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9 Things: Games can be boring and still be worth three points, Milan versus Torino 1-0

A slow day in the office but still a win. Rebic’s goal maintains his shooting bender. Kessie has a standout performance.

Franck Kessie of AC Milan in action during the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

So, we are back to Understat for the expected goals model. They get their data from Opta.

Here are the hard-cutting analytics. Milan scored, Torino did not, boom! Analysis. Actually, Milan played well to shut down Torino’s attempts to break out of the back. Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA for short) measures how many passes Milan (or any team) allowed the opposition to make before a player enters a defensive duel. Milan averages an allowance of 9.07 passes before a duel happens, against Torino it was 6.12. That’s a full pass less than Getafe, who average the most aggressive press in the world at 7.14. Milan’s plan was to press Torino out of the game and keep the field short. It worked.

Individually, Samu Castillejo was sublime. He led the team in expected goals (0.49) and expected assists (0.75). Zlatan had 0.46 of an expected goal output and Rebic had 0.39 of an expected goal output. After that, it gets quiet. The output from the rest of the team was not particularly great. Defensively the team was fine, but only three players generated offense. It was a curious game.

2: Ante Rebic is on the boil

REMEMBER WHEN I SAID MILAN NEED TO PLAY HIM… I do.

The Croatian man has scored a lot, and that is cool. The primary thing he has done well is movement, after that, it is the actually shooting itself. This run he has been on is above expected numbers, but still fun. He has scored five goals in the league on 2.49 expected goals. That is being on the boil. Goalscorers are streaky, right now he is hot. Do not expect this to last forever. However, it is possible that he reaches double digits on the season. The 4-2-3-1 formation has allowed Rebic to do what he does best. Rebic in defense starts out wide then inverts drastically to play alongside Zlatan. This is similar to his role with the Croatian national team. He would swing centrally to support Mandzukic. The difference was that Rebic played on the right instead of the left. However, the instruction was the same. Rebic’s movement allows Theo to control the left-wing and gives Zlatan a partner to play off of in the box. His introduction to the side has been just as notable as Zlatan’s and the results speak for themselves.

3: The Milan Style of 4-2-3-1

Fluid formations are awesome. Sevilla won three Europa Leagues with an incredibly fluid formation. Milan now has a fluid formation. Milan consistently rotates between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1. The key difference is whether the wingers are in line with the attacking midfielder or not. As I have described before, in attack Milan pivots into a 2-3-5.

Against Torino, Calabria had the freedom to join the midfielders or run up the field (Conti has not run up the field). Samu can either stay wide or enter the box. Calabria can either run into the box if he pleases or can stay wide or deep or both to support Samu. Theo becomes a left-winger, Rebic becomes a support striker. Paqueta can drift above the attacking players or enter the box. Zlatan floats and tries to find space to either shoot or play quick assists. Bennacer is able to be a deeper pivot in the attack. Bennacer can also make progressive runs forward if the ball is booted out of the final third. Kessie plays as a defensive stopper. It was a strong shift and allows Milan to throw a few different attacking tactics at opponents. The two defensive formations of a 4-4-2 and a 4-4-1-1 allow Milan to put up two defensive blocks while leaving two players to press.

4: Paqueta Crushes the Things you Would Not Expect Him to

Tackling. Lucas Paqueta put on a tackling show against Torino. The first goal is a result of Paqueta finishing a team recovery and then passing to Samu who then finds Rebic with a low cross. The oddity from the game was that Paqueta struggled immensely to pass. He completed a lot of his passes, but he passed behind players. In the first half, Paqueta received the ball around midfield and began to run forward. Rebic made a run in the chasm that the Torino centerbacks allow then Paqueta failed to pass to Rebic. There is another counter in the second half where Paqueta passed the ball to Rebic, however, the pass was behind Rebic and essentially killed the counter-attack.

It is strange that a player with so much flair struggled at offense. However, the defense was fantastic and hopefully, Paqueta can continue to repeat that. The passing will come.

That is Paqueta continuing that attack.

5: Counter Attack Struggles

Some of the issues come from not leading players on passes, some come from poor decision making. Theo struggled to pass during counters, Paqueta struggled to notice passes early. Everyone else, including Paqueta, passed behind their target. It is generally better to force someone wide then it is to pass behind them. It is easier for a defense to reorganize if you give them time to recreate a shape. Milan generated an average amount of expected goals, however, Torino is in shambles. This could have been a game to make another statement about the direction of Milan. Instead, it was a weak one.

6: The Goal

Samu began a challenge deep in Torino’s final third along the right-wing. The challenge pulled Kessie into the duel where the Ivorian international stripped the ball from Berenguer. Paqueta arrived and completed the challenge and won the ball back. Paqueta then passed the ball into a run that Samu made. Samu played a low and quick cross into Rebic’s path. Rebic expertly finished off the cross by hitting the side netting. It was a good goal overall. This could be another example of the new Milan attack. The attack is more fun now.

7: Kessie struts his stuff

Bennacer’s role has made him more aggressive offensively. Also, Bennacer has high dribble totals per ninety minutes and has been the passer of the two. Kessie, on the other hand, has been the deeper of the two. During the Torino game, Kessie did well to escape Torino’s pressing. Kessie, also, did well to facilitate Bennacer’s play and cover for any issues that Bennacer might play himself into. Kessie’s action on Rebic’s goal allowed Paqueta to recover the ball and play Samu forward. Kessie has shown well over the last few weeks. He has thoroughly deserved his place in the squad.

That is Kessie recovering a clearance, playing off Bennacer, then switching play to Theo.

8: Theo Has A Tough Day while Calabria Plays Well

Theo struggled to involve himself during the game. While he still saw the ball a lot, he did little with his actions. Theo hurt two Milan counters by carrying the ball for too long and failing to pass. One led to a turnover in the first half, the other led to a foul and a deep free kick in the second. His crosses were off all game and he fell into shooting from outside the box. The most vexing came from a shot he took on the volley while running away from the goal. Not great selection. Theo is on a little run of poor form, but I expect this wobble to be short.

Calabria, on the other hand, did well to play off of Samu and perform his defensive duties. He tackled well and helped remove the left-wing play of Torino. His last two games have been strong and it is good to see a right back venture forward. It allows Milan to throw a tactical wrinkle at opposing defenses.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan was good. Not great. Three points are three points. Rebic scored again which is cool. This is not the most excited I have been about Milan because there were offensive errors. The backline was solid but did not have much to do. Torino has been utterly listless (someone please save Belotti). Milan played strong defense by pressing. That was the highlight of the game. The counter-attack will come, the passing will come, players will get back on form. None of that is a concern. Milan needs to keep working on bringing Paqueta along.

The lineup today was the best one Milan played all season. The results struggled, however, it did a lot to open up Milan. Some poor passing sank the offense. Like every article of the past many weeks, I will say that Milan is going in the right direction. Milan is playing like a true team again. The Champions League is out of reach, but Roma is not. Milan is coming.

On another note, I have decided to do a two-legged recap of the Juventus Coppa Italia fixture. I think it will be more interesting as the tie progresses. Briefly, Milan outperformed Juventus by expected goals. Milan, also, fouled a lot and deserved a player to be sent off. Milan deserved a penalty against earlier in the game. I do not like to watch Milan play as they did. It was violent, uncontrolled, and Milan only got away with it for as long as a referee who was having a poor day would allow. Milan did well to generate but fouled entirely too much.