1: What the Analytics Said
Milan won, and comfortably. The expected goal production of Milan suggests that they win this game seventy-two percent of the time. This falls in line with the games against Sassuolo, Sampdoria, and Torino. The difference between this game and the three others? Milan won. Donnarumma is slightly to blame for the score line, the first Udinese goal is from a bad play by the Milan goalkeeper. The Lasagna chances, other than the goal, are from angles and while being challenged. The Mandragora chance is the most dangerous moment that Udinese created. Donnarumma was expected to give up one goal, instead he gave up two.
Rebic’s first goal was Milan’s most dangerous chance, Samu’s chance right before was Milan’s second most dangerous chance. In one run of play Milan added 0.8 of a goal. For about a minute of play, that is very strong. Milan did this by flooding the box with attackers and playing risky through balls. There will be days where these passes do not work, but there will be many more days where they do and Milan wins by more. This is a positive step in the Milan attacking game plan.
2: Ante Rebic Has Arrived
OH, LOOK AT THAT, WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED THAT HE IS GOOD.
Ok I don’t need to gloat but thank you Rebic for letting me take a victory lap.
So why was Rebic so good today? He is a left forward and can play as a supportive attacker. A narrow trident with Rebic, Leao, and Zlatan lets all three attackers play to their skills. Rebic’s movement allows him to pop up in space or make runs down the wing, Leao can dribble for years, and Zlatan is the shooter. Rebic’s interpretation of space allowed him to exploit gaps in front of him. Without his reading of the game, I expect that Milan would have continued to stutter. He played down the left but incredibly central. Bonaventura was being asked to do the same thing, but Rebic was more attacking than Bonaventura. Rebic entered the box more than Bonaventura who spent more time trying to play as a left midfielder who would move into the trequarista role in attack. Rebic’s attacking tendencies pushed him into the box to strike and support other strikers. Rebic’s play allowed Milan to set up in a very fluid 4-2-4. Pioli deserves heaps of credit for throwing caution to the wind and trying to attack as aggressively as possible.
Both of Rebic’s shots were quality finishes. He found space in the box for the first goal and ran onto a good cross from Conti, which was on the floor. Rebic’s second goal came from he saw that the Udinese defense had collapsed onto the goalie and opened space to the left. He exploited that space and scored. Good soccering there (yeah soccering is not a word, but I am happy, Dr. Seuss made up words).
3: But What About the Rest of the Attack
Today was not Zlatan’s best day. When he joined into build up, Milan immediately created a chance. However, he spent large swaths isolated from the rest of buildup play and not particularly doing anything. I am concerned that this could be what an off performance by Zlatan looks like. Little involvement, waiting for the game to come to him, mainly there for headers, or the odd long-range shot. While he still had a big chance, his expected assist was below 0.05. That is a big dip from his previous performance.
The story is about Leao’s, Samu’s, and Rebic’s play. I have already talked about Rebic but it is important to recognize how well Leao and Samu played. Leao led the team with expected assists today, about a goal worth. While his dribbles were great to generate space, his passing stole the show. He and Samu linked up inside of the box for one of Milan’s biggest chances. Leao also had a shot assist to Zlatan that was very dangerous. This last run of form has been strong support striking from the young man. Leao could easily maintain his form for a long stretch.
Samu’s most notable moments were when he turned on the jets and run up field. His Maradona move to start a counter was obviously fantastic, but it was his play after the move that was more impressive. The run he made took him towards the penalty area, and he kept his passing or shooting options open. In other attacks he passed to continue moves or ran into space. If he passed, he then went into the box to try to cause issues for Udinese’s centerbacks. That is what wingers should be doing. He played in support when he could, and that allowed him to have about half of an expected assist and goal. He wants to be in the box, and that is good.
Samu Castillejo forces two Udinese players to reconsider each of their life choices with one flick pic.twitter.com/hHO40csaNK— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) January 19, 2020
4: Theo Hernandez Loves to Score
What a hit, what a goal, what a player. Theo is getting better at the defensive side of the game and is maintaining his scintillating form. I am a big fan of the Frenchman now. The new formation lets him stride up the field, cross to more targets, or float around the box. These will all help him contribute to attack more, which means we can expect more scoring or assists from him. He provides an added goal scoring threat, and now his overall game is becoming more complete.
