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9 Things: A Win is a Win, Milan vs Parma 1-0

Theo Hernandez put the term “they all count” to good use.

1: What the Analytics Said

Milan deserved to win but took a plethora of poor shots. Milan penetrated the box as consistently, which is a good sign, but the shot quality suffered. This was a quantity over quality game. Milan shot fifteen times within the box but did not eclipse one expected goal. There are too many hopeful headers or shots from odd angles in the box. The most dangerous chance came from a Kessie shot and from Theo’s weird goal. Milan desperately needed to open more space within the box, thereby making the shots more dangerous. The shot volume is a good sign, not much else is.

2: It is in the System

Strategy 101 brought to you by Douglas Ramsey.

Milan played a few different formations during the game. The main set up was a 4-3-3 in offense and a 4-1-4-1 in defense. The wingers fell deep, Bennacer became his own line, and the midfielders ventured forward in attack but played ahead of Bennacer in defense. This strategy leaves a mountain of work for the striker. Essentially, Piatek must outwit the center backs by himself. That works with a handful of strikers (Lewandowski and Aguero could do it) but is incredibly hard for about anyone else. In the first half it seemed that the issue was Piatek playing poorly, however, when Leao came on and was also poor, the issue swings to the coach. Pioli is asking Piatek to find space by himself. He does not have other players to help pull the defense apart in the box. Milan’s offensive plan relies on a high volume of crosses and shots from afar. That does not work. Piatek is not free from blame, but not having a support striker, or wingers that go inside is a real issue. Hakan and Suso provide no support in the box and do not help Piatek get away from the center backs. They only support by delivering crosses and sometimes shoot from outside the box. The drought for Piatek will continue unless the team switches to a two-striker system, or plays center ranging wingers. Without either, games like today will continue.

3: If You Wanna Be My Striker, You Simply Need to be Better

Leao and Piatek still struggled during the game. The system from Pioli forces them to generate their own space, but they can still be more involved in the play. If he dropped back and made himself part of the passing in build-up, then he might have found space before entering attack. Instead, he remained further forward than anyone and waited to be played the final ball almost every time. Leao did the same and did not do enough to assert himself in the game. Neither was able to generate any chance of note inside the box and were largely non-existent during the game.

There is a way to fix this. Playing two strikers would change the game. They could play off each other, make runs to pull center-backs apart, and could penetrate the box in more creative ways. Leao and Piatek both need support from another forward. Having both plays in unison should work. Suso and Hakan have not provided that all season, and thus droughts happen. Rebic played as a central moving winger at Eintracht Frankfurt. He would be the perfect replacement on the left side of the Milan trident. Leao could then play on the right, but very narrow. The other option is to switch back to a 4-3-1-2 and play Leao and Rebic up top with Paqueta or Hakan in behind. At this point, almost anything is better than what has been tried.

4: Suso and the Wingers

Suso has talent, but the way he plays the game is a decade old. A friend once said that Suso would have been perfect for the Premier League in the mid-2000s. That is not quite what Serie A is, even though I appreciate the remark. What Suso needs to be is a winger who moves centrally. Suso struggles to enter the box, continue quick counterattacks, and cannot play centrally. He is a round peg in a square hole. As I have previously stated, he could be fantastic in a 4-4-2 where he can sit deep because the left-winger ventures forward. However, in the Milan system, he does not provide support to the striker and crosses too much. The modern winger plays centrally and can support a striker with his movement, not just crosses. Suso can pass, but he struggles with the movement part and does little to stretch center backs. He is not the right answer for the position.

Hakan played well against Parma, and I do think that Hakan can start in a different role on the team. His versatility is beneficial, and he can be an attacking or central midfielder. However, he has not been a good left-winger and is being placed there to fit Suso into the squad (Suso only works in a formation with wingers and Bonaventura or Hakan will either play left wing or left center midfield). Hakan benefits from a player making overlapping runs down the left side so that he can move more centrally. He does not enter the box enough, but that can be helped by going to a two-striker system. Hakan could float behind the strikers and pass into the box. He would be more central as well, which will help him shoot more effectively. There is space for him, but just not on the wing.

5: The Fullbacks

The fullbacks should be the actual crossers and should patrol the width of the field. Wingers are still allowed to cross, but most crosses should come from the fullbacks. Theo has been doing this all season but sacrifices a lot of defense in doing so. Conti played fine throughout the game and covered the distance between attack and defense admirably. I do think Calabria deserves more time, however, Conti played well. The fullback issue is that only one of the two can venture forward at a time. Teams that send both fullbacks forward are able to have more players into the box. Teams like Liverpool, Juventus, and Manchester City (this are lofty comparables, but they have some of the best tactics) use their fullbacks to provide width in attack.

While both lined up further forward than the center backs, Conti spent the first half in line with Bennacer, which is deep for a fullback. Theo took that role in the second half and ventured forward less. If both were to venture forward, like they should, then the wingers would be forced more central which is good. The space along the wings would be controlled by the full-backs, and the two wingers could enter the box. Instead, the outside backs only attack one side at a time and do not help push players centrally. The right-wing got crowded when Conti ventured forward because Suso did not enter the box.

A quick aside from this. Theo, even though he scored, was largely ineffective for me and did not defend well. His need to bomb up the field and refusal to track back is becoming frustrating. I am glad he is an offensive fullback, however, if he cannot track up and down the field, then his benefits are mitigated by his defensive failures. He needs to run more.

6: The Midfield Wins the Day

Milan beat Parma because the midfield suffocated any attack and broke effectively. The attacking trident was poor, especially at striker and right-wing. Bonaventura, Kessie, Krunic, and Bennacer stifled the Parma attack and recycled play effectively. Bennacer maintained his fantastic form, Bonaventura was splendid, and Kessie continued with his workman mentality. Midfield is the bright sport for Milan, especially in recent weeks. Paqueta, Bennacer, Bonaventura, Kessie, and Krunic have all put on good shows in the midfield. Hopefully this form will produce more offense, but, yet again, that is on the attacking trident.

Bennacer deserves to be talked about every week. I know I do this already, but he has been truly incredible.

7: The Defense

The two center backs did not have much to do, but they held Parma to six total passes into the box. Milan had ten. Romagnoli played well again with his small amount of work. Mussachio lost one challenge against Gervinho, however, he defended fine the rest of the game and had the highest pass volume. The center backs have been strong for weeks, and with Duarte being out for months, having Mussachio put on a good show helps lift morale for the upcoming fixtures. Milan has one more tough test before the new year (Atalanta away), so having a strong performance from one of the center backs fighting for a job is a nice additive.

8: The Goal

It was an ugly goal. The more impressive part was the build-up to Bonaventura’s shot. Hakan played a quick pass to Krunic, which pulled two defenders. The ball is then laid off to Bonaventura who beat a man and took a hard shot. Good passing helped open space. It is also a lot of central play that moved around Parma. Luckily, Parma put on a show of calamitous defending and the ball happened to land on Theo’s foot. Milan scored, they won, yay.

9: Looking Ahead

The starting eleven has taken more shape over the last few weeks. The backline and midfield three have truly taken shape. However, the attacking trident is still poor. Players should be rotated out, and the system will need to change. Milan deserved all three points, but the offense was truly poor. Suso and Hakan did not perform in the way needed of them. Piatek and Leao, while poor, were left on an island by the coaches system and the winger play. Milan should rotate attackers and formations. Maybe a Paqueta, Leao, Rebic trio scores. Those three have never been used in unison. They have the qualities of a trident or attacking trio that should help generate goals. The next game is against Bologna, I would try some new things.