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9 Things: A Marginal Penalty Call Leads to a Tough Match, AC Milan vs Udinese Calcio, 2-1

Another contentious penalty call makes an uneventful match a nervy affair

Udinese Calcio v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs Udinese Calcio

Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 2 1.1 12(4) 0.09 60%
Udinese Calcio 1 1.1 8(1) 0.13 40%
FBref Data

While xG for most models, including FBrefs, say that this game should have been a draw, I am going to take a different stance. Alessio Romagnoli’s penalty against was, in my opinion, weak. He made contact with the ball and it seemed that he had the right to that space ahead of Ignacio Pussetto, but he was still called. Without this penalty, Udinese Calcio created a lowly 0.4 xG from all other actions. However, AC Milan still left a lot on the table. This was the third Serie A match in a row where the Rossoneri struggled to separate themselves from their opponents on xG. Now, this fixture has the caveat of another dubious penalty call, but the team continued to be wasteful. Per Enrico|Statified Football, Milan generated 1.58 NSxG (non-shot xG), which is a measure of the danger of all attacks, even if they do not lead to a shot. Stefano Pioli’s men comfortably won this stat. Problematically, the team failed to generate more shots. Because of the lack of shots, the xG total for both teams remained level. Milan has dominated matches in the past, and this could have been another, but the penalty call and Milan’s failure to generate shots from promising attacks led to a tight game.

2: Twenty-Four Games In a Row

Milan has not lost for a long time and the team seems poised to push on for at least the next few games. By the end of 2019-20, the team led their xG battle 25.4 xG For to 14.4 xG Against. The 11.0 xG difference over this period would provide almost all of the Rossoneri’s xG Differential last season. But the team was not done with their run at the end of last season. At the current point in this unbeaten stretch, Milan has created 48.4 xG For and allowed 25.7 xG Against. That stands at a whopping 22.7 xG Differential. The xG Differential over this twenty-four game stretch would rank sixth in xG Differential compared to all Serie A teams in the ‘19-20 campaign. More importantly, Milan has won nineteen of these games and has come close to maximizing their point total. The team has been the pacemaker in Italy for almost a full year and this stretch has put down a crucial point haul for the future of the team.

These have not all been cakewalk matches either. Through this run, Milan has impressive victories against Juventus FC, FC Internazionale, and SS Lazio. By xG, Pioli’s side obliterated Cagliari Calcio, AC Sparta Prague, and Bologna FC 1909 two different times. Now, I am unsure that the squad has the stamina to finish an entire season without defeat, but we should celebrate how this period has gone. For the first time in years, the team is collecting victories against the top clubs in Italy with consistency. Hopefully, the San Siro can be filled with fans wearing red and black on Tuesday and Wednesday nights next season.

3: Simon Kjær, eh?

When Paolo Maldini signed the Danish center back, I thought this was a stop-gap move. Evidently, Kjær has proved me and many other people wrong. Against Udinese, he had his hand in a bit of every aspect of the match. Astoundingly, Kjær generated the most progressive yards of any player with 712. If he maintained this rate over a season then this yard total would rank in the 97th percentile of all center backs. Adding to this impressive ball movement, he had the second-most tackles of any Milan player during the match. His success in the current backline has plugged a previously large hole and he has shined brightly this season.

Data FBref

4: Romagnoli Continues His Questionable Form

I wrote earlier that the penalty call was dubious, but it was nowhere near as questionable as the Ismaël Bennacer call the match week prior. Besides the unfortunate visibility of the penalty, Romagnoli was generally silent and minimally involved all match. The penalty surrender was obviously the lowlight of the match, but his overall match contribution was limited. This made the last few matches, where he struggled immensely, more concerning. His performance since his return from injury has not settled any concerns. Hopefully, we see him return to his absolute best against LOSC Lille. He will be tested and needs to be ready to stop the oncoming French side.

5: The Attacking Midfielders Disappear

While Hakan Çalhanoğlu generated four shots and had 360 progressive yards (around 84th percentile), he and his attacking colleagues were fairly innocuous all match. The starting trio of Hakan, Alexis Saelemaekers, and Rafael Leão struggled to generate attacks and turn their high level of possession into actual shots. Now, each player generated xG or xA, but this was because of the success of Ibrahimović. It seemed that this trio was slightly idealess and struggled to combine to make fluid attacking actions. Without the influence of Milan’s attacking players, the game was played between the backline, the defensive midfielders, and Ibrahimović. I was surprised to see the struggles of this attacking unit as each player has had strong matches in recent memory, but their lackluster performances were one of the key reasons that the Milan possession did not turn into much. I do not expect this trend to continue, but it is important to note.

6: I Would Struggle To Get Up After A Bicycle Kick… I am Twenty-Three

So besides the spectacular, which was spectacular, Ibrahimović had an influential match, to put it lightly. He ended this fixture with a goal and an assist. By match end, he generated 0.4 personal xG and 0.1 xA and had three shot-creating actions. Obviously, his match-winning bicycle kick stole the headlines across the planet. I mean, he scored that goal at thirty-nine. In comparison, I almost dislocated my shoulder doing a core workout recently. Obviously, we are not similarly skilled athletes. His play on his goal was a moment of spectacular brilliance and a show of urgency. The team needed that goal and he only had one option to reach that ball. It was an acrobatic goal by a man who keeps on surprising me.

7: Bennacer huh

This kid has had one of the most dominating weeks I have seen in a while. Obviously, Milan was always poised to beat Sparta Prague, but Bennacer put on a show in that match and continued it against Udinese. I gush over him almost every week, but his performance was match altering. Bennacer generated a whopping 636 progressive yards, had two shot-creating actions, one goal-creating action, and won eight of his fourteen pressures. Insanely, he did all of this in fifty-four minutes. This could have been a defining match for Milan’s number four. It is also important to say his success was joined by his companion Franck Kessié. The two of them dominated the Udinese midfield three and broke through them with ease. In a funny moment, Bennacer’s pass to Ibrahimović led to the Kessié goal. For whatever offensive concerns I had, I was incredibly happy to see the team’s defensive midfielders dominate.

8: Keeping It In the Midfield, Sandro Tonali Has a Much Better Day

Tonali played the thirty-four minutes that Bennacer did not, and he continued the Algerian’s progressive play. The young Italian generated 301 progressive yards and had one shot-creating action. Defensively, he was still problematic. He won one of his ten pressures, did not attempt a tackle, and struggled to hold his positioning. I expected some defensive concerns over his initial introduction to the Milan side, but his very early struggles to push play really concerned me. However, Tonali showed his range against Udinese and helped push play in the right direction. Hopefully, he continues to show his abilities in the upcoming fixtures.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan had been leading the xG Differential stat in Serie A prior to this week. Currently, the team is in third, passed by AS Roma and SSC Napoli. This is not the time to worry, but Milan has not convincingly beaten opponents by xG in three matches. It seems that this has been driven by the defense more than the offense (Milan’s offense ranks third in the league, the defense ranks fifth). This can be explained by two poorly awarded penalties, but we should not shrug away this fact. On the bright side, Milan is in strong company at the moment, and staying close to the top of the xG Differential chart will always bode well for a team’s Scudetto chances. The match against Udinese showed some true grit from the team and will hopefully spur on more gutsy victories. Teams cannot qualify for the Champions League, let alone win the league, in a day. However, these were the type of matches that recent Milan teams have struggled to win. This team won that type of game.