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9 Things: Milan Plays Better, But Still Only Musters a Point, Milan vs Napoli 1-1

A weird bounce and some poor play towards the end of the game sinks an overall decent performance from Milan.

1: What the Analytics Said

The games expected goals are odd because of the first real attempt that Napoli had gone off the post and fell perfectly to Lozano. That is not from incisive passing, it is a lot of luck. How do I look at this? I would have liked only one of the center backs to close down Insigne with Biglia. I would have liked the other one of the two playing for the worst-case scenario. I would have liked the ball to go out of bounds. None of those three things happened and Napoli scores. In the end, this is horrid luck. There is not too much to be said about this exact play. However, the rest of the match, Milan held Napoli to about half an expected goal. Not too shabby there from the Rossoneri. The defense has been demonstrably better the last two outings and has given this writer confidence in where the team could go.

The offense showed signs of life again. It eclipsed the one expected goal mark again, which is impressive against the defensive structure of Napoli and with Allan being on the pitch. Bonaventura was the heart of most of the chances. He should start over Hakan next week. The Bonaventura goal was sublime, and beyond that, Milan got to the center of the box, especially the penalty spot, five times over the course of the game. This is a vast improvement to the stretch of games where Milan would get to this location once or twice. There’s a newfound hope here.

2: Jacks Back

Bonaventura was the catalyst for this hope. He patrolled the left side of the field like he had not missed a single day. Jack was the man of the match for me and dictated pace whenever he could force his will upon the ball. Milan has been missing his quality. When Jack would play an overlap, and he would then venture inside. If Krunic moved centrally or drew a defender, Jack ran into the space created. If Paqueta needed a passing outlet, Bonaventura would make himself available and then progress the ball forward. It was an inspired performance by the man from Severino.

Watch both GIFs. Jacks movement and technique are all class.

What this does mean for Milan in the future? Well, Hakan should see considerably less time. Paqueta can play more of an attacking 8 role in the future. Bonaventura can continue his defensive winger responsibilities. It will also give Milan a more centrally driving winger, which has been the overarching weakness in attack this season. Bonaventura deserves every opportunity for what he showed in this match, for who he has been with this club, and for what he has sacrificed during his tenure. He is a true Milanista through and through.

3: Who Wants to Be the Striker, Part Someone Please Step Up

Sometimes teams buy a guy riding a hot streak and he can turn that hot streak into something sustainable. Piatek has not been able to do so, yet. Last season, Piatek shot the lights out with 22 goals on 18.97 expected goals (per Wyscout). This season, he is at 3 goals on 4.68 expected goals (per Wyscout). On this season’s form, his expected goal output puts him eleventh in Serie A. Now, 1.5 of those expected goals come from penalties, but the other three expected goals do not. He should have about three open play goals and be hovering around four or five totals. When a player scores below his expected goal that means he has been below average that season if he is a scorer. Piatek has not been all bad, but he needs to pot a goal soon. If he continues at this pace on expected goals, he should end the season, hopefully, around 13 or 14 goals (he is on pace for 13.68 expected goals over the season). Preferably, he begins to outscore his expected total, but let’s not get too greedy at this moment.

However, he is still outperforming Leao by .21 expected goals per 90 minutes. The thing that is broken with Piatek is the finishing. Some of his other weaknesses have become more astute, his general play has been fine though. However, the offense has looked bad, and some players who deserve blame have not been given it. Piatek is the easiest player to bemoan, however, he is not the only player that attacks.

4: Paqueta puts together an odd performance

For the first half, Paqueta turned in a fine performance. He linked play well in the first half, but the game began to pass him by in the second. His role was to play as the right-sided creative midfielder. If he shifted wide right, then Bonaventura shifted centrally, Theo moved to play left-wing (but a little deep), and Rebic played as either a right striker or a support forward on the right (as a right striker, he got into the box to try to score. As a right support forward, he was a wide passing option). Paqueta’s natural position was to play in between Rebic and Bonaventura in attack and play as a right-sided midfielder in defense.

