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11 Things: A Rough Start to the Season, 1-0 Udinese vs Milan

Milan went into the season against a not particularly good Udinese side. The lineup was poor from Milan and the style of football and tactics did not take shape until all three subs were made. This is a frustrating beginning to the season, but it’s just the beginning.

This series will run in conjunction with the players grades by Robbie DeLorenzo, if you want to read it, click his name. However, this will focus more on tactical issues or continued issues within the team. The goal is to look at why things failed for Milan and answer some questions that may have arisen during the game.

1: No Real Attacking Identity in Game 1

The passing against Udinese did not lend itself to really aggressive attacks. The main issue was that the team did not do a lot to stretch Udinese. There needs to be faster passing and more movement from the midfielders off the ball. The second line of Udinese players became a great wall that Borini, Paqueta, and Hakan struggled to pass through. The attackers became isolated and were not able to get many touches in the first half. There was a lot of stagnation in general from Milan.

2: Square Peg Round Hole

Fabio Borini is not a starter. When he starts, he should be on the wing. Giampaolo seems to think that Borini is a box to box midfielder. Borini looked lost all game and struggled to complete passes throughout. He struggled to join into attack and could not make passes to help progress the ball. He had a back pass towards the end of the first half that handcuffed Calabria and caused a turnover. In the same run of play, Borini fouled an Udinese player. Borini is not midfield quality and should not be played there. He is not young enough to grow into the position anymore. He should be considered a back up at best at wing.

Who Scored

This is Borini’s heat map from the Udinese game. Good heat maps are usually very bright and have more blue. Borini averaged a touch every two minutes. That is not good enough.

3: We’ve Seen this Before from Suso

The Center Attacking Midfield spot has not been a strong suit of Suso in the past. He was moved there by Montella a few seasons ago and did not find any success. He struggled to link up with players ahead of him through passing. When he was moved wide he became much more effective. The question with Suso will be whether or not he is a player that fits into this team. If Milan continues to play a 4-3-1-2, then it is likely that he will not.

The most important thing to realize from this is that Suso did all of this from the wing. In the first game, while he had the most expected assists, which came from the last twenty minutes of the game on the wing, he had the worst forward passes. Suso made a third of the progressive passes compared to Paqueta and Hakan.

Paqueta should be played in the 10 role before Suso is in the future. The other option is to change to a 4-3-3. Suso has an issue of not being particularly dynamic in his style of play. If he does not play right wing, then he is not effective.

4: Regista Where Art Thou

Hakan Çalhanoğlu is not a regista style player. Hakan’s heat map from game 1 showed him to move to the left side of the field very heavily. He rarely transitioned to the right side of the field. Preferably, he would cover a more central section of the field. His heat map did cover the entirety of the attacking third. Çalhanoğlu struggled to complete forward passes, he was at about a 71% rate. That is not good enough from a role that is supposed to be one of a deep lying playmaker. Hakan was fine with the number of deep passes he attempted, but he was not completing many more than Suso, who was playing in attack. Hakan should be moved more forward up the pitch and given less defensive responsibilities. There needs to be an improvement on this output in future games, the midfield has to be more dynamic.

5: Breaking Down Midfields and Continuing Attack

Milan played almost exclusively lateral passes in midfield. There was no impetus for breaking down the lines of the opposition. None of the midfielders were able to move through the center of the park. Most attacks had to go down the wings and were slow in development. The style of passing is worrisome because it seemed to be a side to side then recycle the ball style of passing, instead of an up and down style of passing. The ball needed to go forward more rapidly, and that did not happen until Bennacer came on.

The midfield did too much play on the left and required Suso to generate play on the right. It was a poorly balanced attack and did not help with ball progression.

6: Pistols Were Holstered

Samu and Piatek had a really bad game. They both produced under .2 expected goals combined. Some of this was their fault, some were that the system blatantly did not work. Castillejo had one or two interesting runs and was able to split defenders at one point, however, he did not do much from more central build-up. Samu pressed poorly and really just made a lot of movement when not in possession that did not go anywhere.

Piatek did a fine job pressing but he needed someone else to help progress the ball to him. If the midfield is not playing well, then Piatek does not possess the adequate attributes to create chances by himself. He has the tools to finish shots, but he does not do what an attacker like Firmino at Liverpool does. The combination of Leao and Piatek provided more issues to the Udinese backline during the game. Piatek needs s support striker, and not a converted winger like Samu. Goals will come but the midfield was the issue on the day.

7: Back Line was Fine

Romagnoli had the most dangerous chance of the game for Milan which is not particularly good. The defense did a good job keeping Udinese out of the penalty box. Udinese did not take many dangerous shots within the box and were held to 5 shots within the box all game. 2 of those shots came from a set-piece which, where one was a failure of Kessie to cover his man. The biggest weak spot on the backline was Calabria who struggled in passing throughout the game. He will grow more into the season and was attempting to understand his new role. He was not being sent up the field as much as he typically was last season, so his lack of ability to run up the line may have created some issues for him.

Both Center Backs played fine but they were not the issue with the Milan lineup. Expect this backline to play more.

8: The Formation Itself

Giampaolo’s formation is not a bad one in general. He asks a lot from his central defensive midfielder and central attacking midfielder, but the idea behind it works. The Eleven that played in it does not work. Player selection will be the key take away from this game and how some players were played on the pitch. I do not think he should switch formations, I just do not think he played the right players.

9: The Substitutes

Bennacer should start. He is the best player on the team for the role of center defensive midfielder. He passed very well when he came onto the pitch, and showed a willingness to stretch the game, something that Milan struggled with early on.

Kessie added a better and more controlled version of box to box play that did not exist in the first half. Borini is not a midfielder, and is not particularly good, and should not see more time in the center of the field. Leao was an interesting sub and did add dynamism. He needs to develop, but he has the tools to become a very good center forward.

10: The Guys Who Did Not Play

The formation will hit its top form when Bonaventura returns. He is exactly the box to box attacking center midfielder that Giampaolo could use. Hopefully, Bonaventura will still be like he was at the beginning of last season for this new Milan.

Andre Silva should also see time in the future next to Piatek, he does different movement than Piatek and presses well enough to work in this formation. More importantly, he is an actual striker and not a converted winger. Not enough can be said about playing players in position, instead of playing guys very out of position, i.e. Suso and Castillejo.

When Biglia returns he should sit for Bennacer. Bennacer is a better passer, but slightly less defensive than Biglia. The passing will be more important in this formation because of how much progressive passes the defensive midfielder needs to complete. Biglia can provide defensive cover later in the game, but Bennacer fits the role in the system better.

11: Overall Thoughts

I am not sure that Suso will fit into this team. He plays a sort of deep-lying winger playmaker, which is an odd form of a winger. He has to play out wide and does not possess the right ability to play more centrally. Paqueta and Çalhanoğlu should see more time in the attacking midfielder role than Suso. The two of Paqueta and Çalhanoğlu have had actual success playing in this role, where Suso has not.

There is obvious promise in the formation because the defense and midfielders were able to create passing diamonds. Those diamonds will help progress the ball forward in future games.

Selection and misuse of players caused Milan to look stagnant, with a better eleven, expect the team to play better and actually score.