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9 Things: You Can Win a Match in Forty-Five Minutes, AC Milan vs ACF Fiorentina, 2-0

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In the days of yore, this game was a tough test. Now, La Viola is a soaked duck in the Serie A pond.

AC Milan v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs ACF Fiorentina

Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 2 2.6 15(2) 0.167 45%
ACF Fiorentina 0 0.5 5(2) 0.1 55%

This match was over at halftime. Less than a full xG was created by both teams combined in the second half and AC Milan abdicated control of the ball to ACF Fiorentina. Without any offensive drive, La Viola was entirely unable to create any dangerous shots. Their largest chance was a Franck Ribéry breakaway that was impressively swatted away by Gianluigi Donnarumma in the second half. Prior to that fifty-fourth-minute chance, Cesare Prandelli’s men generated next to nothing from open play or set-pieces. The Florentine squad buried themselves more by giving up two penalties and surrendering an easy header from the Milan captain. Non-penalty xG had both teams within 0.8 of an expected goal of each other, but that is still a comfortable advantage for the Rossoneri. This match was not particularly close and, if Milan had lost, many heads would have turned. Fiorentina is not the same Europa League hopeful they had been earlier in the previous decade. Today a Milan loss to Fiorentina would be a hammer blow to our prospects for Serie A leadership for the rest of the season. Milan did not fail in their quest for three points and dispatched the listless Fiorentini with some ease.

2: What Should We Make of Fiorentina

Fiorentina is consistently a hot topic in Serie A, and some think that the squad itself is good enough to be playing at a higher level. I am here to disagree with this sentiment. La Viola’s squad is filled with players who do one or two things well, and rarely is one of these two skills positional defending or finishing. Players like Gaetano Castrovilli, Alfred Duncan, Giacomo Bonaventura, Sofyan Amrabat, and Erick Pulgar all generate shots for or xA much more consistently than they win defensive duels. The teams attacking unit, Patrick Cutrone, Ribéry, Christian Kouamé, Dusan Vlahovic, and José Callejón all either generate a lot of xA or generate dangerous shots, but struggle to score actual goals. These imbalances lead to a fairly ineffectual team that can be contained easily. If the forwards cannot finish and the midfield cannot hold a shape, then the team will struggle to control matches (control means maintain possession and generate consistent chances). The team desperately needs a true defensive midfielder and that player will need to come from outside of the club. Unfortunately for Fiorentina, I would be shocked to see this player come to Florence anytime soon.

Rocco B. Commisso purchased the team in June of 2019 and has failed to make any meaningful improvements in the team. Since then, Fiorentina made an eight-point improvement over their previous season’s point total but did not get any closer - based on points - to finishing seventh in Serie A. Fortunately for Commisso’s investment, the team expanded their point spread from relegation. However, their season xG differential dropped in 2019/20 compared to the season prior and has only continued to get worse in the current year. Recently, Commisso has made a coaching change, but instead of signing a more modern tactical leader, he brought in a manager with a prehistoric tactical style. Prandelli wants his team to cross… a lot. Of all teams in Serie A, Fiorentina generates the second-most crosses into the box and La Viola has climbed that statistical chart at an alarming rate in the most recent matchdays. This is accompanied by a middling pass into the penalty area rate and made even worse when compared to other teams who cross a lot. Between 2002 and 2013, Prandelli had the CV to coach almost anywhere in Europe, but in these times, his historic strengths are outdated. Commisso will need to deal with this fact and it is yet to be seen if he can.

3: Ok, I Will Focus on the Match

Milan won this game through effective attacking. Daniele Bonera’s - and from a distance, Stefano Pioli’s - men had a combined 26 shot-creating actions compared to the Fiorentina team’s 8. While the second half possession was controlled by Prandelli’s side, they only generated 3 shots in forty-five minutes. There was a lack of penetration by almost every player on Fiorentina throughout the game. Their only real chance came from a breakdown on Milan’s left side of the field. I made note of Prandelli’s lack of width all match which surprised me because of the inclusion of Callejón, who plays as a true winger. The verticality of La Viola’s attack led the team to depend on positional failures of Bonera’s center-backs, but that only occurred once all match. Personally, I would have brought Pol Liroa on earlier in the match and given him more time to figure out how to exploit the wings. Fiorentina did not change their tactical plan even as substitutions occurred, and this sank their attempts to make a comeback.

