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9 Things: Sixth is Ours, AC Milan vs UC Sampdoria, 4-1

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AC Milan secures sixth position in Italy with a win in Genoa. The winning ways will hopefully last for one more game.

UC Sampdoria v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

Quickly, Milan created 3.09 xG and UC Sampdoria created 2.45 xG. This is closer than the scoreline suggests for several reasons. Sampdoria was credited with 1.12 xG from the penalty play. The rebound shot counted for 0.36 of an expected goal, but, as we know, that was a flurry chance and thus we can only count up to 1. So, subtract 0.12 from Sampdoria’s total.

No more math now. AC Milan dominated this game until they were up by three goals. After that, Sampdoria created most of their expected goals. This happened because of a phenomenon called “score effects”. If you have ever played competitive sports, you might remember a game you were up by so much that your intensity weakened and you accidentally let the opposition back into the game. That is “score effects”. More sophisticated models will factor, or recategorize, these attempts. Understat’s model does l not do that. So, you may ask “Doug why does this matter?” Well, my friends, it matters because the expected goal differential in this match was not particularly large, when in fact, Milan was dominating until they went up by three goals. After the third goal, they sat off and Sampdoria started creating chances. The team from Genoa never deserved to win the match, but they did make it interesting for a handful of minutes.

2: Let’s Talk About Theo

Milan was flying for the first ten minutes. The team created 1.13 xG and an actual goal before the ten-minute mark. That is an undeniable statement of intent. I will talk about the Zlatan Ibrahimović goal later, but I want to start with the play of Theo Hernández. His passing was exquisite and he exploited space excellently. Theo was a staple of almost all of Milan’s attacking play and he seemed poised to pass through almost any challenge. He was an obvious spark in the first half and his performance was a key cog in Milan’s first-half dominance, especially offensively.

3: While the First Half Went Well, There Were Still Some Issues

While some of the passing was fantastic, there were noticeable problems that Milan slowly worked through. Offensively, Ante Rebić created a fantastic assist on Ibrahimović’s goal and then immediately faltered in his passing and running. The first half could have easily been more successful but the Croatian man struggled to impact the game after the tenth minute. By the end of the half, Rebic probably should have been sent off. He did hit Gastón Ramírez in the face.

I thought Hakan Çalhanoğlu started slowly in the first half. His passing was off and he struggled to make supportive runs for the Milan forwards around him. When he was involved in the build-up, he would either recycle the ball or make a wasteful pass forward. Çalhanoğlu was certainly on my shortlist of players to be subbed off the field at halftime. I guess I was wrong.

Defensively, Milan was playing with a little bit of fire. Crosses are generally not the most dangerous plays and pushing crosses deeper in the field makes them less dangerous. However, Milan gave up cross after cross for about fifteen minutes. While none of these plays led to anything particularly dangerous, the volume of crosses was concerning. Milan was struggling to collect errant balls and breakout play was failing to beat the Sampdoria press. Milan got trapped for a short period in the first half.

However, Milan still created almost two expected goals in the first half. The offense was certainly working.

4: Zlatan Scored

Rebić received one of Theo’s dazzling passes and then immediately blew by Bartosz Bereszyński (the Sampdoria right-back). With all of this freedom, Rebić drove towards the end line and played a cross right onto the head of Ibrahimović. While Zlatan’s header was not the best, it still went into the net and Milan took a very early lead.

5: Defense after Halftime? No!

From halftime to minute sixty, Milan added 0.82 expected goals and two actual goals and Sampdoria added 1.05 expected goals. The Rossoneri were still winning the xG battle comfortably, but the game had gone into a state of chaos. While this was certainly fun, it was nerve-racking. The first Sampdoria chance came from a mishandled freekick by Gianluigi Donnarumma. Somehow this did not lead to an even game and Milan should have counted their lucky stars.

The next massive chance for Sampdoria came from a corner. The ball was played in and then was dangerously knocked into the path of Fabio Quagliarella. Theo failed to cover the ageless striker and the Italian man almost scored.

It was, defensively, an ugly start to the second half.

6: However, There Were Goals!

Çalhanoğlu immediately proved me wrong. This goal was started by a good cross from Davide Calabria that found Ibrahimović (look at that, Calabria playing well). The Swedish striker then played the ball down toward Çalhanoğlu who still needed to beat Ronaldo Vieira, which he did. While initially the play was deemed dead because of a foul, it became evident that Vieira simply slipped. After a VAR check, Hakan was credited with a goal and Milan went up two goals to nil.

Minutes later, Çalhanoğlu would spring Ibrahimović free on goal with a deft pass. The play culminated in a simple finish and Milan taking a three-goal lead.

7: Gianluigi Donnarumma Bailed Out Simon Kjær

Simon Kjær made a completely unnecessary tackle that was correctly awarded as a penalty. The Danish center back has been an adequate partner for Alessio Romagnoli, however, he is still incredibly error-prone. This individual attack was going nowhere and surrendering a penalty was foolish.

However, the movable brick wall of a man, Gianluigi Donnarumma, decided that he would not be scored on, yet. It was his fifth penalty save on ten attempts this year. He has been an unbelievable shot-stopper this season. Against Sampdoria, Donnarumma continued to show his astounding ability. Sadly, he was eventually beaten, but Sampdoria deserved a goal even if Donnarumma deserved to keep a clean sheet.

8: Leão Shows His Finishing Acumen

Rafael Leão scored a goal that wasn’t essential to victory, but I liked it. The shot was a gorgeous finish from a play it looked like the young Portuguese man was going to prevent. Giacomo Bonaventura was expecting Leão to make any sort of run, however, he did not. Bonaventura may have been confused because Leão standing still appeared to be a bad decision. However, Leão knew all along that he was going to gorgeously shape a shot into the back of the net. He knew it, do not ask him otherwise.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan has officially finished sixth this season. For a year that looked dead in December, to get to the Europa League is certainly impressive. While AS Roma losing to Torino FC would have been nice, it seemed unlikely. Every player deserves credit for turning around the season and playing it to its conclusion. Stefano Pioli has certainly deserved the credit he has received for this impressive turnaround. I am excited to see how Milan continues to change in the upcoming months, but the building blocks are there. Hopefully, the Europa League plays out better than it did last time Milan entered the competition.