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9 Things: Things Are About to Get Uncontrollable, Milan vs Lazio 1-2

Milan’s Issues Continue as The Offence Stumbles to Get into Gear Again. The Next Few Weeks Could Get Ugly.

1: What the Analytics Said

This game should have been a 1-1 draw. Milan’s expected goals grew slowly from a lot of little chances. Only four of Milan’s eleven shots came from a high-quality location (Extend the perpendicular six-yard box lines to the end of the eighteen). Milan needs to penetrate this area much more if they want to score. This is a system issue and not a striker issue. [If Milan was at two expected goals, then it is on the strikers. A total of expected goals under one is directly on the play leading to the box]. An Atalanta or Napoli plot will show a plethora of shots from a high-quality location. Milan has only two performances like this. Atalanta has been far and away the best offensive team this year and, looking at their tactics, it makes sense. They overlap and cause chaos with low cross passes, or quick play into the box. Milan crosses, but from wide and deep. Milan rarely passes into the strikers runs into the box. Milan needs to change their attacking ideas.

2: Donnarumma Puts Together A Shocking Performance

Donnarumma has not had a great season to date and the Lazio game continued that theme. He gave up another goal above expected against Lazio and did not look comfortable with any cross. There seemed to be a confidence issue here. Donnarumma went about his responsibilities chaotically. He acted too quickly on crosses and, crucially, misjudged the direction of Correa’s shot. Correa fooled Donnarumma with his body shape, Donnarumma was offline, not properly covering the net, and dove the wrong way. Donnarumma had three things to get right, he got all three wrong.

3: The Midfield Was the Lone Bright Spot

The only consistent positive throughout the game was the midfield and how it continued attacks or ended Lazio’s movement. Bennacer, Krunic, Paqueta, and later Hakan all crushed their duties for long phases. Bennacer was the brightest spot of them all, as his passing and tackling were fantastic all game. Bennacer also helped create the Rebic chance by realizing he had space to exploit down a wing and then playing a dynamite cross. Not bad from a defensive midfielder.

Krunic progressed the ball well, and continuously popped up above the box. He played effective passes and was strong into challenges. He also ran with the ball well and tried to move forward in attacks in order to be a passing option when he was off the ball. He and Kessie will need to fight for this spot in the coming weeks. They both have a good showing or two to date.

Paqueta played well in general, but the frustration still shows. He will score soon, and this frustration should end. However, he is now playing like a man who desperately needs to break a duck (quack, quack). Paqueta played passes well, carried the ball fantastically, and passed or switched the attack elegantly. That’s what Paqueta will need to continue to do if he wants goals to come. It will be difficult, but I believe in him.

4: Leo Duarte Was Horrid and Took the Back Line with Him

Duarte seemed to play stopper early in the game, then it became apparent that he was constantly out of position. Calabria did not have the best game ever, but his struggles came from needing to cover for Duarte who played like a chicken without a head. Duarte constantly over committed himself, could not cut out passes, and rarely played in line with the back four. On the Immobile goal, he simply does not realize that a player may be entering the box. When the cross comes in, Duarte reacts impossibly slowly to the cross. The reason Lazio played down the right side of Milan so often is that they realized the right back was having to cover two positions. Duarte failed in his duties and looked lost against the best team he has faced. He has not looked good in any of his starts so far this season and should not play any of the class teams (Juventus, Inter, Lazio, AS Roma, Torino, Atalanta, Napoli). Mussachio should to play because, and this may be shocking, he is at least a league average center back. Duarte on the other hand seems to be in a form of unmitigated disaster. I’ll take the average dude.

