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Tactical Preview: AC Milan v Torino

Torino and its five match losing streak bring an unusual formation to San Siro.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (L) of AC Milan is tackled by Koffi...
Koffi Djidji tackles Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Coppa Italia
Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

AC Milan and Torino F.C. are set to clash on Monday, with both clubs coming off disappointing losses. Interestingly, this will be manager Moreno Longo’s second match with his new club, so changes to their tactics will be something to watch for as the season goes on. That said, here is how the Turin-based club has been operating up to this point in the season.

Torino’s Offense

Much like Inter, Torino play in a flexible formation, the 3-4-2-1, which notably has two wing backs who join the attack on offense and drop back in on defense. When on offense, the wing backs join two centre midfielders, two attacking midfielders and a lone striker. Something to keep an eye on: In Longo’s first game against Sampdoria last Saturday, Torino’s wing backs played much higher than they did under Walter Mazzarri. They dropped back less often and frequently drove toward space in the highest part of the pitch. Perhaps this new wrinkle signals the club’s desperation to turn around their dreadful form. If it continues into the new manager’s second match, AC Milan should easily exploit the wings on counter attacks.

Torino’s 3-4-2-1
ESPN+ Broadcast of Lecce v Torino

The unique part of this formation lies with the two attacking midfielders, who can play at any number of positions. There are three approaches that these attackers can take.

  1. They have the ability to push high and wide as traditional wingers.
  2. One can move up and central, doubling as a second striker.
  3. They can move out wide, playing as true outside midfielders, which allows them to easily combine with the wing backs and the central midfielders. Moving wide in this manner makes the offense much more conservative.

On paper, Torino’s offense is quite talented, but they have scored just 27 goals so far in Serie A play.

Andrea Belotti

A member of the Italian national side, Belotti is a prototypical number nine, though he is not going to wow anyone with his dribbling abilities and scores most of his goals by running onto through-balls. Belotti is incredibly proficient: he has 9 goals for the Italian National Team and has scored in almost 40% of his 197 career Serie A matches. That said, the 26-year-old has been in poor form of late, registering just an assist in his last 7 matches. Though he lacks the creative abilities of a number ten style forward, he has elite pace and can outrun most centre backs.

Simone Verdi

Verdi slots in behind Belotti as one of the attacking midfielders, though his position is extremely fluid. He is the creator for his club and often sparks dangerous chances. The midfielder has recorded a total of 29 key passes and 36 successful dribbles, both of which put him among Serie A’s elite. Verdi’s modus operandi involves finding and exploiting space high on the wings where he can whip in deadly crosses. He also has the ability to drop inside, either next to Belotti or just below him, functioning as a true center attacking mid who can play off of the striker efficiently. However, like many of his cohorts, the Italian is a paper tiger who lacks the most important statistics: goals and assists. The playmaker has scored just once and to go along with 3 assists in league play this year.

Alex Berenguer

The second of Toro’s attacking midfielders, Berenguer is a solid but unspectacular player. He is decent dribbling and passer, showcasing his ability to play through-balls with the spectacular assist below against Sampdoria.

Often, the Spaniard will play wide on the wing as a traditional left midfielder and will look to slot balls through to Belotti. He is one of the few Torino players with an impressive work rate both on offense and defense, which has helped Torino’s goal differential on more than a few occasions this season.

Tomás Rincón

Rincón is Torino’s most-capped central midfielder, having started 19 games in Serie A so far this season. The Venezuelan is never stagnant, helping out wherever he can on the pitch. His biggest flaw is his defense form: he has missed 31 tackles and has committed 44 foulsso far in league play. Though the 32-year-old puts in the effort on the offensive end, he has not been productive with only 1 goal and 2 assists through 26 club matches across all competitions.

Saša Lukić

At just 23-years-old, the young Serbian has already made 12 appearances for his country. Though he is a rising star with international potential, Lukić has not been in form of late. He is more stagnant than Rincón and is typically lined up as the right centre midfielder, playing more defensively than his partner. He is a solid defender, and would likely be more productive if played as a true CDM, his position on the Serbian national team. The youngster is not offensive-minded at all, and obviously does not make enough of an impact to aid Torino’s horrifying goals-against number. In Monday’s match at Milan, he should not make much of an impact.

Any threat coming from Torino’s offense is going to come from Verdi and Berenguer finding space and playing Andrea Belotti through behind Milan’s backline. The key to shutting down the pair is careful pressure: not diving in, but also not allowing the attacking midfielders to find open space. Whoever is playing centrally for Torino, likely Lukić and Rincón (possibly Soualiho Meïté), needs to face constant pressure. If the midfielders, who, for all their faults, can play solid long-range passes, have enough time, they can make Milan pay with a quick goal or two. Take away Belotti’s delivery service, and Torino’s lackluster attack should be sufficiently stifled.

