Summer is over, and it’s football season again. What better way to kick things off than with a classic “Allegri” performance from Milan. Per usual, the Rossoneri came out flat and uninspired. In contrast, Phillip Cocu’s side came out playing a crisp and effective opening 15 minutes, putting heavy pressure on Milan that yielded several deflected balls just past the posts. On another night they might have taken an early lead. But in football, momentum rarely has anything to do with a goal, and against the run of play, Ignazio Abate scampered away from Jetro Willems, while Brenet completely (it was almost embarrassing how open El Shaarawy was) lost his marker and it was a simple cross and finish for which Abate delivered a wonderful ball and El Shaarawy found his first headed goal for the Rossoneri.
I said this was classic Allegri, and sure enough, after Milan scored an early goal in the context of the tie, they took their foot off the accelerator and sat back again. Several reasons this was a mistake:
1. The young PSV side were shellshocked and were out of sorts for the next 5 minutes or so.
2. The crowd for the first time all night seemed uneasy. They were a huge factor in the opening minutes, and after the goal, despite the halfhearted support, the atmosphere was completely different from the opening 15 minutes.
3. Many of the draws throughout Allegri’s tenure come when an early goal is scored, but the Rossoneri fail to kill off the game.
4. Two away goals would all but seal passage to the next round.
That’s not to say that Allegri is at fault for Abbiati making a shocking goalkeeping error. That’s not to say that he’s at fault for Muntari not stepping up to Bruma and pressuring him deep (especially as Milan’s midfield three are limited to the point that they need to sit deep in defense and can’t pressure the ball on a consistent basis – especially lacking of fitness). But it is certainly foreseeable that a young team with a wild crowd behind them, playing in what is most likely an elimination game from European competition would motivate these young players enough to give all they’ve got for an equalizer. And that in a nutshell is the issue with Allegri’s Milan – they lack urgency when they need it.
I understand that this is the first game of the season. I understand that players are yet to reach full match fitness, and PSV are 6 games ahead in this regard. Yet this isn’t just the exception, this is the rule for Milan. They only rarely seem to come out properly motivated, and those situations in which they are motivated seem more like misnomers more than a consistent trend. Dai Dai Dai doesn’t have the same effect it did four years ago.
A few random thoughts on the match:
Milan’s distribution out of the back was very poor, especially when the Dutch side opted to press in midfield. Mexes in particular had a terrible time of things, although he didn’t have much time in preseason to get his bearings.
Milan’s midfield resembled more of a box shape with Muntari and Boateng playing slightly outside of (as well as in front of – barring the ball going to one wing or the other) Montolivo and De Jong. I found this an interesting approach as in theory, this was done to minimize space in the midfield, but in operation it just allowed PSV to combine with quicker wall passing. The front two in the midfield block were easily bypassed, after which, the back four + the wing backs were often left exposed. This meant that Emanuelson and Abate were frequently on the back foot covering the wide space as well as the gaps between the back three (CB + De Jong).
Milan didn’t make a sub until the 79th minute, which when you consider the normal time Allegri realizes he needs to make a change, was fairly early. The side was exhausted from preseason, however, and several players needed a rest 15 minutes before then.
PSV outshot Milan, but 11 of their 22 attempts came from outside the 18-yard box. They shot long on a consistent basis, and until Matavž finally took advantage of a static Zapata and an Abbiati error, the attempts seemed fruitless. But again, much like the Milan goal, all it takes is one error or one lapse of concentration to score, especially in European competition.
Ignazio Abate had a fantastic match, except of course, his moment of Abate where he gifted PSV possession and had to head the ball over his own net in a last-ditch save to atone.
The PSV midfield three dominated the Milan midfield three. Maher, Schaars and Wijnaldum were the more progressive trio, dominated the space in a more efficient manner, were first to lose balls on several occasions, especially in the MIlan half (which is a real issue that has been yet to be resolved with any combination in the midfield not containing KPB).
Incorporating some WhoScored statistics: Milan were so content to let Schaars dictate play from just inside the Milan half that they didn’t even mark him with Balotelli, and allowed Boateng to drop back for extra support. Schaars had 92 touches in the match, followed by Jetro Willems, who was playing in a similar position but further out to the left. These two players had 20+ more touches than any other player on either side, indicating how central they were to play. Schaars also led both sides with 4 key passes, another indication that he was given the time and space to operate in from deep.
All in all, though, Milan exit with an away goal, and the knowledge that a scoreless draw or any form of victory should assure them of the knockout stages. Allegri will be content with that knowledge, however if the Diavolo should struggle to defeat this PSV side at home, it will be Allegri who’s asked the most questions by Berlusconi and Galliani. €30 million rides on his ability to prepare his side to beat or obtain a scoreless draw against the youngest side in the Champions League.
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