Another match, another painful way for AC Milan to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Against Torino on Thursday, all signs seemed to point upward - manager Marco Giampaolo had seemed to come to his senses and once again started what seems to be his strongest lineup of players: in came Theo Hernandez (for his debut) and Ismaël Bennacer, and Rafael Leão kept his strike partnership with Krzysztof Piatek.
Listed as 4-3-1-2, the lineup tended to play more is a 4-3-3 in possession, with Suso again pulling strings on the right wing while pushing inside. Additionally, Leão seemed to have freedom to wander into the middle to take advantage of any space he could find.
And then we all know how the match ended - defensive lapses and some poor decisions from Gigio Donnarumma handed Milan the 2-1 loss.
Now I know that this is supposed to be a preview of the Fiorentina match, and all I’ve been doing is talking about last match’s formation. And that, friends, is something I’m doing on purpose - that lineup worked.
Before you yell at me - check out everything but the score. Milan outshout Torino 16-8 (double!), with 10 of Milan’s shots coming inside the box, and they won the xG battle 1.77-1.27. Milan lost for many reasons - Piatek scrubbing chances, shambolic defending (at times), and Donnarumma uncharacteristically being bad. But the process worked. And that’s why Giampaolo would be smart to do it all again.
Why’s It Work?
It’s become immediately clear why Giampaolo pushed for Bennacer this summer - the kid is incredibly calm on the ball and has a way of not only finding space to receiving, but finding it to distribute as well. Providing the link between defense and attack, Bennacer is allowing Milan to calmly play out of the back and quickly break the press as they advance.
Secondly, Rafael Leão is a revelation. The kid seems to have a sixth sense for making runs, and finds himself in the right place to both create chances and take some of his own. He should be seeing regular time as a starter.
And lastly, as much as I love Ricardo Rodriguez, it might be time for Theo Hernandez to start seeing minutes at left back. The kid can hold his own defensively, and offers a legitimate option wide in the attacking third. Giampaolo’s system puts a solid responsibility on the fullbacks to provide width - Theo gives Milan some threat that Ricky Rod hasn’t been able to this season.
So What Am I Watching For?
- lsmaël “Moby Dick” Bennacer. As mentioned, he’s going to be the key link between the back line and the attack. Fiorentina play a high press in what’s generally a 5-3-2. The high 2 press along with one of the middle 3, whichever side the ball is on, press high whenever a team is playing out from the back. As the ball recycles, space opens in the middle, which Bennacer should be able to exploit should the ball find him. Maybe I should reread that book though...
- The rest of the midfield. I’ve yet to be overly impressed with the 8s this season, not to even mention Suso as a roaming trequartista/right wing. Bennacer will get them the ball, that shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s on them to find the final ball. That’s seemed to the main issue so far this year, so I’m going to be paying attention to the specifically the decisions that Kessié and Calhanoglu make once they have the ball. If they can find the strikers in deep, shots will come.
- Il Pistolero. Piatek has very much not been enjoying his football this season. My guy had 6 non-penalty shots against Torino, and only one of them ended up on target. One game is not a habit, but Piatek wreaks of a striker getting in his own head right now. If all goes according to plan, the #9 should continue getting his shots - I have a feeling that he’ll only need one to go in and the floodgates will open. But if it doesn’t? Could be a long fall for the Rossoneri.
All stats provided by Wyscout.