1: What the Analytics Said
The largest takeaway is that Milan did not generate much and Juventus took charge after the sixtieth minute. Milan was about dead even with Juventus in terms of expected goals at halftime and then had one opportunity until the seventy-fifth minute. This stagnation in Milan’s offense started the separation between the two teams. After Dybala scored, Milan had to venture forward more, and this allowed Juventus to create two of their more dangerous chances. Milan’s most dangerous chance came from Piatek’s header early in the game. After that chance, Milan had a few smaller chances, but nothing that came close to the early header. This was the only attempt that happened in between the two center backs of Juventus. There needs to be more penetration of the back line.
Juventus split between Theo and Romagnoli four times and created their most dangerous chances between the two. However, two of those are from Dybala. His world class performance became the difference between the two teams. Dybala won the game for Juventus, which should be the takeaway.
2: Paulo Dybala vs Alessio Romagnoli
Dybala got the best of Romagnoli with the two runs that the Argentinian directed at the Milan Skipper.
On the Goal, Romagnoli checks centrally because Duarte challenges Higuain at the top of the box. The ball goes to Dybala and Theo is caught wide because Cuadrado is staying wide as a passing option. Romagnoli moves centrally and Higuain’s give and go with Dybala forces La Joya (Dybala’s nickname) in the opposite direction of Romagnoli’s path. Romagnoli is not able to reset himself and Dybala scores. This was poor movement from Romagnoli as he could have maintained his position because Conti was providing defensive coverage for Duarte (that was a tactical wrinkle because of how much Duarte steps up for challenges). Romagnoli needed to play coverage for Theo, because Pioli set the left back’s positioning as wide as possible so that Theo could counter attack. The Italian Center back is being asked a lot, but Dybala’s goal happens because Romagnoli over commits.
Later in the match, Dybala runs at Romagnoli and torches him with one move and is only kept out by a strong Donnarumma save. Romagnoli played well until Dybala decided to victimize him. The introduction of Dybala and Costa gave Juventus the flair and ideas that won Juventus the game. Without their introduction, this game was on pace to end in a draw.
3: The Defensive Formation as a Whole
Theo played almost as a left wing back so he could create a back five in defense. Krunic played in the half space between Theo and Romagnoli for coverage of Theo and the left backs tendency to charge forward. Pioli did this to allow Theo to counter quickly, but to also give more defensive coverage for the outside back. Duarte played stopper on the right side of defense and Krunic had a similar role on the left. Paqueta, and Suso to an extent, controlled the right side of the field (Paqueta crushed his defensive assignment). Bennacer’s role was to cancel out the attacking midfielder for Juventus and play breakout passes when Milan won the ball back. Duarte played a traditional stopper role and Conti played centrally whenever Duarte stepped up. Piatek pressed and Hakan was on the field (I will get to that next). Milan did all of this to try to negate Juventus constant movement down the right side of the field. Cuadrado was the main concern down the right as he has been playing right back shockingly well this season. Theo has been poor defensively all season, so having Krunic play in the space that Theo vacates was intelligent from Pioli. Paqueta controlled the right side well, and did enough to either make a tackle, or make recoveries.
When Bonaventura and Leao came onto the field, Milan switched to a 4-2-3-1. The major changes here were that Hakan went to left winger, Bonaventura played center attacking midfielder, and Paqueta dropped laterally to Bennacer in defense. Bonaventura pressed the center backs, missing his assignment Pjanic, which gave the Bosnian more room to operate. Leao covered the center backs, but Hakan and Bonaventura both would press too far forward. The failure of the two players charged with covering Pjanic helped Juventus break up field.
The structure was strong and could certainly be used again. Pioli’s backline system excelled for much of this match, and the structure he created deeper in midfield was a success. Hopefully, this will translate into a better run of form.
This how Milan lined up defensively before any of the substitutions.
4: Hakan Was on the Field?
