AC Milan lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation for the second time in a row with Kjaer and Romagnoli marshalling the troops from their centre back spots. Calabria replaced the suspended Andrea Conti and Theo started from the left. In midfield, Kessie and Bennacer had Samu to the right and Rebic playing off of the left hand side of the green pristine grass.
Milan looked to overturn their horrendous record in the first leg of cup competitions which had seen Il Diavolo win two out of sixteen encounters during that stage of the competition. Juventus on the other hand, will look to recreate history from recent encounters: the most recent being the blatant destruction of Milan during Gattuso era.
Juve lined up in a 4-3-3 with Bonucci and De Ligt occupying both centre half spots. De Sciglio and Alex Sandro flanked from the back while Ramsey and Matuidi played on either side of Miralem Pjanic in midfield and through to an attacking trident of Ronaldo, Dybala and Cuadrado. Today much like Sunday, Milan lined Çalhanoğlu up behind Zlatan. Unlike the tactical nous of that encounter, Pioli decided to recycle attacks through the middle of the park: opting for a more patient approach.
In the first thirty minutes, Juve looked to play through Milan’s press and did so with great success but generally lacked the end product to make it stick: coming closest with Cuadrado’s effort in the third decade of the first half. Pondering passes sideways and backwards, the old lady relied squarely on Dybala in the transition: and he delivered to a large extent, finding passes and dictating play upfront.
In response to Juve’s patient build up, Milan often looked to find space on the counter and use the pace of Castillejo or Rebic: entirely bypassing the midfield and trying to switch the direction of the attack through Hakan Çalhanoğlu. In the first 45 minutes, Milan attempted to exploit lapses in concentration within the Juve ranks and Juve looked to build up patiently and unlock the Milan rear guard with the individual qualities of Ronaldo and Dybala
Although Juve dominated possession during the first period, Milan always looked more likely to score. On a less positive note for the Milanese, yellow cards to Zlatan and Theo means that Milan are bound to travel to Turin, a much depleted side: without two of their most effective attacking outlets.
In the second half, Milan came out the much better side: winning battles in the midfield and playing at searing pace. Just like they had in the first period, Juve tried to play through the middle but for every wave of attack and every pass threaded towards Dybala, Milan had a response.
In the 61st minute, after yet another attacking wave, Milan’s play on the edge of the area went through Çalhanoğlu who shanked the ball into space and Castillejo on the right. One perfectly weighted ball later, the ball went through Zlatan’s early leap and into the stealthy Rebic who got a second goal in as many games for the Rossoneri.
By the time Theo was sent off for his challenge on Dybala on the 71st minute, Juve were simply pedantic. Predictably they switched from left to right and only picked up the pace when Milan were reduced to ten men. Eventually, a well lofted cross from Bentacur on the right was met by Cristiano Ronaldo’s acrobatic effort which came off Calabria’s arm and was called as a penalty.
Milan will take many positives from this encounter into the next Serie A game versus Torino this weekend.