5: The Offense Needs A More Box-Centric Passer

Crosses are cool and all, but if you do too many then the offense becomes predictable. Milan crosses less than they did last year; however, the passing has struggled to break into the box. Passing into the box works the best when a player either forces someone into a run, or the striker is met on their path. Jorginho provided a good example of this on his assist to Tammy Abraham recently (Jorginho is fantastic). There were many moments when Piatek or Leao would begin a run past the centerbacks, and there was no incoming through pass to meet their run. This has been an ongoing issue, as the Milan tactics are forcing the strikers to either get on the end of crosses or beat multiple defenders. Some strikers, especially elite ones, can beat people and score. However, Milan’s most gifted players are a goalie, Romagnoli (who’s been on form), and midfielders (Including Suso, who plays super deep for a right winger in attack, almost like a midfielder). This means that the non-strikers must create the lion share of opportunities for the strikers. Passes in attack need to become riskier. Passes must lead the strikers into the box. Crosses can work in moderation, but not at the rate and depth that Milan are using them. The way Milan needs to beat defenses is through more central and progressive passing.

6: The Wingers, Part 3

I would like to stop writing about the wingers, but here we are, I guess. So, Samu put in a good show for about 30 minutes. He progressed the ball well and was able to create space for crosses. However, it was 30 minutes and I am not willing to say he is back yet. Hopefully, the injury is not too serious. Hakan had a very up and down game. He made some impressive runs that helped push the offense. But he struggled to break down the Lazio back line and looked idealess as Lazio re-created their defensive shape. He plays better further back the pitch, which is an issue when he is supposed to be a left winger. Suso also plays very deep and looks better the further back he receives the ball. Rebic did not look great in the game, but he is also not a winger (I have brought that up before). The team lines up in a 4-3-3, but the wingers have sat back continuously to make it a 4-5-1. Milan needs more forward impetus from the wing. This is unlikely with two deep lying wingers, who force the play to slow tremendously near the box. Counters need to be fast and direct, and they have not been. It is frustrating as the team should have stretched Lazio more, especially with the control provided from the midfield. Suso did not play so he is not at fault, but Hakan is not free of blame here. More aggression is needed.

7: The Goal

It was a flukey own goal. Theo has a good idea and executes his chip pass decently. He slightly over hits the chip, then the ball rebounds off Piatek’s foot, then Bastos, and goes into the net. It was not a great chance, but it went in. You can probably tell how impressed I was by this.

8: Identity Crisis

Milan has struggled mightily against the more difficult opponents, except for Torino. Juventus and Napoli should run riot over Milan when they meet. Milan’s attack has been the biggest weakness as it has struggled to break down defenses quickly. Serie A is getting faster, and the tactics are getting better. If Milan continues to play a slow, trotting style of attack, then they will fail to break down defenses. The rigid defense of Milan from last season has disappeared, and the team has begun to ship chances. Pioli has not solved the defensive woes and has maintained the stunted offense. The only thing that has looked better is the midfield. Milan was showing a better attacking identity under Giampaolo in his last few games. Pioli has not inspired confidence. More dropped points seem in order.

9: Overall Thoughts

Maldini and Boban have made many strong signings during their tenure. Leao, Bennacer, Krunic, Paqueta and Theo Hernandez are the backbone of a young and promising team. It is a strong youth movement that is bursting with ability. The Calcio Mercato report that the only good signing was Theo is asinine. They seemed to want to stir up controversy. Leao led the line of the most offensively impressive game, Bennacer has excelled in his role except for one game, Paqueta has been generating offense, and Krunic played well against Lazio.

Milan is underperforming because Maldini and Boban are not as effective in hiring coaches as buying players. Gattuso, while he was the best of the three coaches, really struggled to have an offensive identity. It is easy to forget that his tactics ended Milan’s Europa League campaign. Falling out of that competition is on him. Real Betis and Olympiakos bested Milan and Gattuso had no answer to that. Giampaolo needed more time to fix his struggles with team selection, but there should have been more faith. That’s on Boban and Maldini. Pioli, much like Gattuso, is archaic in attacking tactics or just lets his players do what they want. Since Pioli’s arrival, the team is inconsistent and has struggled to break down the two quality opponents they have faced. Implementing a press or attacking tactics takes time, however, Pioli’s sides struggled to attack in his last two roles. So why hire another coach that seems to not have attack minded ideas. Milan would have been better off to hire Roger Schmidt or Marcelino, who were and are currently available. Each of these coaches are tactically impressive, and Marcelino has recently gone to the semi-finals of the Europa League and won the Copa Del Rey.

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