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9 Things: A Professional Win, AC Milan vs FC Crotone, 2-0

The Rossoneri travel south and pick up all three points in a complete victory. The team marches on.

FC Crotone v AC Milan - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs FC Crotone

Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG Shots (On Target) xG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 2 2.4 14(5) 0.171 53%
FC Crotone 0 0.9 7(0) 0.129 47%

Again, AC Milan controlled a game that they should win. This is no slight to FC Crotone, who could be better than we all think, but they are not a peer to the Rossoneri. Strangely, Milan struggled to get most of the attackers involved in the match. Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Brahim Díaz were the only starting attackers who generated any expected numbers. While this is not entirely concerning, it will be important to get more of the team involved. This also does not take into account that Ante Rebić’s movement generated the penalty that opened the scoring. His run broke apart the Crotone backline, and if he had not been tripped, then he most likely would have attempted a dangerous shot. However, for the sixty-minutes that every starter played, only two of the attackers produced notable shots.

Something to be mindful of- Milan generated 1.6 xG if you remove the penalty. So while still fairly comfortable, the team was not as dominant as the scoreline and xG totals may suggest. However, this was a drawn penalty and not a strange handball or an off-ball foul. That play was dangerous and certainly would have led to Milan getting a higher xG total.

2: Man of the Match: Hakan Çalhanoğlu

I know that Franck Kessié won the man of the match honors from the team, but Hakan was the true orchestrator against Crotone. The Turkish attacking midfielder had the highest xA, had the most shot-creating actions, and was the most progressive non-defender. For the second game in a row, Hakan has needed to dictate the tempo of the offense and he has done so. He did not get any credit for the Brahim goal, but he drove that play forward and without his run the goal would not have happened. As Milan has tried to rotate every player through the lineup and make the team more accustomed to each other, Hakan has continued his fantastic form. He deserved to receive an assist in the match against Crotone. While this did not occur, he should be recognized for his contribution to this play. Hopefully, he can maintain his scintillating form and continue to provide Milan with man of the match style performances.

3: Kessié Deserves His Praise Too

While Kessié was not my man of the match, I still think he showed some of what makes him valuable. Without Ismaël Bennacer, Kessié needed to break the Crotone press with the ball at his feet and maintain his defensive responsibility. He did both well. The Ivorian midfielder can be quiet at times, but his supportive role is underappreciated. His best qualities are his positioning and ability to play without the ball. Kessié tackled well during the match too. He went into five challenges, won four of them, and stopped his only dribble against. Most importantly, he facilitated Sandro Tonali’s play. Kessié provided the cover necessary to let the young Italian midfielder grow into the match. He shielded play and gave Tonali the defensive cover he required. I understand why Milan’s number seventy-nine was voted the man of the match against Crotone.

4: Welcome to Milan Kid, You Will Do Just Fine

I can call him kid, he is two years younger than I am. Brahim has completed his first start and has his first goal. While the goal itself was a mixture of fortune, awareness, and comedy, he still has put his name on the scoreboard. The young Spaniard took five shots, two on target, and finished the game with an astounding 1.1 xG. That is a rare number from a winger, and especially from a winger who is not known for his goal-scoring threat. His role was more ancillary than he may be used to, but he grew into his position on the field as the game progressed. I was impressed by his versatility in this match. Brahim plays as a ball progressive and dribbles heavy winger, however, he showed off his spatial awareness, especially in the second half. Hopefully, Brahim sees more time on the field in the upcoming weeks. Maybe he is not ready for the tests of the top teams of Italy, but his play against teams like Crotone may quiet any doubts.

5: Can We Keep Talking About Calabria?

If you follow me on Twitter then you know how I feel about Milan even considering getting a new right back. For those of you who do not, I feel negatively about it. I said this the last time I talked about Calabria, but it deserves to be said again that his greatest skill is driving play. Against Crotone, the Italian full-back generated 624 progressive yards. That total would have ranked in the 98th percentile, if maintained, for fullbacks last season. Currently, Calabria is averaging a whopping 594 progressive yards per 90. In addition, his contributions were not only offensive. Calabria won five tackles and had the most successful pressures in the match. He was targeted by three dribbles and won two of them. There have been signs that the Italian full-back would develop into a truly fantastic player, and while it is still early, he has shown signs of taking a step in his development. Calabria has been incredibly influential in the first two games of the campaign and there is every reason to keep him in the starting lineup.

6: Sandro Tonali Shows More of His Great Promise

We all knew it would take time for Toanli to blend into the Milan system, but he was influential during the Crotone match. He had four shot-creating actions, which is massive. Fantastic midfielders average about three-shot creations per 90, so to have a full one above that was incredibly impressive. To go along with that, Tonali generated 0.2 xA, which would have ranked around the 96th percentile, if maintained, last season. His passing skills were on display and his vision was evident. Promisingly, he won a tackle and seemed more prepared to perform his defensive duties in this match. Tonali has more ground to cover, but he has shown more of his sky-high potential. I believe he has the tools to climb the summit of the soccer world.

7: The Forward Situation

Milan dodged a massive hurdle when Rebić’s injury turned out to be just a dislocation. Right now, Rafael Leão and Lorenzo Colombo are the only fully fit strikers at Stefano Pioli’s disposal. Now, I think Leão should be the undisputed starter, but he missed a sizable chunk of the preseason recovering from Covid19. Even so, his skill is evident. During the Crotone match, Leão created a dangerous chance and generated another shot. He also generated 79 yards through his ball carrying. I think he showed more than enough to warrant more time on the field. We constantly talk about his potential. Not giving him the chance to grow would be a mistake. I firmly believe he needs to start against Spezia Calcio.

That said, I do hope that Rebić and Zlatan Ibrahimović return soon and continue to increase their chemistry together. They have been a dynamic duo since the start of the 2020 year and their play together will be missed.

8: The (Open Play) Goal

Kessié’s goal has been covered already, so how about Brahim’s? Soccer is a funny sport. Brahim’s first goal for Milan was pretty hilarious. This was a basketball-style goal. The young Spaniard started a run into the box and slightly overran the play. Alexis Saelemaekers attempted to play Hakan into the box, but his pass was intercepted, sort of. The ball then rolled kindly to Brahim and he made a deft turn and curved the ball around the goalie. I laughed when I realized what had happened. This goal is probably not repeatable, but we should cherish the beautiful game when it happens before our eyes.

9: Overall Thoughts

If this match had gone poorly then maybe we would have learned more about Milan. Maybe the team was still vulnerable to tightly packed teams. Maybe the midfield duo of Tonali and Kessié was not viable. However, the team secured all three points and continue on with the season. The biggest takeaway from this game was the positive play of some of the Rossoneri’s youngest players. They will continue to be tested throughout the season, but every positive match they can get under their belts will be crucial. Milan has continued to show its potential in the early stages of the season. Pioli has maintained his strong coaching, the offense has continued to click, and the team looks more controlled defensively. Putting these three pieces together will lead to more victories. Now, Milan has to look forward to their final Europa League play-in game. A win on Thursday is crucial.