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9 Things: Not Pretty but Still a Win, AC Milan vs Hellas Verona FC, 2-0

Finishing is a talent and it usually helps when you’re on the team with more ability.

SOCCER: MAR 07 AC Milan v Hellas Verona - Serie A Photo by Stefano Nicoli/Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1: What The Analytics Said

AC Milan vs Hellas Verona

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 0.7(0.7) 11(3) 0.06 47%
Hellas Verona 0 0.6(0.6) 11(0) 0.05 53%
FBref and StatsBomb

Low-event soccer usually requires exquisite finishing to earn three points and AC Milan certainly had that against Hellas Verona FC. This was not a dominating match from the Rossoneri in any way, but the team created one clear-cut shooting chance and were the beneficiaries of a beautiful Rade Krunić free-kick. While better chance creation would have made this match a more comfortable victory, it is hard to be too frustrated by the outcome of this fixture. Stefano Pioli’s side over the previous ten games has created 17 expected goals and allowed 13.3 expected goals. Per 90 minutes, Milan is winning their ten-game average of 1.7 expected goals to 1.33 expected goals. There is a level of stability that the team is playing with right now that should feel comforting. While a more comprehensive performance against a mid-table side would have quelled even more nerves, this team is still elite when they travel. This maintained their fantastic away form and bolstered Milan’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League.

2: Home and Road Form, Part 1

As we all know, the Rossoneri have not fared well at the San Siro. Currently, FC Internazionale is winning the home record title with 11 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss (ha, losers). Further down the home record table, and outside of the European qualifying spots is the other team who ply their trade in the San Siro. Milan has won 6, drawn 4, and lost three at their home ground. Conversely, the Rossoneri has 11 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss on their travels away from home (except for the one “away” win against Inter, again ha). That away performance leads the league by 6 points - the Nerazzurri are in second with 28 points away from home. However, Pioli’s side sits a title defining 12 points behind Conte’s men on their away form. If I could point at one reason why the red and black are no longer at the top of the table, their home form would be my exact complaint.

I bring this up now because Milan just played two midtable sides, one at home and the other away, and look at which one turned into a win. Now, the Hellas Verona match was evenly balanced on expected goals while the Udinese Calcio match ended with the two teams being quite separated by expected goals. Despite the dismal home win-loss record, Milan has been better at home by expected goals than they have been away. It does not make too much sense to me, but there is more information to look at than simple wins and losses.

3: Home and Road Form, Part 2

FBref and StatsBomb

As you can see, defensively and offensively, Milan has been better at home than away. One way to explain this strange run of form between home and away matches is finishing luck. The Rossoneri should probably have 2 more draws away and one more loss. At home, the team should have 3 more wins by expected goals. That would actually add two more points to the Rossoneri’s overall point total. However, that is too simplistic. At home against Hellas Verona and Parma Calcio 1913, Milan went down by two goals before working their way back into the match. In the home match against Udinese Calcio, the two teams drew expected goals, but the hosts were bolstered by a completely lucky stoppage time handball - the type you cannot replicate through your own doing.

My main takeaway is that there is a general lack of focus early in matches against teams at the San Siro. On multiple occasions, Milan needed a kick to start attacking with real focus and that hurt the team’s abilities to win certain games and probably bolstered the Rossoneri’s expected goals for totals (score effects, the tendency of a winning team to back off after they add to their lead). Milan needs to grab these matches early and maintain a high enough level of focus to put together a full 90 minutes. Failure to do so is costing the team points and making it harder for Milan to stay in the title race. An argument is that this has already done a lot of damage to our chances.

4: A Little Tactical Wrinkle

The pressing structure of Milan was more pronounced in this match than in most prior. First, Rafael Leão pressed directly, which Pioli does not normally do with his starting striker. Generally, Hakan Çalhanoǧlu, Alexis Saelemaekers, or Ante Rebić will run past Zlatan Ibrahimović to initiate a press, with the Swedish striker acting as a passing outlet for a successful press. In the match against Hellas Verona, Samu Castillejo and Leão acted as a slightly off-center pressing duo with Krunić sliding into an inverted midfield trio and leaving Saelemakers to hold back the opponent’s left side. This helped limit the ability of Ivan Jurić’s team to break into the midfield or even get further past their backline. It was an intelligent way to trap a team deep and worked effectively throughout the match.

5: The Backline Plays Well But Has Some Struggles

Alessio Romagnoli and Fikayo Tomori both played well and limited chances, but had some struggles - mainly from Tomori - with their awareness of teammate’s location. On two occasions, the newly-arrived center back left headers back to a teammate short and provided Hellas Verona a window of opportunity. I would guess he is still getting accustomed to the Milan backline and how Gianluigi Donnarumma exits his goal to make claims, but it was worrying to see this happen more than once. Hopefully, Tomori can move past this issue quickly.

I did not have many complaints about Romagnoli’s match. I thought he played with confidence and looked more willing to step up on challenges. He took himself out of position on occasion, but Tomori was there to sweep up these moments. They played off of each other well.

6: Did Not Think He Could Do This

Free kick goals are like winning a raffle. They do not happen often, but when they do it is cool, and, look at that, you won something for free. Krunić absolutely shocked me with his curling free-kick against Hellas Verona. He somehow got the ball over the wall and netminder while also getting it back under the crossbar. The reaction on Twitter made it seem that everyone was shocked that he got this shot to enter the net. I certainly was. It was fantastic to see him open the scoring in such style. Maybe he never scores another shot like that again, but you have to score it once to never score it again. He gets credit for that.

7: Fullbacks Continue to Dominate

Diogo Dalot scored and Davide Calabria generated three shots for others. To add to their offensive display, Calabria was successful on 9 of his 24 pressures - above his season average - and had a combined 3 tackles and interceptions. In a match without Theo Hernández, the dual right back pairing helped dictate the direction of play. That was a slight surprise, but not one that was completely out of the blue, especially for Calabria who has been sublime. Milan’s fullbacks have been a major positive all season and this was another notch in that success.

8: League Update

Ahh, the constant topics. What happened in the league this weekend? Not much, to be honest. Crotone FC and Parma are both seconds away from punching their ticket to Serie B and Atalanta BC hurt their chances of qualifying for the Champions League. At the top of the table, Inter has reached an 86% chance of winning the league, with their two main title rivals falling below 10% each. Milan now has maintained their high chance of qualifying for the Champions League and bolstered their chance of finishing second or third in the table - 52% combined. That is up from the previous article, which should give us all some more confidence. The key is taking all three points in the remaining ‘should win’ matches and then grabbing victories against the remaining four tough opponents on the calendar. The team is likely to do so, but they have to keep their foot on the gas. I want to watch games on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

9: Overall Thoughts

I thought this match had two excellent moments and then a bunch of nothing. However, those excellent moments led to two Milan goals. I pointed out our strange form earlier and this game had a similar feel. I am unsure if the finishing displays we have had away from home will continue through the season, but they have yet to stop. Now, we look forward to Manchester United FC and boy oh boy do I want to win. Trophies are cool and the Europa League has one. Winning this tie would set a clear statement of intent to the rest of the European field. This is winnable and Milan could put together a strong remainder of the tournament. Let’s get some trophies in the cabinet.