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Maurizio Ganz: Has his spell at Milan Women been a success or a failure?

Maurizio Ganz is a 53-year-old head coach and ex-football player who started coaching Milan Women in 2019 after gaining some experience at clubs like Ascona, Bustese and Taverne. Fans’ opinions on Ganz’s spell at Milan differ, although most of them are not satisfied with the way the team has been managed lately. Therefore, in this tactical analysis and scout report, we will delve deep into Ganz’s tactical decisions, ideas and choices to see whether he is really causing a problem at Milan or he is doing the best that he can. If the latter hypothesis is true, then the problem would lie in player performances/quality. That’s why we will carry out this analysis while looking extensively at the players who have been at his disposal, and their quality.

 

Ganz’s preferred formation/line-ups

Ganz loves to use the 3-5-2 formation very often, as his ideas are mainly centred around filling the midfield with players and making that a strong first line of defence. That’s why we’ve usually seen Milan playing with more than three players in midfield, especially during the 2020/2021 season. As you can see in this picture below, the 3-5-2 formation is by far their most-used formation with 48%, while the other formations were not tested a lot to see if they can suit the team.

 

 

 

 

Ganz’s reliance on this 3-5-2 formation increased especially during the 2020/2021 season and although the results were good, the quality of players existing at the club could have been exploited better if used properly and in a more suitable formation. Their second-place finish was indeed an excellent result since it guaranteed UEFA Women’s Champions League qualification, yet the team could have done better in their direct confrontations with Juventus.

Players like Yui Hasegawa, Natasha Dowie, Julia Simic, Dominika Čonč and Caroline Rask were not exploited in the best of ways and left the club without achieving great results.

 

The Giacinti/Dowie dilemma

Ganz’s attacking ideas include relying on two excellent strikers and making them play together, combining passes and movements without the ball to create goalscoring chances with the help of midfielders or wingers. In the manager’s second season at the club, Natasha Dowie was transferred to Milan and Ganz took the chance to use her alongside Valentina Giacinti, the team’s main striker and captain. This attacking partnership was fruitful, especially during the first months since both players were able to work together and score some important goals.

The whole team’s attacking performances relied on these two players’ movements and their ability to create space for each other. Ganz was intelligent enough to help them get used to playing complementarily and that was noticeable on the pitch on several occasions. We saw Dowie retreating numerous times per match to receive the ball and attract defenders to mark her while creating space for Giacinti who would run towards that space and wait for a through pass, and the opposite is also true. This created issues for many defences, including Juventus’ defence, as you can see below.

 

 

 

In a clearer example, playing with two strikers helped Milan last season in getting rid of the numerical superiority of the opposing teams when attacking them. This is mainly because each one of the two strikers attracted two defenders and therefore, any player coming from behind would be able to create issues for the opponents by penetrating inside the box. This was the role of Valentina Bergamaschi, Verónica Boquete, Yui Hasegawa and Christy Grimshaw.

 

 

It should be said, however, that Ganz’s mistake was his inability to control the personalities of both players and letting things become complicated. As a head coach, Ganz should have done more to fix the issues that happened between the players for the advantage of the club. Imposing communication on the pitch during games was necessary for the players to understand each other more, given that the noticeable absence of communication between the two certainly had its impacts on the whole team’s performance even though that was not so apparent. Moreover, letting things grow even more complicated until Dowie preferred to leave the club was another mistake that counts against Ganz given the quality and the support the player provided to the team, as well as the mechanisms created between her and the rest of the players.

 

The 2021/2022 season’s attacking and defensive pros/cons

Dowie’s departure obliged Ganz to quit using the 3-5-2 and rely on the 3-4-3 formation at the start of the 2021/2022 season with two midfielders, two wingers and two players positioned behind the striker, Giacinti — Lindsey Thomas and Verónica Boquete. These two players are now used as advanced playmakers while leaning on the wings too.

 

 

 

Ganz’s insistence on using the three players in defence is a double-edged sword since it is effective during certain situations while it becomes dangerous on other occasions. Also, playing with three at the back and four players just in front of them makes the build-up so slow and reduces the team’s attacking danger, and that’s the main problem with Ganz’s playing system. Overly defensive systems can be effective against tough teams but not against less powerful teams who retreat and prefer to defend and rely on counter-attacks. Milan suffer mainly against such teams since they lack attacking ideas. Moreover, the team concedes goals that can be avoided even when they play with a 3-4-3 formation.

 

For instance, in this example, we can see how the lack of marking inside the box resulted in a goal that created problems for Milan during their first UEFA Women’s Champions League qualification match.

 

 

Also, the team is vulnerable when it comes to defending set-pieces and especially in aerial duels. Despite the excellent transfers of Laia Codina and the Danish international Sara Thrige to the club, the team still suffers in marking and a lot of work is needed in this regard if Milan want to qualify for next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League.

 

Moreover, Ganz always instructs his players to play with a high defensive block when out of possession, which creates heavy problems for the team when they play against quick attacking players. Milan conceded numerous goals due to such movements and it’s striking that the head coach didn’t opt for a solution to this problem or a change of positioning in such circumstances.

 

 

As you can see, in this match against Juventus, Milan’s defenders were almost at the middle of the pitch when the ball was intercepted, and the recovery runs were not as quick as necessary to prevent Juventus’ three attacking players from reaching the goal. Such situations occurred numerous times last season, as well as this season but no reaction was evident from the manager’s side.

 

Conclusion

Milan will need to fix their defensive problems in terms of movement and marking if they plan on continuing their progress in Serie A Women and UEFA Women’s Champions League in the future. The team’s playing style is not so convincing at the moment since it has more weaknesses than strengths. Ganz needs to intervene with effective solutions and alternatives to fix what is going wrong before it becomes too late. With heavy challenges from Roma, Sassuolo, Inter and Fiorentina, Milan can’t afford to drop many points for the rest of this season if they seriously plan on keeping the second spot this year.

Nevertheless, the arrival of a striker like Rimantė Jonušaitė can be exploited positively by Ganz to improve the team’s attacking performances very soon. All that is needed from this perspective is to train on different attacking plans and to alternate between them during games, something that was not noticed previously.

At the moment, Ganz’s spell at Milan can’t be considered a success based on the club’s aims as well as the players’ quality. Nevertheless, the achieved results were not so disappointing and we can notice some development year by year. Therefore, this season, Ganz should show that he deserves to continue coaching this team by fixing a number of the existing tactical issues.