Category Archives: Archived Post-match Comments

Reactions from previous matches

Malaga v Milan Post-Match Comments [Oct 24 2012]

Milan: 3-4-3 – Amelia; Bonera, Mexes, Acerbi; De Sciglio, Montolivo, Ambrosini, Constant; Emanuelson, Pazzini, El Shaarawy

Malaga: 4-2-3-1 – Willy; Gamez, Demichelis, Weligton, Eliseu; Camacho, Iturra; Portillo, Joaquin, Isco; Saviola

Milan started the match with a three-man defense, an idea first floated earlier today after Allegri admitted that they had been working on it in training.

 

This formation saw Milan begin with 3 central defenders. Kevin Constant and Mattia De Sciglio were the wing-backs in this formation, which afforded them extra room on the wings to maneuver. Urby Emanuelson played as a shuttler between the attack and defense, often slotting in as a 5th midfielder, and pulling wide and drifting even with Pazzini and El Shaarawy on the counter. There were only two players in the center of the pitch with this formation, Ricardo Montolivo, who was walking on eggshells after an early yellow card, and the aged Massimo Ambrosini, who simply doesn’t have the ability to anchor a midfield like he did a decade ago.

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Player Positions: Malaga left, Milan right

What this formation does is pull a player out of the center of midfield and replace him with a central defender. The wing backs  get to cover more advanced ground, and are able to overlap the wingers, giving width in the offensive third. Additionally, the wingers help with defending width, and indeed, Milan were solid from the wing all night.

Tactically, this was a bold and interesting move from Allegri, as the performance addressed his primary weakness over the past few seasons, the flanks. In the opening minutes, before they became trapped in the defense, Kevin Constant and Mattia De Sciglio controlled the flanks with support as Stephan El Shaarawy and Urby Emanuelson made diagonal crossing runs (which led to El Shaarawy’s attempt on goal in the late minutes that nearly equalized) while Pazzini checked towards the ball in an effort to hold up and give time for the central midfielders to arrive. The weakness of previous setups became the strength of this one, and for the opening half-hour this seemed like a good move for Milan. It didn’t last, however, as the constant pressure from Malaga led to the wings dropped back into defense, turning the three-man defense into a five man defense, and the ultimate formation into a defensive and negative 5-2-3.

As Allegri noted post-match, the passing was poor on the counter, Milan only completing 73% of their passes, below their average of 86% for the season. In particular, Mattia De Sciglio was very poor with his distribution, completing 60% of his passes, a team low. Granted De Sciglio was playing further up the pitch than he normally does in the four man defense, and thus he was seeing more pressure. He was constantly being harassed, and did well to retain possession on many occasions, however it was clear this hawking was flustering the youngster. This game was certainly a learning experience for him, a positive spin on a negative night for the youngster. His talent remains undeniable, as he was excellent sending in 3 accurate crosses from his flank.

The weakness of a 3-4-3 is the center of midfield, especially if the wings have drifted too deep and are acting in a 5-man defense, as they did as the match wore on. The formation requires an incredible level of fitness, especially from the wing players expected to cover most of a flank, and once Constant and De Sciglio tired, the formation required shifting.  Rather than do this, Max Allegri tried to break through (the same old wait and see attitude that’s caused problems since his ascension to the managerial role), and this ultimately led to the squad becoming more and more negative and more and more defensive.

When that happens, as noted above, the formation looks like a 5-2-3, and today Ricardo Montolivo and Massimo Ambrosini compounded this defensively-obsessed back-line and dropped far too deep on several occasions. The pair opted to cover holes along the defensive back line rather than cover the space and the runs from midfield. Once Milan were particularly compact and deep, it was a simple matter of a well-timed run and a lob over the top of the defense and Milan found themselves down 1-0.  Defending is a matter of percentages, and it’s become clear this season that Max Allegri is fine with the chances that come from long-shots as he believes they’re low percentage chances. They are, however against quality opposition, sitting back and allowing long-shots is not a solid plan, and good players will make you pay. This  Allegri’s Milan have not seemed to learn yet, and they continue to be picked apart by more talented opposition.

On the offensive end, Milan were spotty at best. The lineup Allegri sent out was devoid of any playmakers (this should be obvious by now), Montolivo included. Montolivo is a facilitator at best. When he’s positioned so deep and next to the static Ambrosini, his primary task is to retain possession. If he’s given extra time and space, which he was not today, he’s able to pick out some nice passes and slide some balls in behind defenses. Ambrosini needed to take the pressure off of him, however, today was not his match. As a result, the chances Milan created were of two sorts, the predictable buildup with an obvious end, or the quick counterattack that utilized speed on the break.

