AC Milan finally picked up a win after a dry run in December and into the new year. A change in formation led to two goals and three points. Here's our review of the game:
Two Strikers Work
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Leao got to start together for the first time against Cagliari and the partnership looks very promising. Ibrahimovic made an immediate impact on his full debut scoring a goal and Leao got a deflected shot in the back of the net as well. Milan had not scored in the past three game before this but managed to dig deep to beat a strong Cagliari side. The Rossoneri duo could have scored even more as Ibrahimovic connected with a header from a curling Leao cross to softly bounce of the post in the first half and the former Sweden international scored a brilliant header but was flagged offside. The duo look to be in sync and they delivered, looking forward to see them week in and week out.
After netting Milan's second goal against Cagliari away from home, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has now scored a professional goal in 4 different decades (from 1990s to 2020s). pic.twitter.com/wnPYMXAoaR— Ashmin (@ashmin777) January 11, 2020
Ibrahimovic Lands With A Bang
The veteran striker made a huge difference and the difference between him and Piatek was dire. Ibrahimovic gave Milan an immediate strength the air where Piatek failed miserably. He won most aerial duels, held the ball up well and offered a threat from set pieces. More significantly. Ibrahimovic fell deep on occasion to support the midfield in distributing the ball and was somehow the best passer on the pitch with his impeccable vision. He dribbling and close control was a huge asset in the box as he allowed players the time necessary to find space and to create opportunities.
Bennacer Growing Every Game
Bennacer is perhaps the only player who has shown significant development over the first half of the season and is one of the only consistent signings from the summer. The regista has been growing in influence controlling the tempo of games and providing cover for the defence. His interception and passing are his best skills and he was able to use this to keep Nainggolan grounded throughout the game and was able to support the runs of Calhanoglu and Castillejo deep into the opposition half. Bennacer seemed a little more flexible in the 4-4-2 as he had some more freedom going forward with Kessie able to drop back and cover the defence. The formation needs work but the signs are promising.
All the stats from today's win against Cagliari... pic.twitter.com/cvHSPfJe49— MilanData (@acmilandata) January 11, 2020
Less Possession, More Results
This might sound odd and a generalisation but this is one of the few games where Milan did not dominate the possession and managed to create more efficiently as a result. This is not to deny the merits of the possession based game in Italy but to acknowledge that tactical flexibility is a manager’s best friend given the diversity of teams, talent and styles in the Serie A. Stefano Pioli is not a tactical master by any stretch but he is managing to make the right calls and to keep it simple as the team slowly develops and grows after the terrible uncoordinated start under Marco Giampaolo.
Samu Castillejo— || || (@MilanOlogy_) January 11, 2020
• 77 touches
• 1 assist
• 2 shots on target
• 3 Interceptions
• 5/7 completed dribbles
• 4 key passes
• 85% pass accuracy
Unreal performance. pic.twitter.com/Iw3eY9Sg1M
Castillejo Makes A Strong Case
Samu Castillejo as the right sided midfielder in the 4-4-2 effectively replacing fellow Spain international Suso. The former Villareal midfielder played an incredible 90 minutes and demonstrated a key trait that Milan fans have been searching for: he played with heart and did not give up. He chased every ball, never stopped running and got a great assist setting up Leao’s opener with a searching ball. Castillejo learnt from Suso’s mistakes and put in a great shift as a result, it remains to be seen if he will get the opportunity to start regularly but he definitely deserves a shot at the job. His pace is one aspect that really helps the team but it givs him an edge on the counter and his unpredictable movements were key to playing Calhanoglu and Leao into space.