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Tactical Preview: AC Milan v Bologna FC

The Rossoneri begin the 2020/2021 season at home against a formidable midfield

Takehiro Tomiyasu of Bologna FC celebrates after scoring a... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

AC Milan will begin its new season facing off against a decent Bologna side that has not finished lower than 14th since 2014. The Red and Blues are managed by Siniša Mihajlović, a former Milan coach who typically runs an offensive 4-2-3-1. Milan will look to continue its recent form under coach Stefano Pioli, as the club has incredibly not lost a match since returning from the break last season. Look for Milan to get off to a good start against a side that it beat twice in 2019/20.

Bologna’s Defense

Bologna’s backline was relatively unlucky last season, allowing 65 goals compared to an xGA of just 54.2. Right back Takehiro Tamiyasu is the club’s best defender; last year, at just 21-years-old, he registered an impressive 48 tackles and 65 blocks. Danilo, a veteran Serie A centre back who turned 36 in May, should line up to the Japanese defender’s left. The Brazilian is quite slow but provides a physical veteran presence that gives the backline a sense of legitimacy. Last season, Danilo had just a 42.9% tackle completion percentage, but he remains an aerial threat, winning 59.8% of his duels. The backline’s other two starters, Stefano Denswil and Mattia Bani, are relatively average, though both excel at tackling, completing 62.5% and 56.3% of their tackles respectively. The four defenders will be covered by defensive midfielders Gary Mendel and captain Andrea Poli. Mendel is a hard-working, defensive-minded midfielder who registered 0 goals and 0 assists in 1,700 minutes last season. The CDM plays quite deep, often becoming a third centre back, which can allow Tomiyasu to push further up the field. Poli is a much more diverse player, operating between Mendel and attacking midfielder Roberto Soriano. He could be considered a deep-lying playmaker, somewhat similar to Ismaël Bennacer in that he helps facilitates attacks, but is rarely going to score or register an assist.

Milan scored 8 goals against Bologna in two Serie A matches last year and should be well-prepared for another offensive outburst on Monday. Speed is definitely an issue for Bologna, so Ante Rebić and Samu Castillejo should be able to create space on the wings and look to drive in crosses. Poli and Mendel may try to shut down Hakan Çalhanoğlu, but the Turkish CAM will be able to easily combine with Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s hold-up play, giving the wingers and Theo Hernandez time to join the attack. Overall, Milan’s offense is simply of a much higher quality than Bologna’s backline and should be able to score with relative ease.

Bologna’s Offense

Led by young wingers Musa Barrow and Riccardo Orsolini, Bologna’s midfield is certainly the strength of the club. Barrow, a 20-year-old Gambian international, has incredible potential: he scored 9 goals in just 1,300 minutes played, one of the best rates in Serie A. The Gambian is fast and powerful and plays more like a forward than a traditional winger, averaging just 1.8 crosses per 90 minutes last season. On the other wing is Orsolini, technically proficient and quick, often taking on the opposing left back before looking to whip in a cross. The right winger is also active defensively, blocking 40 shots and passes last year along with registering 126 pressures in Bologna’s defensive third. At attacking midfielder is yet another quality player: 29-year-old Roberto Soriano. Soriano is the creative force of his team and often looks to dribble into space or find one of his two wing options out wide. Last season, he registered 103 shot-creating actions, 12 goal-creating actions, 5 assists and 5 goals while featuring in 29 matches. Lastly, the one weakness of Bologna’s attack is the forward position, where Rodrigo Palacio looks to return as the number 9. Now 38, Palacio has scored just 14 goals in 91 league matches for Bologna, and he does not shoot nearly enough as the sole striker, recording just 2.11 shots per match last season.

Bologna’s midfield could certainly trouble Milan on Monday, with Theo Hernandez’s tendency to stretch the field being particularly worrisome against Riccardo Orsolini. Bologna’s two wingers will stay high and try to exploit the positioning of the fullbacks; the pace of Barrow and Orsolini should not be taken lightly. Additionally, Bennacer and Franck Kessié must ensure that one of the pair stays in a defensive position at all times to neutralize Soriano, who should sit in the space just behind Palacio. It will be interesting to see how Alessio Romagnoli’s replacement performs, as a bad showing against this dangerous midfield could seriously impact Milan’s chances to pick up three points.

While Bologna might have a solid offense, it is hard to envision AC Milan dropping any points here after its fantastic performance to end last season. Milan, even without Romagnoli, have an elite defense that should be able to keep Bologna under 2 goals, while its attack is simply better than the opposing backline. Zlatan Ibrahimovic should certainly get an opportunity to score a goal or two, while Ante Rebić and Hakan Çalhanoğlu should have no problem challenging the Bologna defenders. Last time out, this match ended 5-1 in Milan’s favor, and expect more of the same on Monday.