Something happened when Milan got in the offensive third (before the ball was returned to Malaga) mentally. I’m not sure if it is a block, a lack of training, a lack of discipline, a lack of ideas, or a lack of determination, but there have been far too many errant passes in the final third of the pitch this season for a top side. Allegri may believe the defense is fine, however even he conceded that the offense needs improvement. If Allegri is conceding that something needs improvement than it really must need it. Box-Panic, this will be referred to. Until the discipline and serenity returns to the squad, it is unlikely that the finishing is going to improve.

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Action Zones, Milan were forced very deep, and Malaga took advantage territorially

Malaga’s performance was very anti-Milan. They opted for quick passes and triangle offenses in tight spaces. The Milan defense was about as compact as it could be, however, Malaga still probed around the edges of the defense, especially as De Sciglio/Constant dropped back leaving a layer of space that the midfielders of Malaga exploited with long shots and precision passing all night. Allegri’s side this season has struggled to consistently bring good pressure, while showing that Milan themselves are particularly prone to pressure, especially high up the pitch. Within 10 seconds of the opening whistle, Milan had an errant pass almost intercepted and taken in to goal.

Pato and Bojan brought sex-appeal to the team and little else. Perhaps because they were strikers #4 and #5.

AGBZ 2112 big Malaga v Milan Post Match Comments

I’ll conclude with a quote from Max Allegri, “I think the team is more protected with this system and of course we will improve with practice. That’s not to say we won’t ever return to four at the back, but right now we need to find some balance.” This formation is a good move, and I applaud Allegri for going out and fixing the issues with his previous formations. This is certainly a positive. However, as he wants to take this formation forward (and why not – an extra central defender for him to add to the rotation) he must learn to put the right players in the right positions. Ambrosini was exposed today, however since he was not directly at fault for the goal, many will overlook this. Ambrosini put extra strain on Montolivo, and the five man midfield idea puts even more strain on the midfielders, as they must cover extra ground for the defense. Antonio Nocerino or Kevin Prince Boateng might be a positive option for this pairing, however as long as Max Allegri is in charge, a De Jong Ambrosini partnership seems more likely than a Boateng/Montolivo partnership.

While a positive idea tactically, Allegri’s Milan looked out of sorts ultimately against a well-organized opponent. The three-man defense seems more useful against provincial sides who are less likely to attack, as they won’t force the wing-backs so far deep. While it was good to see Allegri address the failures of his previous systems, it also was probably a poor idea to try a new system in a must-win game after back-to-back defeats. It didn’t end up the masterstroke that Max had hoped it would be, but his 3-4-3 formation shows that Allegri is capable of fixing his previous tactical missteps, even if he was unable to foresee the risks that came with his method.

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Milan v Genoa Post-Match Comments [Oct 27 2012]

Milan (3-4-3): Amelia; Zapata, Bonera, Yepes; Abate, Montolivo, De Jong, Antonini; Emanuelson, Pato, El Shaarawy

Genoa (4-4-1-1): Frey: Sampirisi, Granqvist, Bovo, Moretti; Jankovic, Kucka, Toszer, Antonelli; Bertolacci; Immobile

Kevin Prince Boateng injured the patellar tendon in his knee before the match and as a result Urby Emanuelson moved forward to the front line to reprise his role on the right wing of the 3-4-3. This meant Luca Antonini was promoted to the starting lineup.

Genoa countered with Gigi Del Neri’s favored 4-4-2 formation, slightly tweaked to amend the absence of Marco Borriello. The result was a sort of 4-4-1-1 with Bertolacci/Merkel supporting the line striker Immobile.

 

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Milan positioning and movement v Genoa (27 Oct 2012)

One consequence of Emanuelson replacing Boateng was to imbalance the squad. Had he been on the left side of the wing than there would have been balls being crossed in from both flanks. However, when he was shifted onto the right wing, the right side became the focus of buildup play. The left flank suffered even more when Luca Antonini came up lame and was replaced by Kevin Constant. Constant is more of a dribbler and runner, not unlike Antonini is. These two players tried to bring the ball up on their side, while on the other flank, they were crossing the ball in. The attacks down the left flank that had been a hallmark of Milan under Ibrahimovic/Nocerino were replaced by in-swinging crosses from Abate and Emanuelson from the right flank, to a higher degree than Milan normally attacked from the left (compare to an average around 38% from the left in previous seasons).

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Attack Sides – Milan left, Genoa right

Allegri went with three central defenders again. Not unlike his first experiment with the 3-4-3, the match against Genoa required that Allegri tweak his 3-4-3 mid-match based on what was happening, however, Allegri did not do that. He has always been accused of under-tinkering rather than over-adjusting and today was no different.

