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9 Things: No One Really Deserved Those Points, AC Milan vs Hellas Verona FC, 2-2

Does anyone want to win a match? It just might not be cool anymore.

AC Milan v Hellas Verona FC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs Hellas Verona FC

Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 2 3.3 33(8) 0.1 66%
Hellas Verona FC 2 1.5 7(2) 0.21 34%

I have talked about score effects before and this match was another prime example of this phenomenon. When Hellas Verona took their two-goal lead theythen immediately sat off and tried to protect their cushion. Would AC Milan have been able to make a comeback if Hellas did not completely sit off? Maybe not, but Hellas did, thereby providing one of the main reasons Milan was able to get back into the match.

This game was chaos though. A calamitous twenty-minute openingby Milan left Stefano Pioli’s men in a large hole and in desperate need of a comeback. In terms of individual chance generation, Theo Hernández, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Zlatan Ibrahimović all had high xG+xA contributions. Çalhanoğlu had seventeen shot-creating actions and created 0.8 xA in the match (those are both absurdly high). Theo and Simon Kjær led the team in progressive yards generated with both eclipsing seven-hundred yards. Davide Calabria just trailed the two in this regard, but he had a matchday to forget. Between the own goal and his inability to stop Mattia Zaccagni, the Italian fullback will need to recover after this match.

This fixture will leave both sides disappointed and both with questions about their upcoming tests. But what exactly do they need to question?

2: Set Pieces: Part 1

I have been watching Milan for well over a decade, I have been actively watching for the past seven years. In those seven years, I have never once felt confident about the team’s set-piece routines. For those of you who followed my writing last year, you will remember my complaints about Pioli setting his defensive line on top of Gianluigi Donnarumma during defensive set-piece. Milan has an issue with organization of players during set plays. On the first Hellas goal, Ivan Jurić set his team at the top right corner of the box and asked them to run towards the bottom left corner. An outswing cross was played and hit the head of Federico Ceccherini. The ball hit the post and was pounced on by Antonín Barák.

First off, Hellas set a few ‘pick’ runs (pick is being used here in basketball terms). That run is meant to separate defensive markers from their offensive counterpart, or even separate the box into chunks. This happened to Kjær and Theo and they both failed to cover either of their two men, with both opting for a vague shadowing. They both failed to shadow properly with both overcommitting to the ‘pick’ run set ahead of them. When that happened, the likelihood of a dangerous chance against rose. Once the ball headed toward Theo, a player not known for his aerial success, the danger became apparent. Now, Ceccherini absolutely nailed this header, but the ball should not have gotten to him in the first place. These ‘pick’ runs have befuddled Milan and the team needs to learn how to implement more defensive discipline during corners.

3: Set Pieces: Part 2

In this set piece I have more of an issue about where the initial defensive line was set. Milan’s defensive posture was created on top of the six-yard box. Hellas started their attackers deeper in the box and this allowed them to run onto any ball lofted into the box. Again, Barák was able to reach the initial cross and his header fell to just outside the box and Zaccagni latched onto the ball. Unfortunately for Milan and fortunately for Zaccagni, Calabria decided to try and block the shot. I am against this decision for a wide variety of reasons, but my largest problem is how dangerous attempted blocks are from this distance. To be clear, Calabria actively went to block this shot, the ball did not simply hit him, he stuck a foot out. Shots from outside the box are not particularly dangerous. This was a volley so this shot is even less dangerous than a controlled shot from outside the box. Attempting to block this shot only increased the likelihood of a goal occurring because players are so likely to deflect the ball out of the path of their goalie. That was exactly what happened and Milan had a two-goal deficit.

4: At Least They Started to Turn The Table

The Rossoneri did recuperate after these two goals and from minute twenty-four to halftime the team took six shots inside the box and did not surrender another Hellas shot. Milan then had another twenty-minute period of domination in the middle of the second half that saw ten shots from inside the box, a hit post, and one penalty (which was missed). For a team to get back into a match these types of stretches are necessary. It would have been easy to sit off and shut down after an early one-two punch of goals, instead, the team continued to attack and they attacked well. Sadly, there was a lack of finishing and a few wasted golden opportunities, but this match showed spirit in this regard.

5: You Scored a Goal and Were Instrumental in the Comeback, But You Missed a Penalty

Zlatan had a chaotic day. Without him, the team certainly would not have gotten close to making this comeback, however, he missed a penalty in an astounding fashion and had a goal waved off from a foul he committed. I think he deserves a small amount of blame and a larger amount of credit. He was incredibly dangerous all match and showed his shot generating abilities. The issue was how wasteful he was. Missing a penalty is generally inexcusable. So while I think he played well, I would not go as far as to say that he had a man-of-the-match style performance.

6: On the other hand,Hakan Went Supernova

If you need to make a comeback in a match, look no further than Hakan. He absolutely came alive in the second half and his influence on the match grew exponentially. I have spoken about his statistical work already, but it is important to understand how impressive his work was. At last season’s end, the highest average shot-creating actions per match by one player was Kevin De Bruyne with 5.9. Hakan had 17 against Hellas Verona. If a shot occurred for Milan, there was a fifty percent chance that Hakan was involved. Of his 17 shot-creating actions, 12 were primary shot assists. Of the 12 primary shot assists, 9 came in the box. His unbelievable success in this regard generated himself 0.8 xA, which again is absurdly high. The Turkish International is having a season to remember in terms of chance creation. Against Hellas Verona, he hit a new level.

7: I Have Been Positive About Calabria, Now I Need to Be Negative

He had a bad game. The own goal was terrible but he struggled to hold players in front of him all game and did not control his flank particularly well. I was disappointed to see how porous he was and how ineffective his pressuring was. He was incredibly active from a statistical standpoint, but that was because of how much he was targeted by Hellas and because Milan was bypassing its midfield most of the match. He was around a 34% success rate in pressure success and tackle success. He had high progressive yardage, but a low passing success rate. Overall, he was highly involved but was sloppy in his execution. It was a bad day. I think it will be only one bad day.

8: Rafael Leão Struggled As Well

The young man had a tough match and looked idealess for long stretches. Leão carried the ball well but that was about the extent of his impact on the match. He struggled to attack and passed poorly. He had a decent day in terms of ball progression, but the rest of his skill set was not shining brightly. Leão has been on unbelievable form recently, so I am not overly concerned, but his lack of impact was noticeable.

9: Overall Thoughts

You have to win these matches to win the Scudetto. I am starting to worry that every team that has their hopes on a title this year will fumble so often early on that Juventus FC will still win the league. This happened in the Bundesliga last season and could easily happen in Serie A this season. One of the chasing teams will need to differentiate themselves and there is no reason why it cannot be Milan. The team needs to remain focused and look forward to a massive match against SSC Napoli. If Milan wins that match then their title hopes go up once again. This will be a season-altering week for the Rossoneri. A win against Napoli and LOSC Lille would set Milan up for a fantastic December and keep the team marching into January and beyond.