Despite the result on Sunday the team received accolades for bottling Juventus and creating chances. I for one have never been a proponent of "moral" victories as it ends up being an excuse more than anything. What we saw Sunday was an opponent who preyed on mistakes in execution and while quality doesn't always guarantee a victory they used what they had in attack quite well. In fact if you look closely you can see a pattern developing, Milan play well against Atletico and Juventus, two very good teams, yet fail due to execution? Is something more at work here.
For the most part I blame the defense for Sunday's loss, but there was a strong reason why the team hung in there as long as it did. It is the same reason why they hung so tight and tough with Atletico a fortnight ago. Simply put the answer is balance. The 4-2-3-1 from Sunday and a few weeks back was the most balanced, and while at times Sunday's formation looked more and more like a 4-3-3 the reality was the spine was strong and resolute and it paid dividends.
The key on both occasions has been the use of Poli and Essien to work hard in the middle. While other players have been used with them in compliment, they have helped retain the balance in center of the pitch. Milan has deployed the more creative forces who are less interested in defending on the wings where they can exploit gaps left by opposing fullbacks while the workhorses can pester the ball in the middle of pitch. This weekend Montolivo was slotted in centrally and he brought his defending shoes, but moving Kaka out wide helped assure there was balance in the middle. Poli's effort was excellent on closing down Pirlo and Pogba, and Vidal being out helped MIlan tremendously in that regard as these three mids provided varying stages of pressure.
At the end of the day the goals didn't come and the defense didn't execute, different Coach and same old story. While the formation has been exposed at times, it will be up to Seedorf to recognize what he accomplished in these two matches and how he can build from it. To answer the question above, it was the work rate of Poli or Essien that made the difference.