Understandably, the primary objective for the match against Genoa was not to concede. This is why Allegri chose the three man defense again, because the extra defender was worth it to him. A draw might save his job, but a loss certainly would make things murkier. Based on that, Allegri played it safe throughout the match, opting to keep his three defenders throughout the whole match.

In reality, Allegri had no need to keep three at the back through the entire match, although, it can be argued they did their job. I don’t believe their work was entirely necessary, as Genoa only created 7 chances in the entire match, 3 of those from the set-piece. Additionally, all of their chances were outside of the box (in part due to how deep they were sitting).

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Shot’s From – Milan left, Genoa right

The defense never looked likely to concede the whole match, and it is surprising that Allegri chose to retain the spare man at the back, who was usually Daniele Bonera, who played more as a sweeper than anything else, but was unable to earn any comparisons to Franco Baresi.

When Genoa attacked, Zapata or Yepes would pick up the man with the ball, the other would pick up the man making the run to the far post, leaving Bonera in the center to either pick up a late run or to sweep up the space in between, which he did excellently. All three men at the back had a good game, and a good position of that was due to the fact that they were not put under much pressure.

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Action Zones

Zapata continues to have nervy moments that show why he’s yet to lock down a starting position, but also did an effective job driving forward on the right flank in Abate’s absence. His dribbling will certainly get him into trouble against more talented opposition, but against Genoa, he often broke the first line of defense which opened up the game for the rest of the team.

At the end of the day, Genoa probably did enough to deserve a draw. Unfortunately for them, their efforts were in vain as Ignazio Abate was played through on goal by Urby Emanuelson (from an offsides position) and his square ball looked to be another unsuccessful cross again (Abate had 3 successful crosses in 14 attempts, almost 5% better than his normal average of 15% success) as the ball raced past an outstretched Pazzini however birthday boy Stephan El Shaarawy was on hand to tap the ball in for a 1-0 lead.

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Abate a half yard offsides

Abate wasn’t the only one swinging in massive amounts of crosses, the whole Milan squad focused on sending the ball in from the byline. Emanuelson added another 9 attempted crosses, while El Shaarawy sent 6 in himself. In total, Milan attempted 40 crosses, almost one for every other minute of the match. They succeeded with 10 of those 40 attempts, with several clear-cut opportunities to score.

Shifting to what Allegri thought of the performance, and the disconnect is once again evident. While it is unfair to expect Allegri to know that Abate was offsides on the goal, Allegri still chose to question the referee’s calls with regards to penalties not given (rightly). Furthermore, Max made an interesting distinction, that if you judged the squad based on the performances and not on the results, than there would be a lot less criticism. If I had wheels, I’d be a wagon; if my grandmother had balls, she would be my grandfather..etc etc.  Knowing that this is a results-based game, the comment seems directed to those who have criticized his managerial chops. Allegri called this match an answer to the critics, but it was far from that. He chose a system that was not proportional to the threat that Genoa used, didn’t adjust that system once he saw the threat, only made substitutions because of technical as opposed to tactical reasons, and the goal that broke the deadlock was scored after Abate received a pass from an offsides position.

The goal may have broke the Milan fever, but the illness is still alive and well within the squad.

Statistics and Visuals courtesy of WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Palermo v Milan Post-Match Comments [Oct 30 2012]

Milan – (3-5-2): Amelia; Mexes, Bonera. Yepes; Abate, Montolivo, Flamini, Nocerino, Constant; Pato, El Shaarawy

Palermo – (3-4-3): Ujkani, Garcia, Donati, Muñoz, Rios, Barreto, Mantovani; Ilicic, Brienza, Miccoli

 

The 3-5-2 lasted for one half. Allegri re-designed his system in order to give Antonio Nocerino a chance to play against his former club. I imagine the thought process must have been that Nocerino would have a similar impact to El Shaarawy last week against his former club, but this Palermo squad doesn’t resemble the squad Nocerino left.

This was Max Allegri’s first meeting with Gian Piero Gasperini since the SuperCoppa 2011 in which Milan came back from 1-0 down at half to win 2-1.

 

Allegri opted to start with the 3-5-2, with the adjustment made because he had lost the battle for the center of the pitch in recent matches with the 3-4-3. By adding an extra central midfielder at the expense of a winger, Allegri had the plan of bludgeoning Palermo into submission. Gasperini’s 3-4-3 played with heavy emphasis on the right defensive quadrant for the defense. The reason that they were in this position is because both El Shaarawy and Pato tended to start left and sprint diagonally forward to the right corner. Once the ball was in the right offensive quadrant for Milan (an area Palermo allowed Milan to attack into), they looked to swing the ball into the box, as highlighted by their 31-6 crossing advantage over Palermo.