His play with the ball was fine, however, the play without the ball (movement and some tackling) suffered, especially as the game progressed. He stopped foraying upfield in the dying embers of the game. He did not pass intelligently when he won back possession either. Everything culminated in a game that started positively but then ended in frustration.

5: What Changed About Milan’s Attack

Incisive central running and passing that allowed for crosses closer to the byline were the keys to opening Napoli. The strikers probed well, and the crossers put balls in dangerous locations. The cutbacks along the ground broke open Napoli as well. Theo has done especially well with these types of crosses in recent weeks. Milan needs to keep thinking about how they cross, and who is crossing. If the offense is dictated by deep crosses from the wingers, then the plan will fail. In the modern game, full-backs or maybe a midfielder has the green light for crossing, while the more direct wingers are supposed to enter the box. The old system of deep crosses from a winger so that the lone striker or two can latch onto it does not function as effectively anymore. Milan is adapting the way it has been crossing in the last few matchdays and this needs to continue. The right crosses are being played by the right people.

Bonaventura deserves a lot of praise too. He forayed very centrally, was willing to take on a man (the move around De Lorenzo was all class) and got to better shooting lanes than any winger prior. He changed the offense. This is the first game Milan has played with a winger being this aggressive or this central minded. Theo and Krunic can provide width, and Bonaventura’s movement correlated with that understanding. On some occasions he would overlap, however, his goal was to cut inside and either make space for him to shoot or for him to make a pass to a more advanced attacker. He had the game of the season for me so far.

6: The Outside Back Conundrum

As mentioned in the last section, these are the guys you want crossing the ball. However, Conti did not go up the field and Theo stayed too forward. Conti did not pass well or cross well when he had the opportunities too, and this made attacks down the right few and far between. Theo crossed well and attacked well, but constantly overcommitted himself with no cover in support. Pioli seems to want to play a back three that slides to the left in the attack, but this still opens space to be exploited. Romagnoli must cover more space, and Conti is not the best defender. This game was a good example of what happens when Bennacer is not available for cover and Theo has a poor defensive game. The system works if there is a more mobile defensive midfielder, or in a back five, but not when Biglia is on the field.

7: Lucas Biglia: Not Great!

He had another poor performance. If he got beaten on a move, he could not cover the ground he just forfeited. His passing was fine, but the defensive performance was ugly. Bennacer should be the undisputed starter. He tracks better, passes better, tackles better, and commands the field better than Biglia. I understand that Bennacer was unavailable for this match, but next week he is back, and he had a better start. Biglia was on the shortlist of players who I did not care for against Napoli. I am ok with his deployment as a backup, but at this age, and this stage in his career, he cannot start against the good teams.

8: The Last Ten Minutes.

This is when the game got ugly. It is easy to see that Milan does not generate a chance, and let Napoli accumulate five recorded attempts, with one of significance. The team could not press forward. Milan struggled to clear the ball or run with it. Napoli took advantage of this constant failure and immediately went to Milan. The defense was resolute, but Milan’s lack of ability to progress forward, in a tied game, at home, is less than impressive. Leao struggled to impact the game, however, he had come into this situation, he did not cause it. This was a ghastly performance to close the game.

There must be a way to break out. Some form of a coordinated plan may have been in place, and the players possibly failed to execute. The larger problem would be if there was no plan and the players had to generate one on their own. What was easily identifiable was that Milan was kicking as far forward as possible, and if that did not work, then Milan got back into shape. Either way, this is not a good sign for the end of the game. I did not like watching it, I assume none of you did either. If you did, then you must love the Banter Era.

9: Overall Thoughts for Next Week

Jack Bonaventura is here, and he impressed mightily. If the offense continues to work on its flaws, then there could be a strong push over the upcoming weeks. Bonaventura deserves to start after a performance like this, and it will be interesting to see how he and Suso coexist. I thought Rebic was fine and helped create dangerous chances, but Suso should get another run-out. Bennacer should reenter the side, and maybe Kessie should get a look. Calabria should replace Conti. Hakan should come nowhere near to starting because Jack played so well. Parma is not a difficult opponent, but this is Milan. If the same starting eleven was played next week I would be very happy. I would simply like more Bonaventura. If brings me immense joy that he is back and scoring.