Sampdoria v Milan Post-Match Comments

The Seedorf era has unequivocally begun at Milan, and the performance against Sampdoria confirmed this. Seedorf changed 9 players from the Starting XI midweek, but for the first time in many seasons, despite the rotated squad, the replacements had the same ideas and approach that the midweek side did. Put another way, they had a shared goal, an underlying philosophy, and they’ve taken steps forward towards making that into their method of play.

Since midweek a few things improved –

Team Cohesion – Especially after Poli came in for Saponara the side had a lot more balance and was able to transition from having the ball to not having the ball with greater organization than they did with Saponara. I’m not saying Saponara had a bad match, I think he had an unaware match. He’s yet to be integrated into this side yet, his only real large chunk of minutes coming last derby against Inter. He played a bit too freely behind the striker for my liking, in fact, WhoScored’s positional chart has his average position above that of Pazzini..

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 7.44.36 AM

Saponara #8 positioned very far forward, even ahead of Pazzini #11


But the problems with Saponara are coachable, he’s got boatloads of talent and you can see his natural ability and understanding of how to progress up the pitch. Where he falls short is in situations when the team may be pushed against a back line, squeezed tight. In those situations, Honda and Taarabt in particular shined, making use of the tight marking to beat their marker and turn, but Saponara is a slow player and that’s not his style.  That’s not to say he doesn’t have a spot on this side, in this formation etc. What it is to say is that Saponara needs more game time, much like Cristante who I also feel has an excellent skill set, but not the pacing to keep up with football at this level. Saponara, granted has more experience having been a star at Empoli in Serie B, but even as such, the speed of a Serie A match, let alone a Champions League match is still a bit much for this current interation of Saponara – once he’s mastered the system a little better he’s going to be able to interpret it in I believe a more useful manner than Kaka does at present time.

Fitness continues to improve for most members of the squad. Saponara aside, who was subbed looking exhausted before 60 minutes, the side was able to continue high energy play past their normal deadline of the 65th minute. How far past that, it’s hard to exactly say, as this match required a bit of a different sort of energy than a match that’s still hanging in the balance. Because Milan scored early, they were able to ease up on the gas pedal a little bit. This has caused problems before (Milan have conceded more points from leading positions than any other team in Serie A) but with Sampdoria not recording a shot on target in the first half it was understandable. The hosts fought back after halftime, but by the time of the second goal, Milan were almost coasting on autopilot already, not giving full efforts to their pressing and spacing, but nonetheless, they remained compact. As they didn’t have to expend as much energy as in past matches (the scoreline does help with that) Sampdoria ended up having to press higher, work harder and try to win the ball, which ultimately became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they tired as the match wore on, finishing at a pace that resembled a donkey’s trot more than a horse’s gallop.

I do want to touch on a two little tactical tidbits, the first is the involvement and positioning of the recently maligned Keisuke Honda. In contrast to what I feel is the growing opinion among Milanisti, I think Honda is improving match by match, and is settling in about as well as could be expected from a Japanese international, playing on an Italian team, and having to get his instructions from someone shouting English to him. Honda had several nice hold-up moves, turns, and was fouled on several occasions without a whistle. As his frustration grew, he became slightly less effective (the entire rest of the squad does that on most occasions, Clarence is working on channeling it like with Balotelli) and as a result, became an easy target to pick out as someone not performing. Much like Boateng in Milan’s 3-man midfield, Honda does a lot of dirty work that doesn’t necessarily end up on the glory end of the stats sheet, but today he won several balls while providing the final pass (on a very interesting surface where the ball just died once it hit the turf) with accuracy when it seemed he was overshooting the goal – in reality he’d adapted to the surface.

The second point concerns the passing that takes place once a match has been killed. This point is best made in graphical representation, via the Stats Zone App (Free in the App store – I highly suggest it).

Diversity of passing before the second goal - attempts centrally as well as wide

Diversity of passing before the second goal – attempts centrally as well as wide

This is Milan’s passing chart before the second goal was scored. The range of passing is varied, there are attempts centrally as well as wide, although predominantly the long-balls are shot up the channels, as opposed to towards the center of the field and defense where they’re normally collected. But as I mentioned before, one you kill off a match, the focus of the game changes. Movement becomes less directed at attacking, and more towards retaining possession. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.58.06 AM

After the second goal, the idea is to kill the pace of the match. This involves lateral passes, low-risk attempts, and clearances when forced deep (all visible on the diagram). This part doesn’t necessarily require the fitness, especially as Milan were facing 10 men for the last 25 minutes after one of the great Maxi Lopez cameos in history.

