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9 Things: A Statement Win In Rome, AC Milan versus Lazio, 3-0

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This game may have settled the Scudetto race.

SS Lazio vs AC Milan: Serie A Photo by Claudio Pasquazi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

1: What The Analytics Said

AC Milan dominated this match. While some of Milan’s control can be credited to SS Lazio playing poorly, the Rossoneri thoroughly deserved to take all three points. The Biancocelesti never switched on during the match and were outplayed in almost every facet of the game. Once Milan scored, it seemed inevitable that the game could only end one way. Funnily enough, Milan played better in the second half than in the first. Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s and Zlatan Ibrahimović’s goals in the first half were more fortuitous than necessarily dangerous plays. The Çalhanoğlu goal came from strong build-up play that led to a slightly deflected shot. Ibrahimović’s goal was a penalty, which Milan, in my opinion, was fortunate to receive. However, I would not say that the Rossoneru lead was undeserved by the interval (my mom speaks Italian, Rossoneru is right in this context. Who knew… I didn’t). In the second half, Milan dominated. Lazio created absolutely nothing and Milan created their four most dangerous chances from open play. Ante Rebić finished his one chance of the game and Theo Hernández had two sizable chances that he fluffed. This game could have easily finished five nothing, but I think everyone will settle with the current scoreline.

The xG of, this game is interesting because of the danger of some of the individual shots. Three of the open play chances for Milan were very dangerous. These were all shots where a Milan player was free in front of Thomas Strakosha. xG can be overshot if a team continuously creates shots with a high value, like those three. For two of the chances, the Milan player had a fifty-fifty chance of scoring. One of the two chances was scored, the other one was missed by Theo. If that shot had been taken by a striker, or even one of the attacking midfielders, then I would expect Milan to have had a fourth goal.

2: What Milan Did Well

Sometimes winning is as simple as being in better shape than the other team. Milan ran more, pressed more, and seemed sharper throughout the game. One of the reasons Theo was able to get so free in the box twice was because he simply had more ability to run than any Lazio player. The midfield for the Roman team struggled to dictate play, which surprised me. Sergej Milinković-Savić was not the dominating box-to-box midfielder we had seen all season, Luis Alberto played further up the pitch, which I think hurt his productivity, and neither defensive midfielder provided any support. Once the midfield battle was lost, Milan slowly pushed their backline further forward to apply more pressure on Lazio.

In the second half, Milan started to penetrate Lazio’s backline with ease. Simone Inzaghi’s men were obviously exhausted and lost their organization. The Rossoneri pounced. Theo probably would not create the chances he did against a more energized Lazio. As it was, Milan took advantage and played like a team that wanted to dominate a game. It was a good showing.

3: What Happened To Lazio in the Match

For twenty minutes, Lazio clogged the midfield and made it difficult for Milan to break through. Once Çalhanoğlu scored, the game just slipped away from Lazio. In fairness to them, that goal was slightly back-breaking. It was a deflected shot that barely dipped into the goal.

Losing Ciro Immobile and Felipe Caicedo for the match hurt Lazio’s formation greatly leaving them without a true center forward available. This forced Alberto into an advanced role and Joaquín Correa to play as almost a lone striker. It did not work. Without Immobile, Lazio struggled to connect their strikers to the rest of the team. Build-up play for Lazio led to next to nothing in terms of actual shots. They generated three shots in the box during the match and none of them were more dangerous than 0.06. That is not even a pedestrian total, it is almost non-existent.

4: The Title Race and Lazio’s Shortcomings

In my last two articles, I wrote about what I thought about Lazio and their title challenge. The strange thing with this team is that they do have elite players, but they also have some fundamental flaws.

