1: What the Analytics Said
AC Milan vs FK Crvena zvezda
|Shots (On Target)
|NPxG per Shot
|Shots (On Target)
|NPxG per Shot
|FK Crvena zvezda
What is the plan? Is it to take the competition seriously? If it is, then this match does not inspire confidence. AC Milan won the expected goals battle, but barely. Understandably, there were two different goals that were ruled out because of an accidental handball and an unnecessary offside by Samu Castillejo. But that does not excuse the performance of the Rossoneri in Belgrade. The team threw away a crucial first-leg win in outstanding fashion to a ten-man FK Crvena zvezda. Generally, there is a tactical problem that leads to this sort of failure. In this case, it seemed that Milan blew this match because of a lack of focus. At a crucial juncture, at the end of the match, the entire teams’ concentration fell apart and they were swiftly punished by a looping header to level the aggregate score. While Milan wins this type of match 41% of the time - draw 26% and lose 32% - it does not change the fact that this was a momentum-shifting moment in the season. Win this game and you can walk into the San Siro on Sunday with your heads held high, lose or draw and you could be in trouble. It seems we are in trouble.
2: A Banter-y Point but a Salient One
Although we are still heavily favored, this performance weakens Milan’s chances of progressing to the next round of the Europa League, and it hurts the team mentally. Watching an opponent celebrate a last gasp goal while you have to just stare at them is draining. I used to be an athlete and I have clutched defeat from the jaws of victory before, and let me tell you I hate it. To reinforce this negativity, Milan is now 2-1-2 in their last five matches, heading into a Scudetto-defining fixture. As I wrote in my Europa League recap/preview, wins matter, and boosting morale is crucial. This is especially true in a year in which Milan is teetering near the top of the league table but in a spell that is not going particularly well. Milan threw this match away and it was deflating to see an opposing team celebrate like they just won the Champions League while the Rossoneri had to watch. I really did not like it.
We’re barely out chancing opponents in the Europa League (!). Losses hurt performance whatever the competition. Milan drew (lost) in an embarrassing fashion and watched an opposition celebrate all over them. Take this competition seriously it can get you into the CL. That matters— Douglas Ramsey (@DouglasARamsey) February 18, 2021
3: Stefano Pioli Forced Into Midfield Changes
I want to preface this by saying how frustrated I am that Ismaël Bennacer got hurt and that he appeared to be hurt for his entire display on Thursday. He looked off of the pace and struggled to control the direction of play. It seems that he was rushed back into first-team duties and, to put it lightly, that is a massive mistake. Milan can very easily stunt his growth if he is sidelined for a long period for a hamstring injury that will not simply go away.
Bennacer has reportedly picked up an injury and will miss the Derby against Inter— Italian Football TV (@IFTVofficial) February 19, 2021
“The worst aspect of tonight is losing Bennacer." - Pioli after their EL fixture. pic.twitter.com/7nCMe8Js9E
However, in this match, Stefano Pioli needed to shuffle his midfielders right after Milan’s two ruled-out goals. Soualiho Meïté was the only midfielder providing any structure to the side, with Rade Krunić drifting in and out of the game wildly, and Bennacer’s lack of match preparedness. Injury replacement Sandro Tonali provided the team with more structure, but Pioli could have gone further and put Franck Kessié on the pitch to continue to buoy the faltering center of the park. I did not like the complacency of the midfield throughout the match and simply putting on better players would have solved most, if not all, of the problems arising during the match.
4: Why Alter The Left Wing?
Ante Rebić came to play, that was evident. He was consistently breaking down Crvena zvezda’s right side and dominating his side of the pitch. I am unsure why Pioli took off the Croatian winger to bring on Rafael Leão. The smarter substitution would have been to place the Portuguese youngster alongside Mario Mandžukić and fully commit to the 4-2-3-1. However, Milan stayed in a strange 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation that struggled to create in the second half. It was a foolish mistake and one that stunted Milan’s offensive endeavors.
4.5: Overall Thoughts
I did not like this match at all. It showed a lack of mental fortitude the team has at the moment. We seem unorganized and important players have started slipping from their scintillating form from earlier in the season. I have complaints about Alessio Romagnoli’s performance, but his penalty surrender was simply unlucky. However, he needs to improve before the Derby Della Madonnina. I was happy with Fikayo Tomori’s performance and I think he is earning a more consistent starting spot in the side. There are positives, but the negatives give me so much pause. Everything could change on Sunday, but we will have to see. I have...