Note: This story was previously published last week, before the match was officially postponed. Milan’s match against Lecce will now be played on 15 March.
Due to the spread of the corona virus, Genoa C.F.C. will play Milan in an empty stadium this Sunday. But this is not the same team that won just 2 of their first 17 matches. During the winter break, Genoa brought in coach Davide Nicola and a host of reinforcements. The new manager led his side to 1.38 points per match, whereas before his arrival they earned just 0.65 points per match. In their last 5 games, the club has earned 8 points, and their sole loss was to Lazio, where they played excellently. This will not be the cake walk that Milan fans may expect.
In their 3-5-2, Genoa defends open play somewhat typically. The wing backs drop in alongside the centre backs, and two of the centre midfielders usually help in the area where the ball is. As free-floating, box-to-box midfielders, the pair wander all over the pitch, helping out where they can defensively. Genoa can also execute an effective high press, much like Fiorentina, though they do not erratically sway between pressing and dropping like the Violets.
Soumaoro arrived at Genoa this winter on-loan from Lille once it became apparent that he would not factor into the his parent club’s plans this season. The Frenchman, playing as the most central centre back, has been solid but unspectacular in his 3 games in Serie A. He rarely loses composure and has completed 95% of his passes, but he often finds himself out of position. He is occasionally responsible for massive holes in his side’s backline.
Sturaro is a versatile midfielder and has played many positions over his career. For Genoa, he lines up more defensively, though he can competently play box-to-box like most of their midfielders. Recently having returned from a torn ACL, Sturaro’s play in the centre of the pitch has greatly contributed to Genoa’s recent form.
Biraschi usually plays as the right-most centre back, helping bridge the gap between AC Milan target Paolo Ghiglione (who may miss this match with an injury) and Soumaoro. The Italian is a strong, but cautious, tackler, and he brings a steady presence to Genoa’s defense. His biggest flaw is his positioning on offense. When he possesses the ball, he can dribble too high forward, often leaving Soumaoro and Cristian Romero (out with an injury) or Andrea Masiello as the lone men back. An intercepted pass can quickly turn into a dangerous counter attack, but more on that below.
When Genoa possess the ball, the three centre backs spread out, which leaves huge gaps in the backline.
These gaps can become a serious problem if possession is suddenly lost. The defenders disperse in this manner typically when there is no pressure, but a sudden high press, like Lazio’s above, could turn a sudden interception into a 2-v-1 in a dangerous area. Samu Castillejo, Ishmael Bennacer and Ante Rebić need to be ready to pounce when the moment is right.
The back post can be an issue for Genoa as well. Occasionally, the wing backs will not drop enough, which provides a huge opportunity to play through-balls to the winger on the opposite side. The club’s defensive positioning has been a big reason why they have conceded 46 goals this year, second-worst in Serie A.
At its best, Genoa’s offense somewhat resembles Barcelona’s famous Tiki Taka: fast-paced highlighted short passes and of course significant off-the-ball movement. The centre midfielders love to combine with the wing backs on the outside, and they often complete good-looking 1-2 pass sequences to exploit opposing backlines.
When transitioning from defense to offense, Genoa’s shape transforms into a 3-4-3 attack. A centre back will usually start with the ball and push high up the pitch, which can leave just two players to defend against potential counter attacks. As they press forward, typically one midfielder will remain back while the wing backs surge into space. The far-side wing back can become a third forward, which puts him into perfect position for crosses at the far post.
For a team in the relegation zone, Genoa has an excellent pass completion percentage, at 81.6%. Their tendency to play short passes is complimented by their elite ability to play through balls, which has resulted in a sharp rise in goals per match for the club. Since Davide Nicola took over in mid-December, their output has risen from 1 goal per game to 1.5.
Though he plays as a forward, Sanabria is at his best when he drops behind the other striker as an attacking midfielder. He is a creative dribbler and often takes on defenders inside the box, leading to dangerous chances. At 11%, his shot conversion rate has been subpar this season, but he is still a legitimate threat and should not be taken lightly. Good defensive play by Simon Kjaer and Alessio Romagnoli should be enough to handle the Paraguayan, who occasionally disappears from matches.
In January, the Swiss international returned to Genoa after 17 years, during which he played all across Europe. At 34, Behrami still has excellent pace and is another of his side’s box-to-box players. He has a high work rate on defense, with 15 successful tackles in just 408 minutes of Serie A play. Though not the most efficient passer, Behrami has only turned over the ball 4 times in 6 games and has hugely influenced Genoa’s second half resurrection.
The Danish midfielder is a critical part of Genoa’s passing game. He helps connect the wingers and forwards to the midfield, while also making defensive contributions. With 31 tackles and 29 interceptions, Schöne, like Behrami and Sturaro, is a great box-to-box player who can show up and help anywhere on the pitch. However, the 33-year-old is not particularly productive on offense and has only one goal and one assist this season. He likely will not be a difference-maker against Milan, but shutting down the Scöne can disrupt his team’s rhythm and flow.
Pandev is in very good form for a 36-year-old forward. The Macedonian (North Macedonian? Was that name change really necessary?) is physical and possesses a hard shot, though it is not particularly accurate. The striker can be a threat if he receives sufficient help from his midfield, but he will never to threaten anyone with his creative skills. Pandev has 6 goals this season, good for second on the team.
To stop Genoa’s offense, Milan must be able to “cut off the snake’s head” so to speak. Their strikers can often become isolated from the midfielders and the wing backs. They are already poor finishers; Sanabria, Pandev and Andrea Pinamonti have scored just 11 goals on 78 shots, a 14% conversion rate.
Ishmael Bennacer is Milan’s key to keeping Genoa’s attack in check. The Algerian needs to be proactive and intercept as many passes as possible, while continuing to protect the backline. Interrupting the Rossoblù’s flow and rhythm is crucial, and if their attack can be stopped, then their defense will be vulnerable.
This Genoa team will not stay in the relegation zone if they continue their current form. They are a legitimate mid-table team with their new roster and have a shot to upset AC Milan on Saturday. The Rossoneri cannot underestimate their opponents, and they cannot be deterred by the lack of fans in the San Siro. That said, though Stefano Pioli has been terrible this season, Milan’s roster has much more talent than Genoa. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ante Rebić need to stay in form and combine for a goal or two to keep their side afloat, and the team should be motivated after the terrible performance in Florence last week.
Final Score: AC Milan 2, Genoa C.F.C. 1
Prediction Record so far: (3-0)
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