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9 Things: Is AC Milan Good Now? Ac Milan vs Bologna F.C. 1909, 5-1

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They could be good, they might be overplaying their ability, but absolutely who cares? Winning is fun!

AC Milan v Bologna FC - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

1: What The Analytics Said

AC Milan absolutely dominated Bologna F.C. 1909. This was the most lopsided xG differential for any individual Milan game this season. Two reasons why this happened: Milan came out with an undeniable attacking intent and Bologna played themselves into trouble consistently. Within thirty minutes, the Rossoneri created almost a goal and a half worth of xG. That is intent. There was a constant purpose to every attack and it picked apart the Bologna backline with ease. Bologna has not come back from the break well. They are currently in 15th by expected points since the return. None of their expected play from the restart is higher than midtable (xG for, xG against, and xG differential). Bologna have players that pose some danger, but none of them seemed prepared to battle in this fixture. Some of this was Milan, some of it was Bologna themselves.

Individually, Hakan Çalhanoğlu had one of his most impressive offensive games. There are other matches where he may have a goal and a few assists, however, against Bologna he had his most dangerous game. He took four shots and had a full expected goal by himself (0.25 xG per shot). This is very un-Hakan of him. Generally, he averages almost a fifth of this danger per shot. He was certainly the player of the match. There was every possibility that he could have scored two or more goals in the match.

Ante Rebić was the other Rossoneri player who had a match to remember. The Croatian striker created an entire expected assist. I have rarely seen this in a match so to do so is unbelievably impressive. His impact since January cannot be overstated. He has eleven goals and two assists since the turn of the year. Against Bologna, he had another unbelievable performance.

I am also using the Football Slices templates again. Like I said in my Matchday Preview article, my current templates take too long to update. I am trying to fix that, but for now, I will be using the radars from Football Slices. I will be linking their glossary here.

2: I May Have Been Wrong

So, since Suso left, the Milan offense has changed drastically. The tempo of the team picked up dramatically and other players were able to contribute to offensive build up. Instead of constantly running the offense through the Spaniard, the entire team became freer to break down an opposition. His departure created more tactical flexibility because the team did not have to shoehorn Suso into the side. It took time for Çalhanoğlu to fit into this revamped Milan, but now he is almost undroppable. There are noticeable adjustments in his role that I think have facilitated this change of form. Stefano Pioli allowed him to work more in the halfspace along the left side of the field. What Italians may call a mezzala I would refer to as a hybrid left forward or left attacking midfielder. Pioli has given Çalhanoğlu the freedom to exist in this area. In prior seasons, the Turkish man was forced into a more traditional left-wing role that did not suit him. He did not have the speed or the crossing ability to function well in a wider space.

Something that cannot be understated is how vital the striking and forward core for Milan has been for Çalhanoğlu. Rebić, Rafael Leão, Zlatan Ibrahimović are all more able attackers than anyone Çalhanoğlu has played with at Milan yet. These players provide enough spatial interpretation or creativity to help bolster players around them. Do not mistake that with my saying that the Turkish player is a product of the system. He is a crucial part of this system and the increased talent of the players around him has brought out his best. This team is noticeably better than almost any Milan team of the past few seasons, so seeing him thrive is a pleasant bonus of this recent run of form.

3: How This Game Became Crazy

The Bologna backline was absolutely unable to contain any play from Milan. Almost every player other than Andrea Poli and Takehiro Tomiyasu struggled to maintain a defensive shape or make a tackle. Milan created space between the center backs and the defensive midfield line, mainly down the left of Bologna’s formation. If Milan was able to pull Poli away from the center of the pitch then a chasm of space would open for Rossoneri attackers to run into. This led to Alexis Saelemaeker’s goal and most of Çalhanoğlu’s chances in the first thirty minutes. Neither Roberto Soriano nor Nicolás Domínguez provided any defensive cover. These problems would compound with some truly abhorrent passing from the backline and goalkeeper. Çalhanoğlu’s actual goal was fortuitous because Łukasz Skorupski essentially passed the ball to the Milan attacker. It was a pretty simple way to go down by two goals.

This was all a discipline issue. Players have assignments and they have to track those assignments. In many matches, if one player fails to maintain their assignment or has a poor day, then the entire team can sink. Bologna lost because individual players had some of their worst matches this season, and the defensive stability of the midfield fell apart.

4: The Only Sour Note, The Goal Against and The Center Backs

I am only going to dwell on this for a short period because the rest of the game was so positive. Alessio Romagnoli has not played particularly well in the last few matches. During the Tomiyasu goal, the Milan captain did not apply any pressure on the Bologna right back and let Tomiyasu get the better of him. It was an unbelievable shot, but the play was easily preventable. Romagnoli has not recognized danger as well in recent matches as he had earlier in the season or even earlier in the restart. He needs to reset his timing for the upcoming fixtures. He will get picked apart if he does not.

