As the closing minutes of Monza vs AC Milan played out back on Serie A Matchday 23, it was hard to believe that what was happening on the pitch was actually a clash between the reigning, albeit outgoing, champions and a newly-promoted side.
Trailing 1-0 following a first-half goal from Junior Messias, Monza were on the front foot looking for an equaliser, but this shouldn’t have been enough to corner a Rossoneri side that had their second narrow win in a row within grasp after losing three consecutive Serie A games.
But Monza are no ordinary newcomer at all, at least not since coach Raffaele Palladino took over from Giovanni Stroppa in September. An effort against the post from Patrick Ciurria was the closest the Biancorossi could get to a leveller against AC Milan, and their disappointment was obvious. After all, Monza had been the only unbeaten Serie A team in 2023 until that point, but as much as it hurt, their first loss of the year was not enough to hinder their impressive campaign so far.
In addition to giving his side a clear tactical identity, Palladino has made sense of an active summer transfer market window that seemed to have brought more chaos than help, also proving that his leap from Monza Primavera – Under 19s – to the first team was not the result of a moment of insanity from CEO Adriano Galliani. The choice to appoint the former Juventus and Genoa player now looks smart and forward-thinking.
They may have suffered a surprising recent defeat to Salernitana, but Monza are no longer in a relegation battle.
How Palladino turned things around at Monza
Despite several signings aimed at quickly raising the level of Monza’s squad to make them competitive for a mid-table finish in Serie A, the Biancorossi had a calamitous start to their first season ever in the top tier, losing all of their five opening games.
With promotion hero Giovanni Stroppa at the helm, the team seemed to lack the tools to cope with the quality, resilience and experience embodied by the majority of the Serie A sides. While Monza could show glimpses of brilliant football, they were not enough to prevent them from coming up short against every opponent.
When the Biancorossi were held to a 1-1 draw by Lecce, Galliani and Silvio Berlusconi decided they had seen enough and sacked Stroppa after six Serie A games, but the decision concerning his replacement left many amazed. After taking his first steps as a manager through Monza’s youth sector, Palladino had only managed the Primavera for one season and his credentials did not look suitable for a team that, looking at how things had started, were expected to fight for relegation until the end.
Yet, Galliani insisted Palladino’s potential was worth gambling on, adding that their choice to put him in charge was just as “brave” as the one Berlusconi and him made in 1987 by hiring a then-unproven Arrigo Sacchi.
The comparison was certainly a cumbersome one, but the newly-appointed coach took little time to prove he didn’t feel overwhelmed by this kind of burden. In his first test as Monza coach, Palladino steered his side to a historic 1-0 win over Juventus at home, lighting the spark of a revolution that would see the Biancorossi quickly climb the Serie A table, with serious hopes of competing for a spot in the top half.
The desire and discipline showcased by his side, alongside a rediscovered confidence, were even more impressive than the six wins from Palladino’s first 10 games in Serie A and the Coppa Italia, as he was able to quickly get his ideas across to his players.
Palladino’s Monza playing style
A former Genoa player between 2008 and 2011 under Gian Piero Gasperini, Palladino has admitted that he regards the current Atalanta coach as his teacher, with the back-three and an intense playing style being the main features that he seems to have inherited.
In addition to that, Monza’s approach is always aimed at dominating games by keeping possession and hindering opponents’ freedom to move the ball around through their extremely organised and collective pressure.
With the ball at their feet, the Biancorossi are able to either exploit the physicality of their lone striker, namely Andrea Petagna or Christian Gytkjær with direct plays or patiently make their way up the pitch, as Palladino deserves credit for the way he’s made the most of his midfield depth and boosted his wingers’ potential.
Options such as Nicolo Rovella, Stefano Sensi, Filippo Ranocchia and Jose Machin provided the coach with an exciting mix of technique, energy and vision that allows him to keep the whole team balanced and give the appropriate freedom to their most creative players.
Gianluca Caprari and Matteo Pessina often roam between the midfield and attacking line in order to both open and explore space, as their relentless movements make it hard for Monza’s opponents to keep track of them without opening up gaps. Their position is far from fixed and so are their tasks – Palladino can ask them to support his side’s build-up, make runs forward or combine with the wingers.
Left-back Carlos Augusto and right-winger Patrick Ciurria are also key pieces to Palladino’s setup, adding further unpredictability to the team as their athletic and technical skills allow them to either reach the byline to deliver crosses with pinpoint accuracy or cut inside to bring serious threat inside the penalty box, as the duo amassed a combined seven goals from Monza’s first 23 games in Serie A.