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9 Things: Maybe Juve Has Not Lost It, AC Milan vs Juventus FC, 1-3

This does not define the title race but it is a definite setback in the Rossoneri’s title hopes.

AC Milan v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

AC Milan vs Juventus FC

Team Goals xG(NPxG) Shots (On Target) NPxG per Shot Possession
Team Goals xG(NPxG) Shots (On Target) NPxG per Shot Possession
AC Milan 1 1.2(1.2) 20(8) 0.06 43%
Juventus FC 3 1.7(1.7) 14(6) 0.12 57%
FBref

Depending on what model you focus on - FBref, Understat, and Between the Posts - you will find multiple xG results that paint drastically different pictures. FBref has this match as a Juventus FC victory but not a demolition of AC Milan. Understat has this match as utter destruction and a statement match for the “Old Lady”. Between the Posts had the Rossoneri win xG but lose the match. What was apparent was the lack of control Milan had down either flank and how poor both fullbacks were. If Theo Hernández had played even poorly, instead of one of his worst matches for Milan, the team probably would have held on for at least a draw. While we cannot boil this game down to a one-off day for a fullback, he was directly at fault for two goals and out of position on the third. This game was always going to be tough with so many first-team players out, but this loss still matters greatly. For the first time this season, Juventus has leapfrogged Milan in FiveThirtyEight’s league standing predictions. I might agree with them as well. If the Serie A field cannot differentiate themselves more from Juventus then expect another title in Turin. This loss was a reminder of that reality.

2: Why It Fell Apart

Both teams were trading small blows early in the match and it seemed like the game could be defined by a multitude of low xG shots that eventually lead to a goal. This broke down during Federico Chiesa’s first goal when he turned Theo and made a space opening pass to Paulo Dybala. This freed the Italian winger to sprint into the space created by the Argentinian center-forward, who had pulled Alessio Romagnoli forward. Theo failed to realize the building danger and did not follow Chiesa into the space that was created by his cunning pass. Strangely, Simon Kjӕr and Davide Calabria both failed to cover the opening space and neither made a move to help support Romagnoli or Theo. I think if Kjӕr had ventured into the space that his captain had left, then Calabria would have dropped and this goal would have been prevented. Sadly, we do not live in a life of if only’s. This was a lack of defensive understanding and it led to a goal against. While Milan has shown mental strength early in the season when going behind early in a fixture, those games were not against Juventus. Stefano Pioli’s men needed to set the tempo and they did not.

3: They Pull A Goal Back, But Do Not Take Control

Controversy. Hakan Çalhanoǧlu fouled Adrien Rabiot. He did not get any of the ball and drove through the man. Now, I think it would have been incredibly frustrating to have this goal called back for a pretty weak foul, but, by the rulebook, it should have been called. However, the foul was not called and this goal stood in real life.

I want to take a second to praise Rafael Leão’s play during this match. He counter-attacked well and showed some of his promising positional play within the Milan attack. His forceful run made the Juventus backline overcommit while tracking back and his cutback opened up a chasm for Calabria to find a pocket of space. While I do not expect Milan’s midfield… er I mean fullback... to finish every chance like this, he still picked out the top corner masterfully. Milan had worked themselves back into the match at this point and deserved a leveling goal. Unfortunately, it would not matter after halftime.

4: Games Do Not End After Forty-Five Minutes

Chiesa’s second goal was an even more blatant example of poor defending from Theo. He was too passive while trying to cover his mark and capitulated too much space at the edge of the box. I have some questions about Gianluigi Donnarumma’s positioning during this play, but the French fullback needed to step up and cover the attacking drive. This is not a play on which I can blame the defensive movement of the rest of the backline. Theo had a mark in this match and he struggled to contain him. He failed too often during the run of play and that greatly increased Juventus’ chance of winning.

5: Weston McKennie Puts The Match to Bed

The left side of Milan’s backline was exposed again on the third goal. Theo was caught upfield on an ill-advised pressure attempt that dragged him way out of position. Franck Kessié inexplicably doubled down on Theo’s overcommitment by trying to initiate a different duel against Rabiot. Both failed miserably and gave Juventus their entire right flank to run down. As Dejan Kulusevski neared the box, he easily beat Romagnoli with a quick move towards the end line and squared the ball for McKennie who buried the game. This was another example of poor defensive play and a lack of discipline in crucial moments across the pitch.

6: Why Did I Just Explain All Of This?

Well, Milan lost this match because players did not support each other defensively or they overcommitted in situations where they needed to back up. A major problem for the Milan backline is how poor they are at supporting each other and how often somebody has to cover for a terrible play by one of his colleagues. The match against Juventus showed these problems in spades and put down another marker between how an elite team should play and how Milan does. Kessié and Theo were the two most at fault for defensive lapses during the match because neither one tracked their man as they exploited space or overcommitted foolishly. These stumbles can cost a team dearly in the standings and lead to a drop down the standings. Now, I do not think this will happen to Milan, but it will be interesting to see how the team rebounds after their first loss of the season. The defensive problems that plagued the team in this match will need to be understood, and a lesson has been learned about Theo in these games. Pioli needs to restrict him more and that should lead to success.

7: The Counter Attack Worked Though

This was mainly a success of Leão and Jens Petter Hauge. Both players helped break play upfield and the young Portuguese striker had a strong day controlling the flow of Milan’s attack. He alone looked the most likely to score for Milan and his ability to drive at opposing defenders was impressive. Leão was an admirable replacement for Zlatan Ibrahmiović and he showed again why he is so highly touted.

I would also like to praise Hauge. He provided a lot of support in his winger role and was a key contributor to Leão’s fast breaks. This was the hardest match he has ever played in and he did not crumble under the pressure. I hope this shows more signs of what is to come for the Norwegian player, but we will have to wait and find out.

8: Where We Sit In the Title Race

No longer top dog, Milan will need to refind their footing and push on for better results in future matches. Currently, FiveThirtyEight projects Milan to finish third, but level on points with Juventus. Based on how FiveThirtyEight's Model works - they weigh end of year results too high so the Bianconeri are being punished for not caring about the last six games of the 2019/20 season because the title race was over - I think they are undervaluing Juventus. If I had to guess a winner this year, sadly it would be FC Internazionale. I think their firepower is just enough to hold onto their points advantage over the rest of the pack. Milan may recreate their win streak and defy expectations, but that remains a tall order. The question is whether Juventus can play up to their potential for the rest of the season, or if they will continue to randomly drop points. Either Juve scenario seems possible, but I expect the Bianconeri to rediscover what made them nine-time champions and push their Derby d’Italia foes right to the end of the season.

9: Overall Thoughts

This matchday was draining. I had to rewatch this game because the events in the city and country I live in superseded this match. My day would have ended much more positively if Milan had pulled out the victory, but you cannot always get what you want. There are frailties that we as a fanbase were aware of, but were rudely reminded of against Juventus. It is almost impossible to not lose all season, but this match had more narrative concepts behind it, especially about Milan showing their title credentials. Losing this one hurt and I hope Milan can get back on the front foot against a particularly bad Torino FC side.

I want to ask the readers something though. I have spent this season talking about individual matches and how they fit within the narrative of the season. I would like to know if people want an analytical description of maybe a player, a major event over the course of the season, or describe anything I have talked about in any of my articles - NPxG, Expected Points, tactical Things, Squad building. Anything is on the table and I look forward to hearing from you.