Simon Kjær was quiet all match, and then he played a terrible back pass that almost led to a goal and did lead to an indirect free-kick. The Danish center back has been entirely too error-prone in recent matches. He has committed one per match since the SS Lazio fixture. Again, he could easily be exposed in upcoming matches because of his recent run of mental lapses.

5: The Second Half

Ismaël Bennacer, the Algerian golden boy, has scored. Again, Poli was pulled away from defensive midfield because he had to cover for another teammate who abandoned his duties. This gave Bennacer the space to run forward, which he did. For some reason, neither of the Bologna center backs stepped into the gaping hole in front of them and left Bennacer unimpeded into the box. It was not the greatest shot ever, and it took a large deflection, but Bennacer scored. For someone to whom I do not attribute offensive ability, it was an astute offensive play. He ran into a dangerous area and understood how to properly shoot a ball. He may never score another goal for Milan, but this one will stay in my heart forever.

The second half was a continuation of Bologna’s lapses in the first half. Bologna had no real plan to contain Milan whatsoever. Some of the Rossoneri’s finishing in the second half was more fortunate, but Milan deserved to score because of how much pressure they applied. Goals were inevitable. Bologna did stretch the game more, but none of their attacking players provided any danger. Federico Santander took one dangerous shot off of the indirect freekick that Gianluigi Donnarumma made an otherworldly save on (seriously, watch this save again it was one of the best displays of intelligent goalkeeping I have ever seen).

By game end, Milan took seventeen shots in the box, with thirteen shots on target, and produced thirteen passes into Bologna’s final twenty yards. Milan pressed the life out of Bologna as well. The team took advantage of the poor passing from Rossoblù and made sure that they had no time to relax in their own half. It was truly a fantastic performance.

6: I Did Not Forget About The Other Goals

Rebić’s goal was facilitated by an impressive pass by Ibrahimović (who again, I thought struggled early on in the match). This goal was possible because Rebić pushed off of Tomiyasu to create space (this might have been a foul deeper in the field). The Japanese fullback was unable to get back to the Milan forward and apply enough pressure to upset the subsequent shot. Rebić still finished the ball gloriously and Milan went up by three goals.

The fifth goal is all about Davide Calabria. He picked up the ball deep in his own half and played two wall passes off of Franck Kessié and Rade Krunić to break a line of Bologna’s press. He then wonderfully weighted a pass to Leão who absolutely swiveled his marker into the ground. The young Portuguese man then played a simple pass back to Calabria who finished the play sublimely. He needed this goal and I really hope he continues to start in upcoming fixtures. There is certainly a starting-caliber player in him, it will just take some coaching to find that.

7: What Bologna Got Wrong

Siniša Mihajlović played the wrong players in attack. Musa Barrow not seeing a single minute was a massive mistake. He is undoubtedly their most dangerous player and I was truly relieved to not see him start or even appear. Riccardo Orsolini was selfish during his period on the pitch and neither of the other attacking players created anything of note. Their best-attacking play came from their right-back. Mihajlović will need to sort out his team’s organization and offensive tactics. Bologna is only falling backward.

8: Milan Could Actually Be Good

It is not up for debate who the best team since the restart has been— it is Milan. FC Internazionale may have collected the most points, but the best team they have faced is U.S. Sassuolo Calcio. Even since the turn of the year, Milan is second in expected points in Serie A. The question is, what is the real Milan? In prior seasons, and even last season, I may have said that this has been a mirage, however, I feel more confident in this Milan. The age of the team, the true talent of the players, and the underlying numbers all tell one story. That story is that Milan is ready to challenge for the top four next season. I do think the team has slightly overperformed but I would not be surprised to see the Rossoneri show how strong they have become during the next campaign. Milan might be ready to suit up in Champions League fixtures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the not-so-distant future.

9: Overall Thoughts

I am very happy. Scoring five goals is always fun. Milan is on the precipice of officially qualifying for the Europa League. A win against Sassuolo would assure Milan of a Europa League place, barring an incredible collapse in remaining matches. However, fifth place is still the goal and if Inter holds AS Roma at bay, then there is a real possibility that Milan can guarantee their spot in the group stage for the competition. Sassuolo is certainly not a game to scoff at, but there is only one truly challenging game left, Atalanta B.C. The tenacity of the Rossoneri has been on display and hopefully, they can continue this scintillating run of form. I will personally pop champagne if they finish fifth.

But seriously, how could you not love Bennacer. He is simply the best.