARUSANU in GK, Messias in RW, and Giroud/Origi in CF. We are doomed.. 0-3 for Inter (sad)

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