4: However, Milan Controlled Their Opponents

This fixture was won by the Milan attacking quartet. None of the Fiorentina fullbacks or center-backs seemed to have a plan to stop the Rossoneri attack and were consistently victimized by the silky movement of Milan’s attack. Without midfield support for the Fiorentina backline, Bonera’s men clamped down on any of La Viola’s attempts to break out of their defensive third. The Milan press flexed its muscle and if the press was beaten, the backline and Frack Kessié redirected the ball back to the forwards. The press also rendered the Fiorentina midfield even more useless than I thought it was going to be. Because of the constant pressure, Prandelli’s midfield struggled to break the ball forward, and only succeeded for about five minutes in the first half. Bonera took his foot off the gas later in the game and gave Fiorentina more space to play in, but Prandelli’s squad was unable to take advantage.

5: Hakan Çalhanoğlu Leads The Day

Not only did the Milan attacking midfielder leads the team in non-penalty expected goal contributions, but he was also the third most progressive passing outfield player for the team. During the match, Hakan Çalhanoğlu generated 0.4 xG (90th percentile if maintained) and 0.3 xA (85th percentile if maintained) along with 409 progressive yards (95th percentile if maintained). These are impressive numbers for an individual game and will help Çalhanoğlu build on an already impressive season. His shooting numbers could always improve, but if he can end the season around 0.3 xG per 90 then he will have shown that this run of form was not a fluke. I would say he has already begun to do so, but more evidence will always silence more critiques.

6: Davide Calabria Has A Day To Forememberget?

That is a made-up word. I made up a word because I am trying out to be Dr. Seuss and because Calabria had a strange day in general. He created a whopping 686 progressive yards (99th percentile), had two shot-creating actions and a goal creating action, but he struggled to win tackles and pressures. His best quality, as I have said, is his ability to progress play, but his passing efficiency was poor in this fixture. Despite his 686 progressive yards, he only completed 65.7% of his passes. My general opinion of his game was that it was chaotic. He did some things very well and other things fairly poorly, but on a whole, he was slightly better than average.

7: He Needed A Big Game And He Did Not Have One

Fiorentina could have been the breakout match for Sandro Tonali. He was playing a midfield without structure and without a single player who is adept at tackling. Against La Viola, Tonali generated 192 progressive yards (13th percentile if maintained). That total is shockingly low especially because Ismaël Bennacer has created 457 progressive yards per match (89th percentile) and Kessié has created 294 progressive yards per match (45th percentile). In fairness to Tonali, he has had real success generating shots for teammates and has progressed the ball well in other matches. However, he has not handled starting minutes fantastically and he has struggled defensively whether he starts or is subbed on. He will most likely see out the season on Milan, but I think, developmentally, a loan move to a different league that would have taught him defense would have helped him greatly. Unfortunately, this did not happen and we have to solve the problems we have right now. I would love to see a three-man midfield with the three midfielders I have mentioned in this section, but it seems unlikely.

8: The Offense Sans Zlatan Ibrahimović

Milan has a bit of an injury bug right now, but this game was another example of what the team looks like without the Swedish talisman. I think Bonera and Pioli have the right idea in playing Ante Rebić up top and Çalhanoğlu right behind. In this scenario, the team needs more finishing talent which is easy to achieve with Rafael Leão on the left, but he has hurt this match. The larger question is what to do down the right-wing. I think Alexis Saelemaekers has been a good addition to the squad and has greatly overachieved most people’s predictions at this stage of his Milan career, but he struggles to finish. The other option, Samu Castillejo, falls into the same category as the Belgian winger. If the plan is to keep the right-winger as a true winger and keep the player wide, then these two players’ lack of finishing is acceptable, however, if that position needs to score more than the answer is simple. Play Jens Petter Hauge. There is a real chance that Hauge turns into an above-average finisher in Serie A and that would help weaponize each section of Milan’s attack. His tendency to invert, take players on, and finish chances is incredibly exciting. We will need to see more of the Norweigian man, but I think he could become one of the biggest steals of this Milan revolution.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan is now in sole possession of the highest xG differential in Serie A. At 11.0 xG differential, the team has a 1.8 xG advantage over AS Roma, who were throttled by SSC Napoli over the weekend. xG differential can help predict the stability of certain teams’ runs and this one by the Rossoneri seems maintainable to an extent. I am concerned that Milan is not creating enough non-penalty xG, as the team ranks third in the league in this regard. Milan has 5.5 xG from 7 penalty attempts this season (the team has only scored four penalties). The attacking actions that led to these penalties could be repeatable, but I would be concerned about the offense falling off and that could be enough for the team to drop points. It may be that I am being unduly alarmist but we should be aware of this possible problem. The most important takeaway is that Milan is winning the league by 5 points, has the best xG differential, and the best actual goals differential. If you are best in every major team statistical category then you are probably pretty good. I might argue that you are really good.