PSV v Milan Post-Match Comments

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).

Schaars and Bruma find room to operate deep as Maher pushes forward as the most successful attacker.

Schaars and Bruma find room to operate deep as Maher pushes forward as the most successful attacker.

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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  • RossoneriFido

    Thanks Pete for the analysis.
    New season same old Allegri.
    Like what you’ve said. Once we take a one goal lead we stop playing with the same intensity. One would think that Allegri should’ve learned by now but his Milan sadly seems or is a lost cause.
    Under Allegri we’ll never be a very good team.
    This is gonna be a very long season.
    Finally Forza Milan.

    • Sambit

      I am afraid I do not share your pessimism. Our overall play was not slick or even as good as PSV, but there is marked improvement from last season. Although our intensity dropped a bit after scoring, we were still carving out chances with regularity. In an away first leg, which also happens to be the first competitive fixture of the season, we took the lead in the 15th minute against the run of play, and still created chances that we did not finish. This version of Milan cannot be compared to Barca or Bayern or Madrid let alone the Ancelotti, Capello or Sacchi versions of Milan past. Therefore thinking rationally, with realistic expectations, we did fine for the first game of the season.

      I think the squad quality has been improved and given some time it will show. This team is young (not as young as PSV but young nonetheless) and needs time to grow This is not to say that Max has turned over a new leaf but the season has just started and I would like to hope that we will see some improvements over the course of the season

      • RossoneriFido

        The season have started with KPB instead of Niang and Muntari instead of Poli. Allegri could have put a stronger squad but didn’t. Also he could’ve made adjustments in the second half but he also didn’t. Some things just stay the same and Allegri is one of those things.

        • Sambit

          I agree with you about the substitutions. They were late as usual and could have been more effective if done earlier. However, I don’t think that Niang is a better alternative than KPB off the ball. He doesn’t press any better than KPB and would not have helped the skew in the formation (explained below). Plus, he dribbles way too much and often gets stuck in a corner. Also, there is some logic in starting Muntari ahead of Poli as he is a left footed player (or at least uses his left sided game better) as compared to Poli. We saw the differences in results between Muntari and Flamini over the legs against Barca last season. Also, in some ways he is more defensive minded than Poli. Given that we were clearly lacking match fitness, Max maybe decided to play safe. This is not to say that Poli is less talented than Muntari/ Flamini or that he may turn out to be more effective than Muntari over the course of the season.

          • RossoneriFido

            Ok KPB presses and deliver passes better than Niang but Niang is better than him in every other aspect of the game. Dribbling Shooting on target Crossing Defending and Running are executed by Niang better than KPB.
            Last season Allegri and KPB held Niang from developing.
            As for Poli and Muntari we had NDJ in our formation who is very much great in defending not to forget that Montolivo and Poli if he wad playing also contribute defensively. As for the left foot of Mumtari we can play in midfield without a natural left footed midfielder just lije we are playing with three right footed strikers. I can’t see how this is an issue that helps Muntari’s case.

  • Sambit

    Hey Pete,
    Good to see you back after a long, lifeless summer. The summer has made me realize the one thing your blog offers above every other (run of the mill) blog is the healthy mix of facts, stats and analysis in every article.

    Great article and I really agree with the point on the shape. We were very box shaped but part of the reason is due to the fact that our team is a bit skewed defensively when Urby is playing at LB. On the one hand we have KPB who is not an out and out RF/ RW and therefore doesn’t press high up. Neither is he played in a central midfield position and therefore doesn’t press there either. Instead he has a natural tendency to shift inside off the ball but he doesn’t have the legs or the understanding of space to press in this position either.

    On the other side, we have Urby, who is a decent player but is not a specialist. Some people may argue that he has been shuttled around throughout his time at Milan that he will need some time to adapt back into a LB. I do not agree with this. A good full back needs to check a few important boxes: pace, crossing ability, understanding of space (behind him) and timing the tackle. Of all these the first 2 can be acquired through training but the latter 2 are very difficult to teach. A player either has it or doesn’t. And Urby just doesn’t. He is a disaster waiting to happen and against better opposition he will be found out regularly.

    Therefore, all PSV had to do was to get the ball out of their box on their left with minimum pressure, play it quickly through midfield and release the advanced player on the right. Sometimes a direct diagonal ball was used to increase the pace.

    Now, there is no straight forward solution in sight for this problem as it is more to do with personnel than tactics. We tried to address part of it by chasing Honda to little fruition. We should be able to reduce this skew once MDS is back and Honda is fully incorporated in the setup.
    I would also like to say that we were not lucky but so can PSV, so a draw is a fair result. I am not too discouraged by the overall performance of the team but would like to reiterate that we are yet to learn how to kill off the opposition. In the 15 minutes before we conceded we were controlling the game as though we were 2 ahead (and probably should have been) and that led to some complacency.
    As far as Allegri goes, he knows that his position will be untenable if we do not qualify for the group stages and given that he has less that 12 months to run on his contract, he will well and truly be staring down the barrel. I still would like to believe that we will go through with an improved performance next week.

  • Dave

    Milan were one Abbiati blunder from a solid 1-0 win away. After seeing all the CL matches and highlights it really does seem like we drew the most difficult opponents we could have and bringing a scoring draw back to the San Siro is nothing to scoff at. PSV are young, energetic, and in better match condition.

    While it wasn’t popular I think conservative was in fact the best way to play this match. I think you’ll see Poli swap with Muntari for the return leg and hopefully Niang for KPB, or at least an early introduction for the younger, more natural striker.

    We will win at home, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve CL soccer anyway.

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