Torino’s Defense

Playing with three centre backs and two wing backs, Torino’s defense is very similar to Inter’s. The obvious difference is the lack of defensive midfielders, caused by the existence of the two attackers below the striker. This defensive hole is compounded by the unathletic centre backs, who desperately need a true CDM to sit in front and protect the backline.

The wing backs, usually Lorenzo de Silvestri, often press too high and leave open a lane on the wing. This opening behind them makes it significantly easier to counter attack into space. Milan may find themselves in several chances where they are facing only three centre backs and a retreating wing back. The quality of Torino’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, which can be seen by the club’s 42 goals allowed, third-worst in Serie A.

Nicolas Nkoulou

Nkoulou, despite being one of Toro’s most central and most important centre backs, has not had a great season. Though he is a solid tackler who rarely dives in, the Cameroon staple often finds himself out of position.

Here, just below the semi-circle, he inexplicably steps up, leaving his man (#7) completely unmarked, which allows an open shot on goal. This is a reoccurring theme for Nkoulou, who had another disastrous sequence against Sampdoria last weekend. He lunged for a chipped cross that he was never going to intercept, leaving Gaston Ramirez unmarked in front eight yards away from the Torino goal. An easy pass from Fabio Quagliarella allowed the striker to score the totally avoidable go-ahead goal. One final note: Nkoulou does not have the pace that is needed so desperately in three-back formations.

Armando Izzo

A stain on the image of football, the centre back is perhaps best-known for his incident with match-fixing. Izzo is a prime example of the widespread corruption that still exists within FIFA and the Federcalcio. A fantastic one-on-one defender, Torino will be missing their best centre back for their upcoming match. Armando was given a straight red card in the match against Sampdoria and will be unavailable, a huge victory for the Rossoneri (and perhaps football in general).

Lorenzo de Silvestri

Playing too high in most matches, Torino’s right wing back is one of the main reasons that his backline is exposed so often on the counter attack. He is a solid contributor on the offensive end but turns the ball over an astronomical amount. He has the worst passing percentage on the team among midfielders and defenders with 72.4%. With the lacking athleticism on Torino’s backline, de Silvestri’s style of play is the last thing the Maroons need.

Ola Aina

The 23-year-old cemented himself as a starter for the Nigerian national team last summer and brought his good form to Torino. The former Chelsea man plays as the left wing back for his club and brings a solid defensive presence to the backline. Aina does not bring a whole lot to the attack besides his considerable pace; he is much better suited as a one-on-one defender. As with Lukić, the Nigerian should be playing at his true position, left back, which the Torino staff has failed to recognize despite his success their for his national team.

Far too often this season, low effort and poor positioning have marred Torino’s play. Seen in players like the aforementioned de Silvestri and Soualiho Meïté (who was rightfully benched in Moreno Longo’s first match last weekend), the Granata often lack the mental fortitude needed to play in Serie A.

Here is a prime example of Torino’s laziness and lack of desire to defend. This image is not taken from a counter attack, but from a normal build-up play. It cannot be stressed enough: this horrible defensive recovery is not from a counter attack. Torino’s midfielders and wing backs simply have no wish to defend, with Aina, de Silvestri (who is so far up he is not even in the image) and Lukic jogging behind a high speed attack. They stand ball-watching as a dangerous chance rushes by. Though Sampdoria’s Thorsby squanders the open shot, this opportunity came about simply due of blatant laziness.

To beat Torino’s troubled defense, Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessié need to dominate the midfield like they did against Inter in the first half. Torino’s lack of any true defensive midfielders, coupled with the low-end talent between Lukić and Rincón should provide this opportunity. Milan should have no problems finding Samu Castillejo on the wing or the massive Zlatan with a through-ball. Win the midfield, and the Red and Blacks should have no problem exploiting this porous backline.

Prediction

As they showed against AC Milan in the Coppa Italia, Torino is capable of putting up a fight, but the Maroons have been absolutely dreadful in their last 5 matches, giving up 20 goals. Coming to the San Siro is a daunting task, and new manager Moreno Longo will need a few tricks up his sleeve to salvage even a point against the Red and Blacks. Effort and converting offensive chances will be key for Torino, while Milan needs to focus on good defensive play and swift counter attacks. If they drop any points this match, the Rossoneri will need to do some serious soul-searching.

Final Score: Milan 3, Torino 0

Prediction record so far: (1-0)

Poll

How will AC Milan fare?

This poll is closed

  • 93%
    Milan wins
    (31 votes)
  • 3%
    Draw
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Torino wins
    (1 vote)
33 votes total Vote Now

Do you agree with this assessment? Leave your thoughts and predictions in the comments below!