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9 Things: What A Strange Year, AC Milan vs Cagliari Calcio, 3-0

It has been a weird, chaotic, stuttering, and finally reassuring season. It has now come to a close with an emphatic win. 

AC Milan v Cagliari Calcio - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

1: What The Analytics Said

For fifty-seven minutes, AC Milan was playing with vigor and intent, then the scoreline said three to nothing and the Rossoneri sat off. There is absolutely no issue with that as the match was certainly won, but it would have been nice to see the prospects show some offensive flair. However, for the first hour, Milan absolutely dominated Cagliari Calcio. Rafael Leão fortuitously opened the scoring after he made a run that led to a shot that hit the post and deflected off of Ragnar Klavan. Only Leão’s shot off of the post will be recorded here in the xG total but the redirection will not. Own goals are typically redirections that the attacking team does not create. Milan was unlucky to go into halftime with only a one-goal lead. The team had created two expected goals worth of chances. As in many games recently, Milan returned from halftime and scored two goals in quick succession that iced the game.

Cagliari failed to create a single dangerous chance. They did force Gianluigi Donnarumma to make one incredible save, which said more about the goalkeeper than the quality of the chance. This game was a complete performance and was a perfect encapsulation of how Milan has played since the restart. I was impressed.

2: AC Milan’s End To The Season

Since the restart, only one other team has generated more expected points than Milan, their bitter rivals FC Internazionale. Milan has an expected points total of twenty-five, three less than Inter, and three more than Atalanta BC in third. Milan had the second-most xG for with 26.67 and the fourth-best xG against with 13.41. These are top four caliber rankings. However, Milan did not play to this level all season, and for that reason, the team finished in sixth. Milan deserves credit for winning nine of their final twelve fixtures. Some of these games were incredibly difficult. To see the Rossoneri win, and in some cases dominate, these games gave me hope for the future. This fantastic run of form carried Milan to a Europa League spot, and for that, I am thankful.

3: Back To The Game and Samu Castillejo

So, the most notable and impressive player during the game was Samu Castillejo. He scored a goal and had an assist during his appearance. The single thing he did better than almost every other Milan player was that he did not make mistakes. Almost every other player had a poor moment or gloriously failed during play, however, the Spaniard did not have such an instance. His mixture of pressing ability and shot creation has been astounding all season.

Against Cagliari, he showed this skill during the lead up to his goal. He finished a duel and then immediately sprung a short field counterattack. Bonaventura made a fantastic play to get the ball back to Samu, however, there was still work to be done. What was impressive about the goal was how Samu turned to create space. That was an obvious move and having the strength to push off the Cagliari defender directly led to a goal. Offensively, he was the man of the match.

4: Let’s Keep It On The Right Flank And Talk About Davide Calabria

Davide Calabria showed his play-driving prowess throughout the match against Cagliari. What makes Calabria a useful fullback is his passing. He plays in a support role and helps continue ball progression. Against Cagliari, he sealed off the right side of the field and created two shooting opportunities in the box during the match. The young Italian man has had a difficult year, but I thought he was one of the players most negatively affected during Marco Giampaolo’s tenure. Milan seemed unprepared to back either of the two right-sided fullbacks earlier in the season. Hopefully, the recent runs of performances by Calabria will buy him more time in red and black.

5: Leão Has A Very Active First Half Appearance

A bicycle kick that hits the crossbar will always turn heads. What was most impressive during the young Portuguese man’s short appearance was his ability to create space. He has a bag of tricks that allows him to feast on opposition defenses. He will continue to grow into his game. Leão seems to have the appropriate skill to turn into a fantastic support striker in the future.

The only qualm I had with his game was his tendency to dribble. While Leão’s shot hit the post and the ball still went into the net, it was unclear whether his decision to dribble towards the end line actually created more space. There was every possibility that he should have shot immediately. However, he did not and the ball still went in. There have been flashes of brilliance from Leão this season, hopefully, he continues to build on them.

6: Shot Prevention

Milan’s defensive success came from their ability to prevent shots. Cagliari had no ability to break through the Milan midfield and backline. Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié kept players from getting behind them all game and the fullbacks did well to prevent Cagliari from getting wide. Offensively, the wingers pressed aggressively and did not allow Cagliari to play through their midfield. This kept the Cagliari backline trapped in their penalty box and forced the forwards to drop deep to support any breakout play. Milan suffocated Cagliari and it showed throughout the match.

7: The Other Goal

Zlatan Ibrahimović decided to make up for his poor penalty in the first half (a seriously poor penalty). Theo Hernández started the play with a forceful run into the Cagliari half. The Frenchman’s attempted pass to Ibrahimović was cut out, but Castillejo won a tough duel to continue the attack. The rest of the goal depended on a fantastic finish from the Swedish striker. The ball flew into the back of the net and Milan had a two-goal advantage.

8: Overall Thoughts

This game did not count for much, other than pride. However, it was impressive to see Milan absolutely dominate their final fixture of the season. It was certainly an added bonus to see some of the youth players make an appearance as well. Every match builds on the last, and while there will be a long pause between this game and the next, the team will remember winning their final match. The building blocks of a very competitive team have been forming this season and the last twelve matches show the potential for next season. Hopefully, it will be a top-four finish.

9: Thank You

It has been a long season with one very scary pause. I appreciate every reader who continued to read through these articles. I know they can be long and be math-heavy, but it has brought me great joy to introduce these topics to a larger audience, or even one new person. This will not be my last piece until the restart though. I am going to do a breakdown of the season that focuses on nine key moments. I am excited to work on this project and I hope you all will continue to read these articles. It will be fun to look back at this season and highlight these crucial moments.

However, I want to reiterate my thanks. I hope everyone appreciated these articles. I know I loved writing them.