He took one shot that was fine, but not a great chance, and then he did something (vaguely gestures) for the other 89 minutes and 59 seconds he was on the field. His defensive assignment, Pjanic, was left alone for long portions of the game. He struggled to take part in buildup, and passed poorly in attack. Hakan may be able to play as a deeper left midfielder, but it seems that as of now, he needs to play centrally and forward. Milan’s shape forced him centrally in defense, but he swung wide in attack. When he swung wide, he would either slow the play down too much, or get too focused on himself shooting. Hakan plays well when he runs as far forward and enters the box. This follows a run of games where he floats too far outside of the box, and does not exploit open space. He seems to be behind the play attacking wise and failed to manage his defensive assignment. Hakan has had one or two solid games, however, patience is waning for him as a starter.
5: Paqueta and Defense
Paqueta had a tough assignment providing structure and cover against Sandro, Matuidi and Ronaldo. He took on all three and made some truly inspired defensive stops. Paqueta has played as a center defensive midfielder before. If Milan switches to a midifield two then Paqueta certainly has the ability to play deep with Bennacer. Paqueta challenges, intercepts, and passes from a deep position like a center defensive midfielder. He has the capability to play deep, and defensive midfielder could be a new found position for him.
6: Donnarumma Hits His Mark
Gigio made the saves he needed to make. He made high quality saves and looked comfortable in net. This is a good change from the Lazio game where he looked chaotic. Donnarumma got peppered with dangerous shots after the sixtieth minute and handled this section of the game admirably. Juventus possess the ability to hit shots from distance, so the difficulty of the save may be higher than what the expected goal total may say (players can have a moment of brilliance where they perfectly strike a ball, however, it is unlikely for this to happen repeatedly). Hopefully this turn of form continues.
7: The Offensive Struggles
Piatek is receiving one, maybe two chances a game (which is low), and the other players struggle to break into the box. Bennacer did a lot to spur the offense forward, Suso’s crossing game was solid, and Theo had some joy. However, this is the third game on the trot that Milan’s offense has looked sluggish. The SPAL game was not impressive because it is SPAL at home. The last two games, Milan has struggled to consistently generate offense. Milan needs to change the system and the personnel in it. A 4-4-2 or a 4-3-1-2 could be beneficial.
8: But Doug, How Would Milan Play These Two Systems
In a 4-4-2, Bonaventura plays left midfielder, and cuts centrally. Suso plays right midfielder and stays wide and deep. Calabria or Conti will need to overlap for Suso and provide width further up the field. Theo can still venture forward, just like the right back. Bennacer and Paqueta play in the midfield two. Leao, Rebic, and Piatek all rotate at striker. Hakan could play where Bonaventura is as well, however, Hakan playing there would give me pause because it requires him to do more in buildup. Samu or Hakan could be given a shot their too, but that would be at let midfield or support striker. Paqueta could venture forward, but if this happens, Bennacer must stay deep. Here is how that would line up.
In a 4-3-1-2, Milan would need to line up with Bonaventura or Hakan on the left, preferably Giacomo, with Paqueta on the right. The two outside backs would be allowed to foray up field, but need restraint. The 1-2 section of the lineup will need to play like the Eintracht Frankfurt system last year. This means that Rebic plays behind Leao and Piatek. Rebic plays like a center attacking midfielder or center forward who presses. Leao swings wide and presses, but he drifts wide to then cut centrally in attack. Piatek plays like a traditional number nine. All three will press and one of the creative midfielders will provide support. Samu or Suso could play support striker on the right and push the other striker into the traditional number 9 role. Here is how that would look.
9: Overall Thoughts
This was the first sign that the defense could be back to where it had been under Gattuso, though the offense remains to be poor. I do think that De Ligt had a fantastic game and he cut out passes effectively. De Ligt cut out direct passes to Piatek, and made Milan unable to use a route one approach (De Ligt also reminds my mom of me. Guess I look like him). Milan needs to understand how to exploit a defense better. Against Juventus that either means attacking their right flank and stretching their midfielders, or set pieces. Juventus struggles from set pieces, and the midfielders can struggle tracking defensively, especially on the right side. However, Milan is playing too slowly and too deep to generate more offense. There needs to be faster and more creative; and a formation change could do that. There is creativity within the team, but certain players on the field have stymied it. Without a tactical or personnel change, Milan will continue to spin its tires in future fixtures.