Progress continues, tactics are tweaked, and players are rotated.. But for the first time in years, Milan seem to have found an identity of their play. It will only continue to develop.


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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.

14 Thoughts on “Sampdoria v Milan Post-Match Comments

  1. Vincent Lacaria on February 24, 2014 at 10:31 AM said:

    Great review of the match, which I did not watch, but I feel I got a good feel for it. I think Milan’s overuse of attacking through the channels is a little frustrating for me. I feel Emanuelson and Constant are the main perpetrators of that but I guess every team has their signature. A 2-0 cleansheet is something I’ll gladly take this season, after all is said and done

    • PDAcquaviva on February 24, 2014 at 4:19 PM said:

      Thanks Vincent, I really do think the side played well, first off.. there’s a huge need for full backs in this day and age to play like wingers, and that’s why you see Abate, Constant and Emanuelson all functioning in those roles for Milan. They need to keep the play wide, especially if you’re not going to use a winger in the 3 attacking midfield slots.

      Think of it this way, were it not for the attacking play down the channels of the full backs, the widest defenders could pinch in to be even with the next wide player, cutting the play area by about 10 yards. Far easier to defend less space, and that in turn would slow the attacking movements of the whole side. So perhaps your argument is calling out for El Shaarawy, Milan’s only current natural winger although again, he works best when De Sciglio is overlapping him and SES doesn’t have to track back and help defensively (which he has to do when the opposing wide fullback pushes wide and deep).

      Is Milan overdoing it, I don’t really think so, they’ve been fairly narrow for the last few years for my liking, and especially in a 4-3-1-2 where the squad is so narrow, the wide players didn’t have enough of an effect and that imbalanced the side. But should they be overdoing it, which I don’t believe they are, it’s better to err on that than to not to play wide often enough, which just causes myriads of further problems.

      Unless David Moyes manages Milan next week I think it’s safe to say the wide department is in alright shape.

      • Completely agree!!!

        One of the reasons why it looks like we are overusing the wing backs as wide attacking options is the way our approach play was built under Count Max.

        Previously, we would try to push the ball wide to the full backs often in our own half which would cause the full back to have 2 defenders to get past without much help from our player ahead of him.

        In this game, I saw a lot more of getting the ball to the opposition half through the middle before looking to spread the play wide by picking out the overlapping wing back.

        The other point to be considered is that depending on wing backs alone for width without enough movement of the front players was a hall mark of the first half of the season. This caused a very real problem when we lost possesion in the opposition half – Both our fullbacks were so far forward that they were out of position and the centre backs would inevitably be exposed to the counter.

        In order to be more effective, it is imperative for the most of the team to move as a unit towards the ball while in possession, while maintaining enough movement to pull the opposition defense in order to create spaces. You could call it “space management” (on the lines of total football pioneered by the Dutch masters of the 70’s and Sacchi of the 80’s)

      • Vincent Lacaria on February 28, 2014 at 3:43 AM said:

        Sorry, was very unspecific by what I meant. Granted I haven’t checked the statistics, and I should when saying this, but I feel Emanuelson and Constant send to many longballs up the channels to wingers to latch on to, which see us lose possession a lot.

        What you’re saying makes sense to me though. Losing the ball in those areas is better than to lose the balls in the middle of the pitch where the more creative players tend to be in Italian soccer. Maybe I’m asking too much of this current side.

  2. RossoneriFido on February 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM said:

    Thanks Pete for the post match comments.
    To play well without Balotelli and KaKa.
    To keep a clean sheet In spite of Amelia Zaccardo and Constant starting.
    Has definitely many positive points.
    Players are translating Seedorf’s ideas on the pitch.
    Morale have not been any higher since I can’t remember when.
    We are finally playing like a team.
    As for Saponara I am not worried about him one bit as he suffered a lot thus season due to injuries and very low playing time. It was a great decision by Seedorf to rest KaKa as he has been under performing for quite a while.
    And I agree that slowly Honda has been improving and settling in the RAM role.
    Finally thanks Pete and Forza Milan

    • PDAcquaviva on February 24, 2014 at 4:19 PM said:

      Kaka has been off for a few months now, the ole Ibra/SES spring tired phase.. Balo doesn’t seem to have it.

