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9 Things: A Frustrating Draw, Milan vs. Lecce 2-2

Milan Controlled Play for 90 minutes, but a gaffe from Conti and a wonder strike sank Pioli’s first competitive match.

Just a quick housekeeping issue. 11 items seemed to be too many ideas for each game so I have decided to go to 9 items for the rest of the season. This will let me provide more coverage on the key issues. I am always happy to answer more questions on my twitter @DouglasARamsey.

1: What the Analytics Said

Milan absolutely controlled the first 60 minutes. Per Between the Posts, Milan was getting incredibly close to their second expected goal by the time Conti gave up the penalty. Milan would end the game with close to three expected goals and only gave up 1.34 of which 1.19 came in the same sequence. This means Milan played extremely well and were incredibly unlucky not to win this game 3-1. This is the second time this year Milan should have won a game, but instead dropped points. The first was against Torino.

Lecce was poor, which is not surprising as they are the number one relegation candidate. They benefited from Andrea Conti who has been misused as a right back (I will get to this later) and a wonder strike. Teams draw and lose games like these, but two early in the season are disheartening.

Between the Posts

2: The Right Back Conundrum

Davide Calabria is the better of Milan’s two right backs. Actually, he is the only true right back on the team. Andrea Conti played a highly offensive role as a right wing back at Atalanta. His defensive responsibilities were focused on tracking up and down the field, rather than on interceptions and tackling. When Milan purchased Conti, the ownership and coaching staff moved him backwards and gave him more defensive responsibilities. This was a poor decision because he struggled in playing defense at Atalanta. Calabria can actually play defense as well as track up and down the field. Unfortunately, he was not an option for this match (Milan needs this strange line of red cards to end so the team can regain stability at the position). Conti is an adequate back up, but my confidence in that is waning.

3: Leao and Piatek Had Strong Days

Milan’s domination of the first 15 minutes of the match was underpinned by Leao’s strong play. He made cutting runs, received passes well, and was able to get in on the goalie. Preferably, he would have scored one of those chances, but he performed the role of striker that Milan has needed for years.

Piatek started strong. When he was subbed in, which is the perfect role for him right now, he made the cutting runs that were needed. As a sub he will be able to see how defenses are shaping up, and when he is subbed on he will be able to locate pockets in the defense that he had been viewing for 65 minutes. His finish for the goal was all class, and will hopefully lead to more. He still needs to work on his ability to progress the ball, but his energy will be useful for the last 25 minutes.

4: What Pioli Was Doing, Tactically

For the first half, and into the second before Piatek came on, Hakan spent long stretches leading the line. It seems that in offense the team played a 4-2-3-1 where Hakan was allowed to switch positions with Paqueta on the left or Leao up top. Conti did not range up the field nearly as much as Theo, though I think that will change with Calabria in the lineup. The most unusual tactical wrinkle was that Romagnoli was free to press up to play with the defensive midfielders. There were many moments where Romagnoli made tackles that Biglia or Kessie would typically take part in. This wrinkle seemed effective as it prevented any Lecce counters. Teams in the race for the Champions League may be able to beat this press, but it will help prevent offense for teams in the lower section of the table.

5: Something Weird is Going on at Goalie

Donnaruma is an absolute world class goalkeeper, but the way he has started the season has been concerning. By expected goal from Between the Posts, he has allowed what an average goaltender would allow (equal given up goals to expected given up goals).His best game was the clean sheet against Hellas Verona where the Gialloblu put up about one expected goal. His worst game was against Torino where he was solely at fault for the first goal, and gave up one more goal than expected.

Gianluigi Donnarumma Through 7 Games

Goals Against xGA Open Play xGA Set Piece xGA
Goals Against xGA Open Play xGA Set Piece xGA
10 8.91 3.91 5
xGA means expected goals against Between the Posts

As a goalie you want to allow less goals than expected. A goalie who was performing better would have given up 8 or 7 goals at this point in the season. It is important to remember that most of the expected goals against have come from penalties this season.

The oddity about this is how strong he has been in so many games. He has saved two of the three penalties he has seen and has had to deal with a disproportionate number of world class strikes. Hopefully, his class begins to shine through. As of now his spectacular saves have been offset by some unsavable strikes and some less than stellar goalkeeping.

6: Suso Had an Up and Down Day

Suso began the first half in fine form and maintained this into the second half. However, when Leao came off the pitch, Suso stopped having the same effect that existed in the first half. Suso will spend a ton of time on the ball, but if he is struggling to break down Lecce defenders late in games, then it will only get worse against higher quality opponents. In the second half, and late in the game he began to shoot more and struggled to link up with his teammates. His cut in shot from the right was ineffective as he was not able to get the ball by Gabriel on low shots, and he completely missed his higher shot locations. He could have been a sub candidate, but his play in the first half warranted him more time on the field.

7: The Goals

The Hakan goal was pure class, but a reckless shot. It has a low expected goal value, but he was able to find the net. However, repeating this would be hard. Him scoring was so impressive because of the absolute difficulty of steadying himself. Hakan had to turn, center his body, and generate enough power to beat Gabriel, this is no easy task. He then was able to get the ball up and over AC Milan legend Gabriel, ha ha. This Lecce game was an example of Hakans skill. Hopefully this continues.

On the Piatek goal, Hakan did the one thing that Milan has seemed to have forgotten how to do, cross the ball on the ground. Cut backs are incredibly dangerous, and most high class teams will use them with late runners. Piatek controlled the pass sublimely and slotted the ball by Gabriel. Suso should take note of Hakan’s cross. Quickly whipped low crosses will generate more chances for the strikers. It brings options to the wing play.

8: Roma

The game against Roma will be a good test of where this team is, and will be going. Roma has gotten off to a strange start this season, with a lot of their youth misfiring. This could be a good game for the Milan’s midfield to assert itself and for Leao or Piatek to bag some goals. The key will be in passing, as the youth of Roma should allow the Giallorossi to press.

Biglia has not been my favorite member of Milan this season, including against Lecce. He will most likely start again, but that is not the best option. Bennacer needs a run out soon and would be the better starter against Roma. Calabria will be back too, so there will be more defensive cover on the left side. Hope Bonaventura can get some time as well.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan played well and were incredibly unfortunate not to win, and also not win by a lot. There is something here that was able to produce a lot of tangible offense. The problem with Milan comes from errors. Too many times this season has one player sunk the chances of the team to win. This trend will break, but the hole that Milan finds itself in now will only hurt the chances to reach the top four. I do think that the team has slowly taken shape, and that there is an attacking identity being created. There have been too many penalties given up. Once the issue of carelessness is dealt with, expect lots of wins to come.

Also, thank you to the Milan Club NYC for letting me watch with them. If you are in NYC you should try to join them for the next Milan game. Everyone else, find your local club and join them if you can. It will make you feel the love for Milan again as the team tries to make you lose it.