AC Milan Club Focus: Momentous Montolivo
A superficial glimpse at his statistics and Riccardo Montolivo appears to have underperformed. Two goals and an assist in fourteen games for Milan is not special, but Montolivo is one of two irreplaceable players in the Milan squad (the other being Stephan El Shaarawy). Am I being ridiculous? Not quite.
I have admired Montolivo for several years, hoping, praying that he comes to Milan and inherits Andrea Pirlo’s legacy. In July of 2011, I wrote a piece for Forza Italian Football on why I believed Montolivo is made for Milan. He ultimately arrived at the Milanello this summer, but under circumstances I had not envisaged.
Montolivo is fundamental to Milan. Fundamental because he is the brains of the midfield, a player with vision, the master-passer who keeps Milan ticking. The squad largely comprises of destroyers with limited imagination. Montolivo is the anti-thesis to Massimiliano Allegri’s midfield. Without him, the team dons a cape of aimlessness, lobbing hopeful long balls to the midgets in attack which are inevitably thwarted by the opposition. When he is on the pitch, he has a direct/indirect involvement in the goals scored by Milan. He sets up attacks, spreads play, widens the pitch and stretches the formation. He also controls possession around the edge of the box, a skill found sparsely among creative midfielders. His patience on the ball is an understated virtue, which reflects on why Milan are the team with the highest ball-possession in the league.
Montolivo is arguably Milan’s calmest midfielder in possession of the ball. Very rarely does he lose the ball under a challenge, using his nimble feet to swiftly move the ball from danger into an open space. Montolivo isn’t a typical deep-lying playmaker. He is a box-to-box midfielder, capable of playing on either side of midfield, or even as the anchor man. His versatility is unquestionable because he can fit practically anywhere in midfield. Allegri is yet to test him as a trequartista, a role he has excelled in for La Nazionale recently. In a squad full of functional players, an element of dexterity produces a whiff of unpredictability.
His pass success percentage is similar to Andrea Pirlo’s this season, a commendable stat because of the conformity in their style. Both are primary creators for their respective teams and while Pirlo has amassed praise, Montolivo has flown under the radar. Montolivo’s pass success ratio is 85.8% while Pirlo’s is 85.9%. Hugely impressive that, given they pass forwards and not sideways/backwards. The dampener though, is that Pirlo makes roughly 17 additional passes per game (on an average).
Defensively, Montolivo is slightly vulnerable. His light frame is usually brushed away by the attacker and as a result, he does not win too many tackles per game. For instance, Arturo Vidal, the best box-to-box midfielder in the league wins twice as many tackles. What Ricky lacks in strength, he more than compensates with intelligence. Montolivo’s reading of the game is an asset he has developed over his playing career. His interceptions are a joy at times, which often lead to promising counter attacks.
Montolivo is Milan’s best midfielder by a comfortable distance. He is skilled, covers ground and opens up avenues for Milan’s attackers to thrive in. He adds aesthetic appeal to Milan’s midfield without sacrificing the dirty work tagged to the job. He will have to play a mighty role to pull Milan out of this rut they are stuck in and could consequentially enjoy his best season of his club career yet. Montolivo might be regretting turning his back on Florence, but at Milan, Montolivo possesses the opportunity to draft himself into a world-class footballer.