On Serie A’s Matchday 19, mid-table Empoli faced off against title hopefuls AC Milan at Carlo Castellani Stadium. Despite AC Milan being heavy favorites, Empoli gave themselves every chance to come away with all three points, further proving their recent statement win against Napoli was no fluke.
Tactically, Empoli’s 4-3-1-2 was fascinating to watch. While bearing this formation largely out of possession, when they had the ball Empoli shifted to a 2-3-3-2, with two central midfielders pushing high and full backs providing advanced width. This approach led to some excellent chances, largely built upon dynamic runs off the two strikers’ hold up play, as both functioned as quintessential number nines. While the true and apparent risk with this system is on the flanks (arguably where AC Milan have some of their strongest stars lined up in a 4-2-3-1), Empoli worked hard to address this threat through quick shifting of the shielding midfield trio. Surprisingly, it was either side of that 3-man defensive midfield line that looked to step towards any advancing AC Milan outside back, a tactic that fared all the better considering Milan’s somewhat sluggish build up and switches of play. Empoli’s back line also stepped hard to pressure the back of Milan’s forwards, congesting the center of the pitch and limiting passes into dangerous areas in front of the box on many occasions.
All in all, this was a fun watch since the underdog spent more time on the front foot than anyone would’ve wagered. The final shot tally of 16(5) -18(8) really does tell the story. For those pondering a 4-3-1-2, Empoli have provided a noteworthy rendition of its potential utility, sticking to task admirably and finding more joy on the wings than one would think possible against Milan. In the end, primarily through moments of individual influence rather than collective brilliance, AC Milan left Empoli as comfortable 4-2 winners.