With the Serie A postponed until at least 3 April, The AC Milan Offside will be reviewing each of the 34 goals that Milan gave up this season. The Rossoneri had a decent season defensively, but the club was prone to sudden collapses and upsets, which persisted from the first match at Udinese to the most recent match against Genoa. Part One of this series will look the first eight goals allowed, which occurred during Milan’s first six matches.
Match 1: Udinese 1, AC Milan 0
Goal 1: Milan began the season with an incredibly sloppy match, eventually giving up this header to Rodrigo Becão in the 71st minute. The goal came from a well-struck corner that went unchallenged by any Milan players.
Franck Kessié, marking the Udinese defender, is the only Milan player who could be at fault here. However, it is hard to assign blame to Kessié, because Becão clearly shoves him in the back, causing the midfielder to stumble forward two steps. After recovering, he tries in vain to head the ball away, but is far too late. This certainly should have been caught by the VAR officials, and Milan should have come away with at least one point from this match.
Match 4: AC Milan 0, Internazionale 2
Milan’s fourth match of the season came after two hard-fought victories over Hellas Verona and Brescia. The Derby della Madonnina came at the perfect time, and saw two clubs with legitimate Scudetto hopes meet in the San Siro. Unfortunately for Milan, this match became the beginning of the end for manager Marco Giampaolo.
Goal 2: The first goal of the match took an unfortunate bounce, but was rather avoidable, if two of Milan’s midfielders had closed down Marcelo Brozović properly.
Brozović is left wide open at the top of the box, and his shot takes a huge deflection off of Rafael Leão and ends up in the back of the net. The two players who could have changed the result of this goal are Suso and Franck Kessié. Suso is standing as the one-man wall inside the box, but the possibility of Stefano Sensi taking a shot from this tight of an angle seems unlikely. Kessié is on the wrong side of an Inter player just outside the six-yard box, neither goal-side nor marking anyone. He is the closest Milan player to Brozović, and is barely unable to block his shot. If Kessié had been a yard or two closer, he likely could have prevented the goal.
Goal 3: This goal is the product of lazy defending and well-worked attacking. The goal itself, a fabulous header by Romelu Lukaku, was nearly impossible to stop.
In traditional four-man backlines, the defense can shift to whichever side of the field the ball is on. This practice allows more defenders to surround the ball’s immediate location, and gives them ample time to recover if the field is switched or a long ball is played. However, here Andrea Conti and Franck Kessié (yet again out of position) are at least 15 yards away from two Inter attackers, giving the pair far too much space. This error is compounded as Conti lazily approaches Nicolò Barella when he receives the ball. The defender half-heartedly sticks out his back leg in an attempt to block the cross, which obviously fails and leads to the goal. The left back displays terrible positioning and defending here.
Alessio Romagnoli deserves some of the blame as well. Milan’s captain allows Lukaku to run in between himself and the ball, and the Belgian easily heads the ball into the back of the net. Romagnoli has to be either shoulder-to-shoulder with, or in front of Lukaku. This goal is the result of embarrassingly lackadaisical defense from Milan and should never have occurred.
Match 5: Torino 2, AC Milan 1
Until the match at Torino, Milan had allowed just 3 goals over four matches. Despite the losses to Udinese and Inter, the Rossoneri still had much to look forward to, as the season had only just begun. However, Torino and striker Andrea Belotti quickly dashed Milan’s hopes in a furious comeback victory.
Goal 4: In the 72nd minute, Belotti pulled Torino level with Milan, who had been sitting on a one goal advantage for almost an hour.
Belotti receives a fantastic ball from Tomás Rincón and is immediately thrust into a one-on-one situation with Mateo Musacchio. Belotti destroys the defender with several short and quick touches, and fires a beautiful shot past Gigio Donnarumma. Musacchio’s positioning and stance are near-perfect - the Argentinian just cannot stop Belotti’s sudden cut inside and is unable to prevent the shot.
Goal 5: Just moments later, Belotti again beats the Milan backline with his combination of pace and skill. Like the first goal, he goes through Musacchio.
