Milan v Atletico Post-Match Comments

I’m not going to recap the match today, it was a fairly straightforward affair which exposed Milan’s shortcomings while also showing the progress made by Seedorf in several areas.

First the negative:

Fitness – Inadequate – Much of the talk of late with Milan has pertained to fitness, and yet there remains a crowd convinced that the fitness is not an issue. Granted statistics can always be misused and manipulated to overrepresent a given conclusion, in this case they don’t show the real problem so much,  as either a pure distance travelled, or the times in a match when Milan score primarily all point towards fitness not being an issue.  Distance travelled only gives a partial idea of the work rate of a side – ex-Milan Mathieu Flamini travelled  more than 13km in the match against Bayern Munich, a full 2km more than anyone else on the pitch. What was the main concern when Flamini was at Milan? Running like a headless chicken. Alright, so distance doesn’t necessarily convey intent, intelligence, or usefulness in movement, but as a general tool it provides SOME benefits (such as a defense of Ozil who it was argued was lazy – when his distance travelled is right in the middle of the pack). As pointed out by Coach Clarence Seedorf, I’ve seen the statistics and we’re in line with the other teams in terms of how much we’re running. But it’s not just a question of how much you run, but how well you run. The team has to grow under all points of view, even athletically. I want to respect Allegri and not pass the blame to him. When you’re running to catch up, you struggle more mentally and physically. At the end of the 2007 season we were really exhausted. We have work to do both mentally and physically”

Another concern levied is that Milan score their goals at the ends of halves, and in particular, at the end of the second half when down already, also known as “garbage time”, or “desperation time”. While pretty and nice to add to the stats sheet, I’m not sure a 10 minute push at the end of an anemic team performance to snatch a draw in the closing seconds counts as being fit. It counts as being desperate, and the time running out. Not to say any goal scored late is desperate (Atletico’s would be far from desperate, no?) however under Massimilliano Allegri Milan made a habit of falling behind and snatching points late when possible (also conceded the most points from winning positions in the league but that’s a point for another day). This doesn’t change the fact that Allegri’s Milan were woefully prepared from a physical perspective. Every preseason the side looked like they’d had a 4-month vacation, and for some players, the gut never fully disappeared. I want this to be the last time I harp on it, so I want to be very explicit so it doesn’t need to be repeated.

The fitness problems at Milan are in large part due to the preparations of Massimilliano Allegri.

Clarence Seedorf cannot fix issues which require conditioning overnight. Milan have made progress in this department – Seedorf’s initial matches changed the Milan philosophy – they would press high instead of.. not do that. It’s hard to really say what Allegri’s defensive deployment was in matches not against Barcelona, although in general it involved the wingers breaking their backs to cover Kevin Constand and Ignazio Abate’s regular blunders. Milan died in the 55th minute in Seedorf’s opening match. Against Napoli, they died at about 65 minutes in. They ran out of gas at about the same time in this match, however the pacing of this European match was entirely different to that of Serie A, a much more frenetic pace. Because of that, getting tired at around the same time as they did against Napoli is actually an improvement although nominally or visually it may not seem to be.

Set Pieces – This is how Atletico scored and should be fairly self-explanatory. One thing I will say is that set-pieces have been an issue for several years at Milan, even predating Allegri, although it should be considered that no coach has been able to solve the riddle so far. It’s not going to be an overnight fix, defending set pieces is about mental acuity and being in the moment at all times, and this Milan side is still too prone to defensive lapses to be a great defensive side.

Finally some positive:

Tactical Flexibility – Milan defended in banks of four, Taarabt and Poli switched wings several times, and Kaka even played as a second forward (which in essence he used to be). The attack looked more fluid, although Taarabt still isn’t familiar with his teammates, and his tricks, while extremely pretty and satisfying to watch from an aesthetic perspective, led to disappointing results. His widely GIF-ed dribbling trick in the corner of the box ended with a late pass back towards his own half after allowing the defense to get set centrally. He lost the ball dribbling on two occasions out of his four attempts, both sprung counter attacks. This is partially due to an unfamiliarity with his teammates, but it’s also a desire to impress and be noticed. Ironically, this may end up working against Taarabt, as his individualistic tendencies get him in trouble more than they redeem himself.

Mental Approach – Huge difference in the first half compared to previous performances. Rather than explicate the individual tactics (sort of semantic to discuss individual tactics in a season that’s already been scrapped as preparation for next season), I want to touch briefly on the larger mental toughness aspect, that while when tired becomes more difficult (looking at you set-piece goal) has been a source of constant frustration for Milan. They’ve never looked like a side that could take a punch and swing back. I’m not saying they’re able to do that now, but at least the mug has been hit enough times that they seem to stop flinching when bad things happen.


Improvement – slowly, but surely.



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About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

4 Thoughts on “Milan v Atletico Post-Match Comments

  1. Ben Khalek on February 20, 2014 at 9:20 AM said:

    First I would like to say that this was a very good analysis and I really like your site. I will be checking it regularly (and you’ve also won a new twitter follower). I do however feel that this article was a bit harsh and very driven by the final result, which granted is the only thing that matters in the end, but there should at least be an honorable mention that Milan’s first half display was probably the best they’ve played all year, and with a little bit of luck on Kaka and Poli’s shots that hit the crossbar/post, it would have been a very different game. On a more nitpicky note, your Tactical Flexibility section in the positive notes was essentially just a paragraph criticizing Taraabt’s style. A few more talking points could have been brought up there with regards to how much more balance Poli provided to the starting line up and where El Shw can potentially fit in.

    • PDAcquaviva on February 20, 2014 at 4:32 PM said:

      Ah, I don’t wish it to come off as harsh, I agree wholeheartedly it was the best performance of the season. As for tactics, Poli’s insertion usually makes the team more fluid, partially because he’s an ultimate utility man, he functioned in the center of midfield with De Jong and Essien (who again, I think played very well), he dropped wide left or wide right to help apply pressure, and he pushed forward when he was unmarked. He may function as a better Montolivo in the holding role (who I really think is fading out of the plans of the side rapidly) given consistent appearances in the role. But like I mentioned before, his utility is that he works in almost any midfield role and can partner every holding player save Cristante or Montolivo.

  2. Great article Pete!!! I can’t agree more on the fitness and mental focus required at defending set pieces but bad habits don’t disappear overnight

    I would definitely support the view that this was a big improvement on what we have seen so far this season. I would not be so critical of Taraabt though. I think he brings a different skill set to the table and one skill that has been missing through out Allegri’s tenure – Dribbling at pace. Accepted that he is still raw and often gets caught in tough situations mainly coz of trying too hard but I would like to look at the glass half full. In a tight match when things get congested due to an overcrowded midfield, it is important to have a dribbler to force the tempo. The other potential advantage is the fact that with correct guidance we may have a player capable of drawing more players towards him to free up space in other key areas and loosen pressure on other important players. The key is to learn when to pass.

    I am very disappointed by the result especially coz we could have had 3 goals prior to half time but at least there is a sense of direction emerging. It may take more than a year and a half for all the work to start translating into dividends and results but at least there is hope!!!

    Despite being the under dogs for the return leg, I feel optimistic. Something I would not have felt 3 months back. Forza Milan!!!

    • pdacquaviva on February 20, 2014 at 4:50 PM said:

      I’m not sure 3 matches is enough to convince me of his bad habits through the last few seasons – it’s a good start though and he deserves praise for that. Not sure if he can keep SES, Kaka and Honda out of the best XI for now, but as a rotation option he makes Birsa look like Birsa.

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