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9 Things: An Unconvincing Win in Europe, AC Milan vs FK Bodø/Glimt, 3-2

Milan takes another step towards the group stage in the Europa League. However, their play left a lot to be desired.

Lorenzo Colombo of Ac Milan during the UEFA Europa League... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

I am back to using the Between The Posts model because FBref does not cover Europa League qualifying games at this stage. AC Milan won, but played well below their true talent. Most of the issues came from poor play when regaining possession in the defensive third. While FK Bodø/Glimt certainly deserves praise for going toe-to-toe against the Rossoneri, their success was enabled by poor Milan play. Offensively, Hakan Çalhanoğlu absolutely dominated this match. Without a striker, his role expanded, and the Turkish man responded to the added responsibilities. His 2 goals and one assist dragged the team over the finish line and onto the final phase of the Europa League play-in games. However, the offense was not the problem. Defensive problems dominated this match and almost led to Milan going to extra-time.

2: Problems on the Left Side Of the Field

Theo Hernández and Franck Kessié struggled immensely against their Norwegian competitors. Theo showed his typical defensive frailty- poor positioning- and did not help direct play up field. He consistently over committed running forward and on a few occasions, overran Bodø/Glimt players when coming back to defend. He tried to play an open match, but his actions were at odds with the realities on the field.

Kessié’s problem came from his lack of activity defensively. He plays a sweeper style role in the midfield, which can make him disappear in matches, but he was invisible and problematic even with this caveat. Bodø/Glimt’s first goal came from Kessié’s inactivity on a run by Jens Petter Hague. Instead of taking a step into the Norwegian’s path to initiate a duel, the Ivorian backed off and let Hague burst towards the endline. This gave the Bodø/Glimt winger the space to find Kasper Junker in the box and start the scoring (Matteo Gabbia made a terrible play here as well). This was early in the match, but Kessié never righted his play. He committed another terrible error in stoppage time that should have led to a tied match. Luckily, Ulrik Saltness skied his shot. Kessié did not help direct play forward either, which led to him getting trapped in his own third. I would have preferred to see him come off the field than Ismaël Bennacer. He did not and his poor play almost cost Milan another goal right before full-time.

3: Matteo Gabbia Might Be In Over His Head

I like Matteo Gabbia. I think he could easily turn into a serviceable player for Milan. However, he is not ready to play for the Rossoneri at this time. There are positives in his game, mainly his aerial play, but he does not read developing plays well. If Milan’s defensive depth was better, then he would certainly be a loan candidate. I think a year in Austria or Germany could go a long way in his development. As of now, he will have to learn on the fly in Italy.

4: Generally, the Midfield Struggles

I did not want to pick on only Kessié in this piece because Bennacer and Sandro Tonali were both questionable in this match. Bennacer struggled to transition play forward. His prominent problem was how he tried to initiate his movement. Bennacer left a little too much space between him and the ball when he initiated his progressive runs and Bodø/Glimt noticed this tendency. In the second half, they marked the Algerian midfielder tightly and caused a lot of turnovers. Bennacer still played well early in the match, but as the game progressed, he started to lose possession more regularly. This led to Milan getting trapped on occasion and let the Norwegian side grow into the game. While not the most notable problem in the game, it was still something to be aware of.

For the second game in a row, Sandro Tonali showed his frailties defensively. He has certainly shown flashes of what made him such a hot prospect, but he still needs to work on his overall play. I would like to see Stefano Pioli play the young Italian midfielder in a three man midfield. The match against Bodø/Glimt showed the potential downfalls of him in a two man midfield. He needs the defensive support so he can flaunt his best qualities as a regista.

5: There Were Positives Too

This article has been negative so far, and purposefully so, but there was still a core of players who had solid games. Milan did win the game by xG, and would win this type of match 55% of the time. That is pretty comfortable. Pioli’s men were cruising through the first half and to the midpoint of the second. The team continuously created dangerous chances, instead of a slow accumulation of shots. There are certainly positives for future matches, namely Lorenzo Colombo, so do not fret entirely.

6: We Should Talk About Colombo

Welcome to the score sheet Colombo! Everyone remembers their first, even if it was against a Norwe-igian side. I thought the young man played well in this match. His goal was an unmissable chance, but he did well to find a soft spot in the Bodø/Glimt defense. The recognition of space is a crucial skill for any striker, and a play like this gave me confidence in him. He will play in harder matches in the coming years, but if he can ease into the Zlatan Ibrahimović role, then watch out Italy.

7: Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Man of the Match

In NBA Jam, when you start scoring repeatedly the basket catches on fire. I wonder if Hakan sees fire on the goal frame. The Turkish man scored twice, assisted Colombo, and generated two other dangerous chances (the Colombo assist was gorgeous). He did all of this without his typical attacking cohort. While he scored an absolute screamer in this match; his play has a level of stability and repeatability that may lead to more goals. In past seasons, Hakan rested on his laurels too much and would fall into poor tendencies. Now, he looks active and willing to break into the box. He has started generating more volume and increasingly dangerous shots for others. Milan needs him to play at this level for the rest of the year. There is an x-factor quality to him that is being realized.

8: We Should Talk About Jens Petter Hague

Immediately after the match ended a handful of reports came out about Hague meeting with Milan management. While these seem to have been dispelled, we should still talk about the player. The young Norwegian has high potential and is already dominating his domestic competition (Eliteserien, Norway). He averages over a full goal contribution per ninety minutes on an expected total of 0.75 goal contributions per ninety. This is elite creation in any league. More teams should look at Hague.His stellar display against Milan was not too surprising. Paolo Maldini should continue to seek out the young winger. He could turn into an impactful player.

9: Overall Thoughts

Milan marches on. Next up is the Portuguese side Rio Ave FC. I have scouted the team before and my opinion was that they are fine. They finished fifth in Liga Nos last season and ranked fifth by xG for total over the season. Their defense finished fourth by xG against at season’s end and gave up about one expected goal per match. They are obviously better than Milan’s last two opponents, but are probably about as strong as a mid table club in Italy. Like every preceding Europa League match, this is an absolute must win. Milan needs to go deep in Europe this year, even if it is the continent’s secondary competition. This is the last hurdle before the group stage and, while it should still be a challenging] fixture, the Rossoneri are certainly favored. Hopefully, Pioli will be able to play more of a first team eleven against Rio Ave instead of the weakened squad he had against Bodø/Glimt. However, Milan has a league fixture to look to first.