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9 Things: I Use My Hands To Wipe My Tears, Milan versus Inter, 2-4

Ugh.

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

Fret not all ye who feel sad, for thine AC Milan playeth not terribly.

As you can see below, based on expected goals, Milan wins this game 53% of the time.

I do not want to say that Milan deserved to win, you cannot give up four unanswered goals and say you deserved to win. What I do want to say is that there are positives. The Nerazzurri displayed incredible finishing against Milan. Their goals were highlight-worthy but not because of their actual build-up play. Milan did well to press high, cut off the wing play from Inter, and go direct to Ibrahimovic. The derby was another strong showing from Rebic, Ibrahimovic, Samu, Kessie, and Bennacer. Those five played well throughout the game. The struggles Milan faced came from about everyone else.

Some of the most notable expected numbers come from Rebic and Zlatan. Their link-up play defined the attack for Milan at the end of the first half. The two led the team in expected goals, and Zlatan had a high expected assist total. He had a fantastic game. Samu and Paqueta also had high expected assist numbers. Paqueta’s expected assist numbers are even more impressive because he only played fifteen minutes. It was a strong performance from him, and I would still like to see him have more playing time.

2: But Why Did Milan Lose?

Some shooting luck, some complacency, some poor play. Inter’s second half was about steadily chipping away at Milan and scoring three goals on four shots. Usually, that has to do with luck or some amazing efforts on goal, Inter Milan had the latter. The Brozovic goal is a strike that he will most likely never hit again (this goal is one that he should frame in his house). Vecino’s goal begins with poor defending from Andrea Conti, who failed to stay in line with the defense. Donnarumma then has a moment of suspect goalkeeping, chasing Sanchez. Vecino’s shot then nutmegs Kjaer. On De Vrij’s goal, he is running away from the goal and flicks the ball over Donnarumma and just below the bar. I would be surprised if he scores this again for many years (another goal that should be framed).

The result was not all luck. Inter shut down Milan, but there were some world-class finishes here. Sometimes the game simply does not go your way. However, Milan failed to play well in the second half.

3: Let’s Take it Back to the Start

Crazy to think the game ended 2-0 and the match ended at halftime, crazy. I kid, I kid, but there is a lesson with what Milan did in the first half. Milan defended in a 4-4-1-1, with Hakan and Zlatan staying forward for quick breakouts. In attack, Milan functioned as a 4-2-3-1, with Rebic becoming incredibly inverted and Samu having the freedom to move where he would like along the right-wing. Theo took over the left-wing to cross, and Conti joined the two holding midfielders, Bennacer and Kessie. Milan’s formation kept them narrow in defense, and the intention was to place the four primarily attacking players inside of Inter’s passing triangles and to limit ball movement to the wings. Milan stayed narrow in order to keep Inter from going wide. It was a smart tactic to limit what Conte wants his offense to do. Milan’s most successful period of pressing led to their two goals.

What also worked was the Zlatan and Rebic pairing. These two are on the verge of forming a strong attack duo, the likes of which Milan has not had since Balotelli and El Shaarawy (or Pazzini and El Shaarawy). The two attackers are creating chances together and are assisting each other brilliantly. It’s good to see that Milan has an offense up and running.

Also, Forza Il Pazzo!

4: I Guess We Should Talk About the Second Half

Soccer is dumb and no one should like it, the same can be said about Inter.

The lion’s share of Inter’s expected goals come from minute fifty on. What changed? Simply enough, the wingbacks for Inter got involved. When Inter began to stretch Milan, Brozovic came alive. Inter wanted to run down Milan’s flanks with their wingbacks, allow the two midfielders on either side of Brozovic to enter the box, then play a cross. It did not work until the fiftieth minute, and then it really worked. At this point, Milan’s press fell apart, and arguably its most important role, played by Hakan, stopped being effective. In the first half, Brozovic had been man-marked out of the game, which made it hard for him to whip passes around. After Vecino scored, Hakan was a no-brainer sub to me. Unfortunately, Pioli kept him on the field and Brozovic continued to operate.

Inter also stayed true to the 3-5-2 in the second half. They did not change from their plan at all. It paid off. Milan stopped generating offense and the team fell into a long offensive silence for most of the rest of the game. The giant success of the first half was neutralized and the team could no longer break out. Hakan went from being poor in an offensive sense, to being invisible. The inverted wingers no longer worked, and the team suffered. Coaching errors piled up, and Milan’s misery grew.