The Biancocelesti is a team run by star power. No one can deny that Immobile, Alberto, Francesco Acerbi, and Milinković-Savić are fantastic players. But the squad depth is thin. Immobile and Milinković-Savić could each be considered as the best player in their respective position in Serie A. Acerbi and Alberto are both undeniably quality players, although not quite as elite as the previously mentioned duo. After these four players, the team does not have depth like FC Internazionale, Atalanta B.C., Juventus FC, SSC Napoli, and even AC Milan (Lazio’s best four players are better than Milan’s, but Milan has better depth). There is a noticeable gap between Lazio’s marquis four and the rest of the squad. The lack of depth means that when one of the four is missing, or when the team introduces their substitutes, the quality of the team noticeably drops. This is a fixable issue, a fix Inter seems to have completed, but it can sink seasons.

The other Lazio vulnerability came from the unsustainable rate that they were scoring from open play prior to the pause. The mixture of incredible finishing from open play, plus the high number of penalties awarded to Lazio, helped them punch above their weight this season. Lazio has not stopped scoring, but the creation and the finishing have dropped off after the pause. When the team lost their wind, players who may have been playing above their true talent reverted back to their former selves. That team is still in the hunt for second best in Italy, but most likely cannot win a championship.

They put up a good fight all season, but I think that their title hopes are much reduced.

5: Theo Hernández As A Left Back

In my last ‘9 Things’ article, I talked about the Frenchman as a left-back. I want to talk about him again today. I think that he would be interesting as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2 or as a wingback. The game against Lazio showed how well he reads space in front of him and how he has the requisite ability to exploit that space. He had a few defensive plays that were good against Lazio, but he struggled to maintain his positioning. Offensively, he was almost unstoppable in the second half.

There are two ways to provide Theo With defensive cover. One is to change formations and play a back three. The other is to change his position. I think that casting him as a left midfielder could pay dividends and bolster what he does best while also not sacrificing defense.

6: Milan’s Attacking Depth

Every player who played in front of the anchoring midfield duo of Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié delivered a strong performance. Çalhanoğlu broke the ice, both strikers scored, Alexis Saelemaekers and Giacomo Bonaventura both expertly progressed play, and Lucas Paquetá recycled possession and dueled well. If Milan has the ability to play eight different players of quality in attack, then there should be no issues for the team to rise further up the table.

7: Hakan Çalhanoğlu May Have Solved Himself

Right now Çalhanoğlu looks like the player who became a star at Bayer Leverkusen 04. In each of these last four matches, he has shown the intent and the execution of a truly quality player. A few changes with his position and his role have helped him recover his form. He has been moved to left attacking midfielder and has been given the freedom to cut inside. Instead of playing as a left-winger, the Turkish man has more freedom to subtly move around the box and pull strings centrally. This seems to have led to him looking unbelievable since the restart. What a great development for the Rossoneri as they battle for a Europa League position.

8: The Goals

Leading up to the Çalhanoğlu goal, Milan worked the ball forward well to create a pocket of space above the box, but there was not any movement within the box. This led to a justifiable shot from the Turkish player that took a deflection and floated into the top corner.

Ibrahimović’s goal was enable, in my opinion, by a questionable penalty. His penalty shot itself was not good, left central, low, and not particularly fast. Strakosha should have saved it.. Fortunately, he did not and the Swedish striker celebrated as the Rossoneri doubled their lead by halftime.

Rebić’s goal was facilitated by a Theo run that pulled the center back line of Lazio out of position followed by a great moment of awareness by Bonaventura. Rebić had floated into a wide-open space after Manuel Lazzari, Patric, and Milinković-Savić all failed to stay in position or cover for another Lazio player. It was dreadful defending and Milan’s Croatian striker continued his insane pace of a goal a game.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan need to earn four points from this crazy slate of three games. Three have already been secured. Napoli is certainly the more winnable of the two upcoming fixtures. Juventus has put their claim on the title and Cristiano Ronaldo has begun to hit his stride, again. Luckily, the Bianconeri will be without Paulo Dybala and Matthijs de Ligt. Those two players have been unbelievable since the restart, and Dybala has probably been the best player in Serie A. If Milan even draws against Juventus, it would be a win. However, Milan should be incredibly excited about the possibility of pushing towards finishing fifth this season. The team is making up for their poor form at the beginning of the season. Hopefully, Milan can reach the guaranteed Europa League spot by matchday thirty-eight.