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9 Things: Milan Look Toothless as Roma Take all 3 points, Milan vs Roma 2-1

An uninspired offense leads to a lack of chances and causes Milan to fall in the capital city.

1: What the Analytics Said

The main take away is that AC Milan put out a clunker in Rome. The attack struggled to break down a strange set up from Roma and the midfield struggled to impose any will on the game. The Theo Hernandez goal and the Hakan shot at the death were the only chances of any note. Most other “flashy” plays or chances came from players on Milan who are good at long range efforts. Long range shots have a low probability, even if you are good at them. Getting into the box is always preferable. Milan did not deserve a goal from this match but received one because of a deflection. The fault in this game fell less to the strikers than it does to everyone else. The midfield failed to control any aspect of the game, Suso and Hakan looked dreadful, and Conti struggled to implement any attacking will.

AS Roma on the other hand looked fine, but given their injuries, they looked fantastic. The injury plague suffered by their midfielders left Veretout as the only available true center midfielder. Fonseca played a funky 5-3-2 in defense and a 4-2-3-1 in attack. The defensive solidity created in the five-man backfield seemed to shock Milan. No one was able to break through the back line, which caused Milan to falter. From an attacking perspective, Dzeko’s goal was about as dangerous as every Milan attack combined. Not good. The game dragged prior to Dzeko’s goal but after he scored, Roma started to turn on and hammered Milan over the next 50 minutes.

2: Dzeko’s Goal and the Comical Defending That Went Along with It

Roma made two overlapping runs during the corner that were meant to cause assignment issues within the Milan box. Edin Dzeko stayed late and deep and made a run around a pick at the top of the box, Mancini ran around a mass collection of Milan players to play the flick at the front post. These were designed runs enabled by a perfect ball from the corner. Milan seemed caught out by this play. Conti and Paqueta just did not shut down Mancini. Kessie got caught in the pick at the top of the box and let Dzeko get free. Milan has struggled with set pieces this season on offense and defense. Most of the expected goals against this year have come from dead ball situations. Milan will need to improve with set piece performance to reach a higher level in Serie A or Europe.

3: The Wingers

Hakan and Suso could not do much against Roma. They both looked like they had no idea how to break into the box and spent much of the game shooting from distance. Neither could really be considered dynamic players as both typically do one of two things. Suso will cut in and shoot across the goalie with his left foot. Hakan will cut centrally; if he is dead central in the field, he will shoot, sometimes he plays crosses from just outside the box. However, neither tend to drive into the box when given the opportunity. Both seem almost allergic to going from outside the box on the wing to inside the box and central. This may be a tactical issue, but it has been so consistent over multiple managers that it seems to be on the players. Hakan played much better when he was able to start central and play ahead of Leao. There’s an argument for letting Hakan and Leao both play support striker to each other and putting Paqueta on the left wing.

Suso completes tons of passes because he forces the offence to flow through him on the right wing. Suso appears to need two players to make overlapping runs for him to be effective. If Kessie, Calabria, or Conti are not overlapping then Suso struggles to function in the squad. This is a lot of support to get one player to be effective and should be a concern as the season continues. A switch to a 4-2-3-1 may be smart, but rotating wingers may be the best decision.

4: The Midfield as A Whole

Shambolic is the best way to speak about the three players. Paqueta really struggled to break forward, Kessie was largely kept quiet, and Biglia looked like he was a gear below every other player. Roma’s Jordan Veretout and Pastore were the only two midfielders, with Veretout the only one who plays with significant defensive responsibilities. Pastore played attacking midfielder although he is not a preferred player or all that good. Mancini played defensive midfielder like Marquinhos at PSG (he would slide in line with the centerbacks when Milan pressed). None of these players should give Milan too many issues, however, they did.

Milan has had a problem in the midfield of the central defensive midfielder being way late to defensive play. Some of this is that Biglia is struggling to keep up, some of it may be tactical. Bennacer had the same issue during the Fiorentina game. Paqueta and Kessie tend to be streaky players, but more solidity from defensive midfielder is important. Biglia had a very tough game and looked very tired early into the second half. Pioli wants to play him a lot, but it seems Biglia no longer has the legs for the demand.

5: Right Back Problems Continue

Conti did not do a lot for the 50 minutes he played and, yet again, showed that he is not a starter. Calabria provided an assist but also made a poor pass to Lucas Biglia that led to a goal (Biglia also took himself out of a passing lane and Donnaruma wildly misplayed the shot). Conti also got caught out on the first Roma goal as he failed to cover his assignment. There have been too many errors out of this position this season. Calabria needs to start, but also stop getting red cards. If Stefano Pioli thinks that Conti is better than Calabria, then problems will persist.

On this note, the worst defensive play by an outside back during the game was by Theo Hernandez who was made to look silly by Zaniolo. This defensive failure led to the more dangerous of the two Zaniolo chances in the latter stages of the match.

6: The Goal

Theo Hernandez realized that Calabria had played a ball into a space where no one was, so he latched onto the cross and it took a deflection. Theo has some pretty obvious offensive ability and it has been fun to watch someone get forward so well. However, this is one of two medium-danger chances that were created all game. That will never be good enough. In a more perfect world, Hakan would be the one exploiting this space.

7: The Players Who Were Not Used

Rebic should have come on for Hakan. The team should have shifted to almost a 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 as the game progressed. Piatek for Paqueta does this as well, but I have less faith in Hakan than I do in Paqueta. If Leao became tired, then put on Piatek. However, neither happened and Milan suffered from a dearth of attacking ideas and a glut of lateral passing.

8: SPAL

What should happen is that the team rotates or tries something tactically different. What I think will happen is that Pioli keeps trying the same thing and we will all argue on twitter. That will be fun, right?

In all seriousness, Milan should play Rebic, Bennacer, Calabria, and maybe Krunic. If Bonaventura is available, then he should start as well. That is a lot of change, but unfortunately Milan is still playing “preseason” or “squad understanding” games. Milan needs to move past this phase and quickly understand who is adding what, and why certain players have been poor so far. Being loyal to players for no apparent reason makes absolutely no sense to me, but I am not in the room. Players need to get back into form and many need a run out. Hopefully, that happens.

9: Overall Thoughts

It has become apparent that Bakayoko was crucial to Milan’s tactical identity as the season progressed last year. His ability to break a press and provide cover for the two centerbacks has been severely missed. Letting him walk has seemed to be a major mistake. I do think a midfield two or three of Bennacer, Bakayoko and Kessie would function very well. This would allow Paqueta to play a free roaming attacking midfielder and lets the team play Leao and Piatek up front. It would then move players who would be outside the tactical identity of Milan or players who should be back ups be put in their correct places. This means Suso, Hakan, Biglia, and Conti all will either need to improve or redefine their game. Milan squandered time and resources chasing after Angel Correa this summer (I will get into this in another article, but suffice it to say, I do not like Correa). There were a lot of things Milan could have done this summer, and some of it I love, but that is for another day. Hopefully, the season turns around, but this has not been an auspicious beginning. I do think there are eleven Milan players that can challenge for the top four, but they need to play.