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The Morning After: Milan show that they have learned nothing

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Another day, another disappointment. We knew it was coming.

UC Sampdoria v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

Milan have gotten away with some shaky performances so far this season, but the Rossoneri were rightfully put down at Sampdoria.

The loss is arguably Milan’s worst display in 2017-18, and that includes a 4-1 loss at Lazio. The Rossoneri failed to register a single shot on goal against Sampdoria. The last time that happened in Serie A was Aug. 23, 2015, when Rodrigo Ely was sent off in the first half of a 2-0 loss at Fiorentina.

Milan’s win over SPAL at the midweek provided several talking points, but after Sunday’s miserable display, here are a few concerning ideas and questions that came to mind while watching the Rossoneri fall flat.

Fit the formation to the personnel

The 3-5-2 has worked pretty well for Milan this season, but clearly it stymied the Rossoneri’s attacking prowess against Sampdoria. This was a result of personnel.

Against SPAL, Andre Silva was the second striker and Hakan Calhanoglu tucked in behind the forwards as the No. 10. Silva and Calhanoglu were the two players replaced for Sunday’s match, with Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura taking their respective places.

It was tweeted roughly 2 billion times during the match, but here it is one more time for emphasis…

SUSO DOES NOT FIT IN A 3-5-2!

Milan have been frustrating to watch in the early going this season, but Suso’s performance Sunday was by far the most infuriating of the campaign, through no fault of his own. He can’t play as a second striker. He belongs out on the right wing, free to get into the space and show off his creativity, creativity that has proven so critical for Milan in the past. At times it felt like Milan were playing with 10 men. That’s how invisible Suso was.

Montella was given an incredible gift over the summer. Not only was he given the financial backing to bring in an abundance of talent, that talent is versatile in how they can be lined up. It’s possible to set up Milan with a variety of starting XIs in a number of formations. Sure, these are early days for this new Milan squad, but Montella has to recognize that not every player fits into one system. He can seamlessly switch from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 at halftime and not have to make a substitution.

Suso has become one of Milan’s best and most important players. When he is in the lineup, Montella has to adjust accordingly. If Suso is in, perhaps he can try a 3-4-3, with Bonaventura or Calhanoglu out to the left and Suso on the right, with Kessie and Biglia flanked by Ricardo Rodriguez and Ignazio Abate, who remain in wing back roles. Just a thought.

The 3-5-2 seems a better option with the lineup from the SPAL match, but even that is a work in progress as the attack was stale.

Defense remains a glaring reminder of Milan’s transition

Sampdoria always looked more likely to score, but Duvan Zapata’s goal was the result of absolutely shocking defense from Milan. The effort to clear the ball away from Gianluigi Donnarumma’s net was utterly embarrassing. Lesson one of defending is to never put the ball back toward the middle.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what Cristian Zapata did. On a dangerous, loose ball, Zapata headed the ball back into the crowd of players. With Leonardo Bonucci falling down, Duvan Zapata – Cristian’s cousin – was able to capitalize and easily beat Donnarumma.

Let’s save the second goal for later.

The back line continues to be evidence Milan are still developing chemistry after bringing in an abundance of new players. And it is worth noting that not only have Zapata and Alessio Romagnoli never played with newcomers Bonucci and Mateo Musacchio, they’ve hardly played with each other since Romagnoli’s arrival last season.

This excuse carries some weight, but at some point soon it has to be thrown out the window. Milan have played 11 competitive matches this season and had a full preseason with which to develop an understanding within the squad. October sees Milan’s schedule become far more challenging, and results will be critical. These complacent performances and blatant communication errors need to disappear fast.

Who gets the blame?

Montella has struggled to get Milan going in the first few weeks of the season, but Sunday was by and large his worst match of the campaign from a managerial standpoint.

It was plainly obvious that the system was not working for Milan. Suso was invisible. The only form of attack was failed long balls. Montella should have recognized this at halftime and made a change. If he didn’t want to change formation, he needed to at least get Silva on for Suso.

Instead, Montella stuck with what wasn’t working, and – to no one’s surprise – it continued to not work. The Rossoneri created nothing in the attacking end and were nervy at the back. The changes that needed to come came too late, not until six minutes after Milan fell behind. They were also the wrong changes. It’s all well and good that Patrick Cutrone is getting chances to play. He’s young and shown his talent. But when Milan are losing and you’re taking Suso off, why is Silva not the option if he’s healthy?

And why in the world does Montella keep waiting to put Calhanoglu on the pitch? Milan’s Turkish No. 10 has proven to be one of the club’s liveliest attacking players so far this season. His appearances off the bench have usually given a spark to the Rossoneri, who go on to look more threatening in the final third.

Montella’s decisions made no sense at the Marassi. It was a frustratingly ignorant showing from a manager who now has some doubting whether he’s the man to put all the new pieces together for Milan.

But in no way does Montella’s off night excuse the performance of the players.

The players need to accept their role in sluggish pace of this transition for Milan. Miscues like the one on Zapata’s goals shouldn’t happen with experienced professionals. The build-up play was lazy; often reduced to half-baked long balls. Nothing about the Rossoneri’s performance suggested they deserved even a point.

For all the mistakes over the course of 90 minutes, the most infuriating moment was Ricardo Alvarez’s stoppage-time goal. The substitute torched Milan’s back line, which may as well have sat on the ground. Milan looked like a team with nothing to play for, like they already knew they were beaten.

The performances on the pitch and in the technical area were completely embarrassing. Montella probably deserves most of the blame, but at worst it’s a 60-40 split between him and the players. Sampdoria are a decent, improving side, but performances like Sunday’s are inexcusable for Milan.