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9 Things: Drawing and Drawing and Drawing, AC Milan vs Genoa CFC, 2-2

Are the players aware that they do not have to start losing before they score? Did I miss a rule change?

Genoa CFC - AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs Genoa CFC

Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 2 1.5 13(4) 0.12 58%
Genoa CFC 2 1.2 10(4) 0.12 42%

This game was defined, determined, and driven by a barnstorming thirteen minutes by Mattia Destro. In this short period, the ex-Milanese striker generated 0.9 xG on two different shots and potted two goals. That span created and restored a Genoa CFC goal advantage and set the tone for the remaining thirty-minutes of the match. Unlike AC Milan, the Grifone relied on their journeyman striker to generate three-quarters of their total xG. The Rossoneri had smaller contributions from six players, with the two highest xG contributions coming from the center backs - Alessio Romagnoli and Pierre Kalulu. Stefano Pioli struggled to pull the right strings to get the attacking quartet involved and was unable to make the necessary substitutions because of injuries. These problems led to the final scoreline and both teams splitting points. It is undeniable that Milan has more individual talent when fully fit, but because of squad limitations and Destro, the teams could differentiate themselves.

2: Playing Ante Rebić and Rafael Leão Together

This tandem, without Zlatan Ibrahimović, has been a problem in recent matches. Their inability to play off of each other has led to some offensive stagnation. However, I think these two can work in a system together without Zlatan. Pioli’s insistence on playing Ante Rebić at striker and Rafael Leão on the wing is one of the core problems. The Croatian attacker’s style of play does not transition particularly well to the striker role in Pioli’s system. Rebić struggles with hold up play and can be incredibly inefficient. Leão has had more success in positions similar to this and is generally a better passer than Rebić. I think a simple swap of their positions would pay dividends and lead to greater success in future matches.

To play devil’s advocate, this swap of positions will not matter if both players cannot get back into form. I know Rebić had a successful match against UC Sampdoria, but he has been disappointing outside of a chance or two in the last two games. Leão has been equally disappointing but in less time. He has been hurt, but he has cooled down a lot from his initial explosion of form at the beginning of the season.

3: Destro Destroys His Ex

While Destro scored two goals, he had some help from his opposition. On the first goal, Franck Kessié completely misread the flight of Edoardo Goldaniga’s cross and the Ivorian flew by the ball. Inexplicably, Alessio Romagnoli abdicated his defensive responsibilities and let Eldor Shomurodov get his shot off. This gave Destro all the space he needed to properly poach the rebound and get his first goal. The Italians Second goal came from his absolute domination of Kalulu on an aerial duel and an impressive header into the floor. Both goals came from a major Milan defensive error and an utter lack of discipline. While the team was punished because of a strong finishing day for Destro, these were also preventable goals.

Those last two sentences have been written too often this season. There has been a creeping problem of defensive mistakes and a lack of aggression shown in prominent moments. Without Kjær, Milan has lacked their metronome at the back. Hopefully, the team can right the ship in the upcoming games.

4: A Little More Positivity

Davide Calabria has continued his fantastic 2020/21 season. While his goal was a lucky wonder strike, his overall play helped direct Milan into dangerous areas. I have gushed over his form in recent weeks and this was another match where his talent was fully on display. Interestingly enough, Calabria was the highest pressing player for the Rossoneri. It seems that Pioli asked the fullbacks to increase their pressing duties while asking the attacking quartet to press less. This led to a high number for Calabria, but he was still strong in his attempts. It really seems that Milan and the Azzuri have solved their right-back problem.

5: Sandro Tonali Check In

Tonali had a more promising match against Genoa, but he is still lacking in his progressive play. The young man generated a middling 221 progressive yards and did not add too much defensive structure. Sometimes, I wonder if Tonali would benefit from playing further up the pitch in the 4-2-3-1 formation, but his best role would be in a three-man midfield. The lack of structure that he adds to a midfield has been my largest concern and he has not improved greatly in this regard. Pioli should get creative with Tonali’s role and hopefully, that will unlock more of his play.

6: Milan Needs an Actual Backup

I like Dalot, I think he was treated unbelievably poorly at Manchester United. However, I am wary of his use at left-back, because, he is not one. He was acceptable at left-back against Genoa, but he had so much freedom down the left-wing of the pitch. I would have liked to see him drive more play or be more involved when it came to his role, but he was unable to direct the match. While not the most frustrating aspect of the match, it was still noticeable, especially in contrast to what Theo Hernández delivers on a weekly basis. I have not minded the Portuguese right-back’s play when he is in his natural position, but it is clear that he is not fully suited to the left-back role. I would like to see Milan actually address this problem in the next few transfer windows.

7: Wild and Whacky Substitutions

Pioli made three changes during the match and none of them worked consistently. I am not annoyed that he did not use all five because of the injuries in the squad, but I was confused by their deployment, especially one of them. Brahim Díaz for Tonali was baffling. Brahim, an attacking winger or midfielder, came on for Tonali, supposedly a defensive midfielder, and gave Milan a one-man midfield (Kessié was alone). Obviously, this was a roll of the dice by Pioli, but it did not work as intended. I did think Tonali was a substitution candidate though and I wanted to see another midfielder or support player enter the pitch. However, Brahim came on and did not add much. I am concerned by how often I am saying this about the Spaniard, but sadly, he has not shown many promising signs. He needs a jolt and I do not know where he is going to get one.

8: THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH NOT WINNING THESE MATCHES

Remember that point cushion Milan had, well it is now gone. The team lost the cushion on the backs of draws against Hellas Verona FC, Parma Calcio 1913, and Genoa. Not to be too mean to these teams, but none of them are sincerely vying for any European place in Italy. These points were thrown away, in matches where Milan won the xG battle but failed to wake up in the first half. I know this has been a common complaint of mine, but it keeps happening. The Rossoneri need to right the ship and get players back, but there is no reprieve. The next two matches are against UC Sassuolo Calcio and SS Lazio. These will be tough games and losable games. Milan needs to win them in order to hold onto their slight advantage at the top of Serie A.

9: Overall Thoughts

I am getting worried that the run is starting to lose its steam. It was always going to, but now it seems like it is a matter of matches. Hopefully, I am wrong and the team keeps winning forever, but even the strongest optimist knows that is foolish. The concern is about the fallout of this run. How good is Milan exactly and is there a chance that we have all overstated their trajectory? I still firmly believe that Pioli has created a top-four club, but I worry that we will see a stumbling end to the season once results start to break against us.

At least we do not have to deal with Manuel Locatelli next match.