Theo Hernandez with a brilliant volley ☄️— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 19, 2020
The left back is AC Milan’s top scorer this season! pic.twitter.com/x3hsB2WkZB
5: The Other Fullback: Conti
Bizarre game from him. In the fifteen minutes before and after halftime, he was great. Almost every other minute was erratic for better or worse. He was progressive but struggled to track back. He crossed well but stopped in the last half an hour of the game. He had an assist but was caught flat footed and late for Lasagna’s goal. I am fine if he wants to attack a lot, but he again struggled to track. His defensive play to halt an Udinese counter was fantastic, and I am glad to see him duel that well. However, he did not support Kjaer who was struggling mightily. Lasagna’s attacks were handled poorly by Kjaer but, as I have already said, Conti is not absolved from blame. He was the one caught up field and tracking poorly. His defensive issues, and ability to run, remain major signs of concern. The Lasagna goal is terrible marking from Conti. Lasagna is always going to run towards the penalty spot. Conti was behind the play and allowed Lasagna to get around him. Just poor awareness.
6: Kjaer Has A Day to Forget
I liked the Kjaer purchase as backup. He is more of a passer than Romagnoli, but today showed that Romagnoli is the much better defender in duels. Kjaer struggled with Lasagna and the balls over the top. Kjaer struggled to run with any attacking players. It was evident that Udinese’s game plan was to target Kjaer in attack. I would have done exactly the same thing. While Kjaer made one good clearance of a cross, he struggled to see the danger around him. The Lasagna play happened multiple times, and Kjaer struggled with it every time. It was poor play overall from the debutant.
The tweet is about Donnarumma, but the video shows how Kjaer was behind the play.
imagine not extending Donnarumma ’s contract @ dinipic.twitter.com/i7eJLAZJTZ— Karim (@Piateknique) January 19, 2020
7: Donnarumma’s Strange Day
The first goal is the exact reason why I do not support the idea of a sweeper keeper. Donnarumma is not particularly good with the ball at his feet, so for him to do about anything other than stopping shots is of concern to me. His over commitment there caused a goal to occur, and that is directly his fault.
But then he made save after save. The Mandragora chance is by far the best and hardest of the saves. If Donnarumma had stayed within his net Milan could have had a more comfortable 3-1 win instead of the crazy match we ended up seeing.
Never a good moment when a picture like this is taken.
8: Kessie’s Role
This is a reaction to some tweets I saw criticizing his lack of touches and passes. People have been unhappy with his lack of involvement throughout the season. Here is what I understand and appreciate from Kessie’s game. Kessie is a box to box midfielder. He was not always part of the action today, because his role does not dictate that. When he plays, the two wingers are meant to move more centrally, and the support striker is meant to drop into the gap behind the other striker. Kessie is either then supposed to help Bennacer with cover or run into the box.He can do this successfully without being on the ball. He could always be more involved, but his role is not passing oriented.
9: Overall Thoughts
The offense is coming back in a big way. Milan has now scored two or more goals in three games in a row. Milan needed attacking ability and the new formation enabled players like Zlatan, Rebic, Samu, and Leao to play together at their best. Both wingers are meant to cut centrally, the support striker can free roam or drop back a bit to help support the more traditional number nine. Bennacer can have free rein to move where he needs to be to progress play up field. Theo and the right back can bomb up the field as much as wanted to help with crossing and width. Milan finally has a system that fits modern attacking soccer. We saw two different formations against Udinese, but they are still similar. Rebic’s role in the second half made him more of a forward, compared to what Bonaventura was doing in the first half. The potential growth in the 4-4-2 seems high so there is no reason to stop it now. The team that started the second half was strong and should be most of the starters next week, but with Mussachio and Calabria instead of Kjaer and Conti.
Everyone should wish as hard as they can so that Milan can purchase Dani Olmo. He assists like a mad man and was fantastic in the Champions League. He is certifiably one for the future and would be one of our best attackers already.
My Mom wanted me to say onward and 4-4-2-ward to Brescia.