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9 Things: And We Are Back On Track, AC Milan vs Torino FC, 2-0

Marco Giampaolo was unable to punish his previous employers once again.

AC Milan v Torino FC - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

1: What the Analytics Said

AC Milan vs Torino 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 2 1.6(0.9) 7(3) 0.15 46%
Torino FC 0 0.6(0.6) 9(2) 0.07 54%

The above table illustrates how low-event this soccer match was. After Franck Kessié’s chance early in the second half, AC Milan generated one more shot all match. Matchday seventeen provided the Rossoneri with another chance to practice team defense and learn how to secure leads. This was not particularly difficult because of how poor Torino FC has been and was playing. Turin’s namesake club has yet to find their footing in the current season and without any real direction, it is unlikely that they will. Their low xG total in this match is another prime example of the problem that has plagued Il Toro: who will create the offense? Their best hope, Andrea Belotti, was marooned throughout the match and on the few occasions he was free, he was totally unable to get past either of the Milan center backs. Without any offensive drive by Torino, Milan was able to sit on their first-half dominance and coast to an easy victory

2: A Few Thoughts On Torino

They are bad. Moving on.

Just kidding. While their xG differential is not the worst in Serie A - far from it - the actual construction and play of the team is much more problematic. Why they play in a 3-5-2 formation is still bewildering to me, it actually sucks midfield control away from the side. As was said on the American broadcast, a five-man midfield does not actually add midfield support, it just provides width and defensive support for the wingbacks. What it takes away is support out wide in attack. In a 3-5-2, wingbacks need to make a decision about how much width they provide in attack. Teams like Torino lack the individual skill for their wide players to beat a man while dribbling and the passing skill to help the wingbacks exploit space. This then traps the wide players deep in possession and leads to an isolated attack. Some teams, for example, FC Internazionale and SS Lazio, have learned how to fix this, but through scores of managers, Torino still struggles to formulate a competent 3-5-2 system.

Even worse, Giampaolo has yet to understand what formation properly utilizes his squad and generates width. At UC Sampdoria, he set his team up in a 4-3-1-2 formation which made the fullbacks cover a massive amount of space down the flanks. At Milan, he tried to utilize the same tactical plan, but as we all remember, it did not work. He created a semi-functional 4-3-3 formation right before being sacked, but he has yet to use a four-man backline since he left the San Siro.

I think Torino’s best chance of surviving this season would be to switch into a 4-4-2 and drop one of the center backs. This would give the wide players more support while still providing Belotti a striking partner who he can play off of. Giampaolo’s current plan will only compound the current disaster happening in Turin’s Olympic ground. A change is needed.

3: A Tale of Two Halves, Part 1

The most evident way we can tell that Stefano Pioli sat off in the second half was the distinct change between shot attempts in the two periods. In the first half, Milan took 7 of the 9 attempts and only allowed one shot within the box. While Ricardo Rodríguez hit the post in the first half - the closest Torino got to actually scoring - there was never a dangerous attacking move from Milan’s opposition. Compounding Il Toro’s offensive dread were their defensive woes. Rafael Leão punished the Torino backline throughout the match and made himself untouchable by any of the three center backs he needed to break past. Leão and Brahim Díaz set the tone for the first half, and they both generated high pace counter attacks that generated space for teammates. While there were not many shooting chances in the first half, Milan was generating highly dangerous ones or penalties.

4: A Tale of Two Halves, Part 2

In the second half, Milan sucked all of the fun out of the game. None of the Torino attackers were able to consistently create shots in the box, managing an average shooting distance of 17.57 yards per shot. That number dropped because of two late shots in the box. Prior to stoppage time, Torino, while down two goals and being handed possession, only generated one shot in the box off of a set-piece. Any attempts made to solve the Milan midfield and backline failed. Torino spent long stretches rotating possession between their backline and goalkeeper with no real drive forward. On some occasions, Milan would generate a quick counterattack, but these also led to nothing. Would I call this boring? Maybe, but it was the plan for the entire half. Pioli realized he could take his foot off the gas and still hold onto all three points and a clean sheet.

5: Penalty Drama

The foul on Brahim was an easy call and personally, I was shocked it took as long as it did for the penalty to be given. Belotti clearly kicked the young Spaniard and touched none of the ball. There was really no reason for the review to take as long as it did, but such is life.

The other possible penalty call, this one for Torino, was more ambiguous. Sandro Tonali technically impeded Simone Verdi’s path, but Verdi also kicked through the back of Tonali. I do not think this play was a penalty, but I want to defend the referee here a little. This is a hard call to make and without VAR this moment can easily look like a penalty. It was correctly not given and I hope that Tonali’s leg starts feeling better soon. I can’t imagine getting kicked in the back of your leg feels good.

6: More Midfield Davide

I care less about his play here and more about the flexibility of the player. He can hold his own in the center of the park and he understands his role there. Every team should have at least one midfielder or fullback who can play the other position. If Davide Calabria can do this for the rest of his career, his value will rise. I think he has a positional knack for playing in the midfield, and while his passing from this location could improve, he does not surrender defensive space. He can work on his progressive play, but I care more about his positioning.

7: Leão is on fire

Obviously, Leão is on fire and has 4 goal contributions in the last five games, but I want to talk about his play over the course of the season. He currently averages 0.47 non-penalty expected goal contributions per 90. That ranks 42nd in Serie A this season and is equal to or near players like Ciro Immobile, Gianluca Scamacca, and Fabio Quagriella. He has started taking a noticeable step in his development and his shooting has taken a leap forward. While he ranks 12th in non-penalty goal contributions per 90 in Serie A this season, I would expect him to slowly bring his expected numbers closer to his actual. I think we are starting to see Leão deliver on his promise.

8: Title Race Update

Milan won, Inter drew, Juventus FC won. These are the three teams in the race for the Scudetto this year. I know there are other teams in the chase, but I think this group is the only one that has a legitimate shot at taking home the glory. Milan has restored a three-point lead on top of the table and hopefully, they can hold onto this advantage. Worryingly, Milan sits 4th in xG differential now and Juventus has taken a comfortable lead in this statistic. I think they have started to hit their stride and they could easily become a buzzsaw in the back half of the year. AS Roma still sit in second in this ranking, but they were thoroughly outplayed by Inter and lost the xG battle 1.1 to 2.0 That is a shellacking (thorough beating). I think they are a pretender this season and this is why I left them out of my ranking. They simply do not have the steam to keep up with the true heavy hitters. I think Milan can win the league but they need to win every “winnable” match for the remainder of the season. It will be hard.

9: Overall Thoughts

My thoughts on this match are short. Not to be too mean to Torino, but they are not exactly a threat. Milan needed to win this game and they did, comfortably. We play them again in the round of 16 of the Coppa Italia and I expect another victory.