5: Pioli Sinks the Ship

For forty-five minutes, Pioli looked like a genius. The ensuing forty-five minutes, he did not. Milan had fallen out of its attacking strategy and was hemmed into the defensive third. From minute fifty to minute eighty, Pioli watched Milan get suffocated. The core issue for Milan was that Hakan had lost his matchup with Brozovic. Pioli did not take off the Turkish International and Milan paid dearly. Milan needed a defensive change and to reinstitute the zonal marking of the first half. Hakan’s role was key to this coverage and it is no surprise that as Hakan stopped performing, so did Milan.

6: Hakan Calhanoglu’s Problems as A Player Are Apparent

Hakan was part of the success in the first forty-five minutes. He did well to float around the top of the box and helped generate some passing. However, in the second half Hakan fell into problems that have plagued him throughout his career. Hakan would consistently drift out of games and become nonessential in orchestrating attacks. He simply disappears for long stretches. His stamina can come into question as well. This is an odd complaint because he plays ninety minutes a lot. Hakan struggles to press effectively if he cannot simply sprint at people. His positioning awareness is a problem. Teams that press effectively and players that press effectively will focus more on positioning than running when they get tired. Hakan struggles at that. He failed to mark Brozovic for the entirety of the second half. That failure allowed Inter to reinstitute their attack against Milan from minute fifty to minute eighty.

I understand why Hakan started for the Derby. He had been on a shooting bender, however, he was dreadful against Inter. I call for him to be dropped a lot, and his performance in the second half is another example of my reasoning. He does not offer enough.

7: Kessie and Bennacer Double Pivot

This is my last tactical breakdown point from this game, and I wanted it to be positive. I think this pivot has been successful for Milan. Bennacer is able to play progressive passes and dribble up the field, while Kessie provides cover. It is smart to pair these two and they have done well playing off each other. Bennacer is the more important of the two players, but what Kessie provides in cover allows Bennacer to be the player he is. I thought the two of them played well during the game.

This plot shows you that Bennacer is an elite ball progressing player. It also says that Bennacer dribbles a lot, which is surprising for his position.

8: Overall Thoughts

Sadness.

So, here is the cognitive dissonance with analytics. Milan put up more expected goals, and if you replay this game with the same chances, Milan probably wins. However, I do not think Milan played well. You simply cannot give up four unanswered goals and think of yourself as playing well. Pioli is not free from blame either. Making a sub can be like taking a timeout. A fresh body can help reimplement a press, give new life to a side, or go onto the field and deliver a new message to the team. Pioli failed to respond to the Inter double, and instead waited until his substitutes had only ten minutes to rescue the game. Generally, you should make your fist sub between minutes sixty and seventy. Another should come five minutes after. Pioli waited too long and hurt Milan.

I do think that there are positives from this game. Milan won the expected goals battle. Pioli made a good game plan. Rebic and Zlatan seem to be generating a good partnership. Bennacer continued to be Bennacer. I think Milan is getting closer to a team that can challenge some of the best teams in Italy. I am disappointed, a little angry, and definitely frustrated that we lost, but I do not feel a sense of dread. This is not like the heart of the banter era where the players and the coaches were all bad. Right now, only the coach and two players on the pitch frustrate me. The other nine on the field have legitimate ability. Something is building here.

Also, I hope Milan hires Marcelino.

9: Planning for Juventus

This will not be an every week thing, but for big games I will write something in preparation. I have time to watch a lot of games and I like you all, so I want you to know what to look for.

So, Juventus. They are probably the third-best team on the planet. Milan is not first or second. Juventus’ weakness is that they can lose games, not have other teams beat them. Whether that is Sarri picking a poor eleven, or the players themselves playing poorly, the Biaconerri have the facility to beat themselves. Tactically, the way to beat Juve is to mark Dybala out of the game and then mark out the fullbacks. Force the midfielders to break down the centerbacks and do not let Ronaldo get on the end of crosses. Play two low blocks of defenders and make Juventus play into the low blocks, do not set them up in the middle of the Juventus formation. If the goal is to press, then place a player on Pjanic and press the fullbacks. You still must mark Dybala out of the game. It is a little spread at this point, but, yet again if Bennacer plays well and the person marking Pjanic plays well then you can beat Juventus. You might have to hope that Ronaldo does not stay hot or that one of their players has an individual moment of brilliance. Also, if Dybala goes into La Joya mode then you might as well pack it up. He is untouchable when he is on that form.

Also, if you do not watch the Copa90 derby days then I highly recommend them. They are awesome videos and infinitely cool. It makes you think about soccer outside of the top five leagues, or about derbies outside of the major clubs in the top five leagues. Here is a link to one of the videos.