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The Morning After: Milan need to find their killer instinct

Good enough, but we need more from Milan in open play

AC Milan v Spal - Serie A Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Milan continued their best Serie A start in years with a simple win over SPAL at the San Siro Wednesday night. Goals from the penalty spot for Riccardo Rodriguez and Franck Kessie were enough to see the Rossoneri over the line, but like many of the performances in the early going from Milan this season, it left a lot to be desired.

SPAL sat back behind the ball for most of the match, hardly creating a chance in the attacking third as Milan dominated possession and chances. But Milan looked uninspiring for most of the 90 minutes. While they put seven shots on goal, they were not much of a threat around the goal.

Credit to SPAL, they went to the San Siro looking for a point, or at worst not to be embarrassed. Mission accomplished, though pressure is surely mounting on Leonardo Semplici. Milan were dominant, but there was a sense of lethality missing.

There were highs and lows for the Rossoneri. Here are five thoughts about the performance and Milan’s continued progress in the early stages of the campaign.

Milan need to discover the killer instinct

Watching Milan against Austria Wien in the Europa League was pure joy. The Rossoneri ran the hosts off the pitch in menacing fashion. It was the kind of football Milan needed to produce in their return to European football, albeit at the second tier. That ferocity hasn’t been there in Serie A, save against 10-man Crotone. They survived against Cagliari and Udinese, they rolled over against Lazio and they were unable to overpower a SPAL side inviting them to attack. Granted, dominant attacking football is hardly a staple of the Italian game; even in Milan’s 2010-11 title-winning campaign, only 12 of their 24 wins were by more than a goal.

Yes, Milan ended up winning by two, but a victory with two goals from the penalty spot is hardly inspiring. The squad needs to do better creating clear-cut attacking chances from the run of play. SPAL sat behind the ball for large portions of the match, but Milan still should have been better. It would have been nice to see the Rossoneri earn a win by four-or-five goals, which they are certainly capable of against a far weaker opponent. It is hard to complain after a win, but Milan should really try to assert their authority in these matches.

Milan have been gifted an incredibly generous opening to the season. Yes, this is essentially a brand-new squad working to understand each other more with every passing match. But there seems to be a level they aren’t going to. They need to find that before the going gets really tough. Matches with Roma, Inter and Juventus are right around the corner.

Nikola Kalinic is the focal point in the attack

SPAL sat back, and that allowed Milan to push forward with a lot of their weapons: Andre Silva, Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu among them. But as was the case against Udinese, Nikola Kalinic proved to be the key cog. The towering striker gives Milan a target man not seen since Zlatan Ibrahimovic. And while Kalinic is nowhere near the level of Zlatan – no one is, really – the Croatian causes a lot of difficulty for opponents, even those who can match his size, like SPAL center back (and former Milan man) Bartosz Salamon. Kalinic was fortunate to get the penalty call, as he seemed to go down rather easily, but it was his hard work that forced Alfred Gomis into the reckless effort to pry the ball off him.

Leonardo Bonucci is still adjusting to a new back line

Bonucci showed his quality with quick thinking on a big defensive clearance early in the second half, but there were a couple hiccups. The one that stuck out was in the first half, when former Milan forward Alberto Paloschi turned the captain.

This is not meant to be a criticism of Milan’s star signing of the summer. He is brilliant, and watching him captain Milan is a delight. But it is obvious he is still not entirely used to his new back line. Really, this is a paradigm for the situation Milan finds itself in overall. All the new signings need time to adjust. It needs to be a quick adjustment, but it is inevitable. Bonucci came to Milan from arguably the best defensive club in Europe. Juventus were a brick wall with him anchoring a backline that included Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Alex Sandro and Stephen Lichsteiner playing in front of arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time. It will happen. Vincenzo Montella’s move to a 3-5-2 is great for the entire club, but especially Bonucci, who will surely adjust to his new back line. He seems to have already been a positive influence on Christian Zapata, who has been steady this season. Alessio Romagnoli is coming off an injury and will surely round into form soon. And there are worse wing back options than Riccardo Rodriguez and Ignazio Abate. Surely, he also appreciated Lucas Biglia coming out of the midfield to cover for him after Paloschi turned him.

Andre Silva looks desperate to get off the mark in Serie A

Calling Andre Silva the “king of cups” as some have taken to given his lack of goals in the league is a bit unfair, but it seems like the duck is starting to get to the Portuguese forward. A few times, especially before Milan broke through from the spot, Silva looked like he was trying to force too many shots. He offers so much to Milan in the attacking third; he’s great on the ball, quick and a great provider and finisher. But the sooner he finds that Serie A goal the better. That said, it seems to be a good problem for Montella that he has both Silva and Suso as primary options to play alongside Kalinic. Especially after Suso’s new deal, it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some rotation up top.

Ignazio Abate still has a place in the side

It was heartbreaking to learn of Andrea Conti’s knee injury. The young Italian right back was one of the most exciting signings of the summer for Milan, and the thought of him playing on the right wing for Gian Piero Ventura’s Italian side at the World Cup was an enticing thought (and still may be). But it was comforting to know Milan at least had reliable options to fill in for the 23 year old.

Davide Calabria did OK against Udinese, but it seems another year has come when he will have to wait for chances behind Ignazio Abate, which is completely fine. In a year where Milan are implementing a team of players unproven in the red and black, Abate can be a key player in the squad. Experienced, reliable and still pretty quick, Abate did well when called upon against SPAL. Surely, there will be some rotation between Abate and Calabria, but expect Abate to get a lion’s share of the workload. It looked like he was going to be fazed out throughout the season, but with Conti’s injury, he may have just become one of Milan’s most important players.