On this three-on-three attack, Musacchio is in a tough position because he cannot allow Belotti to get another shot off, but at the same time, Simone Zaza is making a great diagonal run behind him. The defender hesitates, and eventually steps up unsuccessfully to intercept Belotti’s pass. Because he steps to the pass, he is unable to pick up Zaza’s run behind him, which Alessio Romagnoli cannot stop either. If Musacchio had kept dropping, he could have picked up Zaza’s run, while Romagnoli would have been in position to stop Belotti from reaching Zaza’s rebounded shot. Additionally, Ismael Bennacer did not help Milan here with his positioning. As the central midfielder in Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2, he must be able to cover for the rest of the defense, but here he is caught too high up.
Match 6: AC Milan 1, Fiorentina 3
Milan stretched their losing streak to three games with a hellish loss to Fiorentina, which would seal Giampaolo’s fate with the club.
Goal 6: This goal came from an odd series of events. It starts with Franck Ribéry dancing by Musacchio and ends with defensive midfielder Erick Pulgar scoring a penalty.
Firstly, Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s pass is horrific, though he should be commended for his recovery effort after losing possession. That said, this goal would never have happened if the Turk had been more focused.
Next, Ribéry takes the ball and goes right at Musacchio, who remains directly in front of the French attacker. In this situation, the defender should move inside of Ribéry, trying to force him wide. Instead, the centre back is squared up with the striker, and he is easily beaten to the inside for the second time in two matches. Once Ribéry gets by Musacchio, Romagnoli, who has rightly come over to cover, literally holds up his hands and allows him to go through on goal. Donnarumma parries the point-blank shot away from goal, where it lands at the feet of Federico Chiesa, who is almost immediately fouled inside the box by Bennacer for a penalty.
Goal 7: Mateo Musacchio indirectly contributes to this goal by nearly breaking Ribéry’s leg in the 55th minute with a dangerous tackle. 10 minutes after the defender is sent off, Milan’s three-man backline allows another rebound to be put into the back of the net.
The Violets’ second goal is nearly as bad as the first. Çalhanoğlu is beat in the midfield by a centre back, Nikola Milenković, who then passes the ball through to Chiesa, who is much quicker than Romagnoli. Donnarumma then pushes the ball out to the middle of the box, where Çalhanoğlu and Davide Calabria watch Gaetano Castrovilli easily score from close range. Down by two, with 10 men on the pitch, this goal puts the match out of reach.
Goal 8: Fiorentina’s final goal of the match comes from another defensive breakdown, and this time nearly the entire backline is to blame.
First, Chiesa easily beats Théo Hernandez to the inside and dribbles directly at Alessio Romagnoli. Meanwhile, Franck Ribéry recognizes that Léo Duarte has not seen him and runs diagonally from the wing behind the centre back. Additionally, Davide Calabria does a terrible job of recovering and seemingly only hits full speed once the French striker has received the ball near the six-yard box. Ribéry then cuts hard inside, stopping Duarte and Calabria in their tracks, and finishes across his body, sending Donnarumma the wrong way.
The main issue here is that Duarte has to be aware that Ribéry is in such a dangerous position. If Calabria is unable to recover, he must alert the centre back to the threat behind him. Hernandez’s sloppy defending should also be condemned here, as his poor attempt to tackle Chiesa lets the attacker run free into space.
Though the process of reviewing goals against is negative by nature, it is shocking to see how preventable many of the first eight goals were. Three could have been stopped by improved positioning, and Mateo Musacchio’s poor form was frightening. Franck Kessié also showed that he is probably not a great fit for Milan. The centre midfielder is neither a force on offense nor on defense, and will be better off if he moves to the Premier League sometime this offseason.
Milan allowed 1.33 goals per game during first 6 matches, a figure that only marginally improved to 1.31 by the end of the season. Many of the defensive problems that appeared during Giampaolo’s reign have continued under Stefano Pioli, meaning that perhaps the defenders themselves are more to blame, rather than defensive philosophy of the coaches.