      • IMO Balo doesn’t seem to have it so far this season as there has been too much responsibility on him so far. Whenever we came up against a well organized defense, everybody (from the ex-coach to the fans to the owners to the ball boys to the squad to Balo himself) expected him to do something special. To be the difference maker. I think Balo plays best when the pressure is off him. He played very well last season as defenses focused on SES and the best way to get him playing well again is to have a well oiled engine room that does not necessarily require him to drop deep to help in the build up play.

  3. Brian Jöhnsøn on February 24, 2014 at 1:48 PM said:

    “one of the great Maxi Lopez cameos in history” haha i say leave your mark however you can. I really dig your write-ups, I didn’t play the sport and have come lately to it, so your stuff is really educational for me. Carry on.

    • PDAcquaviva on February 24, 2014 at 4:18 PM said:

      Much appreciated – there’s some good stuff further back in the archives under Allegri – when I started these I wrote a lot more on the literal “tactics” of what happened more if you’ve interest in the ‘how it works’

  4. Nice article Pete!

    I completely agree that undoubtedly Seedorf’s ideas are leaving a mark on this version of Milan. I dozed off after the second goal and didn’t see the match after that but the game until that point showed a marked improvement in the approach play and cohesion.

    The biggest plus point, as mentioned by you, was the fact that this was the first time in recent memory when we rotated without affecting continuity (one of my major cribs from the Allegri era). There is still a long way to go but I have changed my opinion quite a bit about what Seedorf brings to the coaching table over the past 3 weeks. I still have major doubts if we can overturn the deficit at the Calderon but I can now hope!!!
    The major gaps that I see right now are:
    1. Cohesion: The front line is still a bit disjointed (not as much as before) in linking up with the midfield but it is solvable with time
    2. Transition: We are still a bit slow in switching from defense to attack after recovering the ball. This I completely pin on Allegri. In the past 2 seasons, every time we would intercept/ win the ball in midfield, our first reaction would be to pass sideways or backwards in order to secure possession rather than trying to move the ball more directly to the front line in order to create a goal scoring situation or 2 vs 1 situation. In the few occasions we tried a more direct approach we would lose the ball quickly and invite more pressure on ourselves. The player passing laterally the most was and still is NDJ which is why I think he is the one player who may be leaving over the next year unless he adapts

    Although I have been opposed to Europa League qualification for next season, I now think it may not be such a bad idea because of 2 main reasons:

    1. It is a realistic objective for this season that has been virtually written off: We are yet to play most of the teams ahead of us starting with Juve next weekend and keeping a goal (irrespective of whether we achieve it or not) is a good test of the mental character of this squad
    2. Despite being an extremely tedious tournament, it offers Seedorf a chance to rotate and build squad character next season

  5. Hey Pete… just saw the Olympiakos – Man United game… Olympiakos were just magnificent (probably coz United were abject bad) but I was mighty impressed by the performance of N’Dinga.

    I would just love to see some stats and analytical comparison of N’Dinga vs. NDJ/Essien but based on today’s viewing the former’s movement on and off the ball and reading of the overall game from a holding midfield point of view was very very impressive. IMO the biggest drawback of having NDJ in the side is the fact that he passes laterally far too much which slows down the speed of the build up play whenever there is a transition. In comparison, N’Dinga was just moving the ball vertically much faster some times by being more direct and at other times forming small, pass and move triangles in the middle of the pitch to overload Utd’s midfield 2 of Carrick and Cleverly

    • PDAcquaviva on February 27, 2014 at 5:37 PM said:

      I’ve always been in favor of a replacement for a holding player (still believe the archetypal player for that is a Vidal/Gundogan mold) but De Jong does do an excellent job in big matches, and he rarely lets pressure get to him, which for a group of players really being broken in again isn’t a bad thing. This summer should be big for his future, we’ll know by September

  6. unclearthur2 on February 27, 2014 at 2:18 AM said:

    Hey, never been here before but have been browsing some of your old posts. Great stuff!

    “The Seedorf era has unequivocally begun at Milan, and the performance against Sampdoria confirmed this.”

    Agree with this. I think we are all in for an interesting ride, and looking forward to reading your observations as we go.

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