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Palermo v Milan First-Half Positioning

The 3-5-2 formation is a quintessential “Allegri” formation. Three central backs. Three central midfielders (all of defensive nature). Two wingers who cover the flanks, but often have a tendency to get caught up with their defensive duties and not get forward, as you saw from Kevin Constant today. To be fair, the bulk of the Palermo defense was ahead of him and on his side of the pitch. Additionally, he was dealing with the wide threat of Brienza with Morganella supporting him. However, once Brienza was substituted in the second half and Milan were able to get back into the match more, Constant still didn’t get forward enough. Was it his yellow card? Perhaps, and he’s only had one other match in this formation, like the rest of the squad.

The 3-5-2 was not effective because it wasn’t particularly strong in the center of the pitch (should have been midfield, but with the players in the formation it’s no surprise the football was as disjointed as it was) when that should have been one of the strengths. The three central midfielders for Milan were often overrun by Palermo, who had extra support centrally from Brienza and Ilicic who dropped back to create a mini-diamond that operated in behind the Milan central trio (who it should be said played positioned a bit further up the pitch than normal).  The four v three central advantage was noted by Stephan El Shaarawy, who drifted back himself often forming a 4th midfielder as the wing backs dropped back, resulting in a formation that looked like a 5-4-1 defensively.

Stephan El Shaarawy works so hard for the team he loves to track back and defend. That being said, he often does a very poor job of it. He’s nearly conceded four penalties by my count this season. He often rushes in with a desire to get his body in the way with reckless abandon. He, in my opinion, was guilty of conceding a penalty that was not called today, and this was not the first time he’s done that. While defending in wide areas is absolutely essential, and I understand the need to discount-double-check Kevin Constant at all times, but if he keeps this unfettered approach to defending up he’s going to end up offsetting his contribution for the match.

The 3-5-2 only lasted until halftime, as Palermo picked up a penalty after Abate’s arm made contact with a Miccoli ball. Penalty or not? Attacker in me says yes. The ball did play the hand, but the hand was perpendicular to the body, and away from it. Harsh, yes. After Ignazio got the benefit of the doubt against Genoa, he can really have no rebuttal on this one.

That’s not to say he wouldn’t have any complaints though, “The penalty was dubious…I think it was a bit generous.” He continued, “At the end of the first half we looked each other in the eyes and we weren’t playing as we know we can,” he added. “We have to play with intensity as we don’t have quality in the middle and we have to overcome that.  The weakness of this Milan side is the midfield, so playing with more midfielders might not be the way to get the best out of the squad. It was back to the drawing board in the second half for Allegri.

As Miccoli converted the spot kick, the halftime whistle sounded, and Allegri decided to pull off the least-effective player on the pitch in t he first half, Mathieu Flamini. He replaced him with a wide forward in Urby Emanuelson, however, the change lasted all of two minutes, as Franco Brienza was rewarded for his persistence up top with an unstoppable drive.

Now look, at this moment in time, Allegri is in serious trouble. He gets one last roll of the dice, and he made the right decision. He removed his spare man in midfield and defense and re-adjusted the squad to a 4-3-3. This strengthened the middle of the pitch, as well as the wings, due to the fact that all players now had someone in support of them. The wing backs were not required to dart as far up the pitch, and Ignazio Abate returned to his familiar position with two players ahead of him instead of just one.

Montolivo remains the only facilitator on the squad, completing 13/18 long balls in the match with 86% passing accuracy on 95 passes. He was asked to play the Pirlo role, and he has done so excellently, also adding 5 tackles and a calm and collected equalizer to his all-around performance. It was clear he was freed up by having the extra midfielder, but the presence of Flamini didn’t justify his inclusion as Flamini completed all 13 of his 13 attempted passes in the first half. He only touched the ball 24 times in the center of the park, confirming the fact that he was there to link up the midfield rather than provide any sort of offensive or creative presence.

Gasperini switched to the 3-4-1-2 in the dying minutes, but by that point Milan’s attack focus had shifted to the flanks, and the approach was not successful. He noted in his post-mass press conference that he felt the squad had a great performance for 47 minutes and then lost the ability to bring the ball forward out of defense. This is true, however, I believe the crux of Palermo’s issues in the second half was that Brienza was taken off, which neutralized Palermo’s most dangerous player throughout the first half (Ilicic and Miccoli drifted in and out of the match, but when they were on, it was deadly). Brienza was also the most cleverly positioned, as he had Kevin Constant spinning each way. Brienza’s removal from the pitch saw Luigi Giorgi take the pitch (who had been in good form, scoring against Genoa and Chievo), however Giorgi wasn’t able to find the cracks in the lines that Brienza was, and his performance today was average as he struggled to make an impact on proceedings.

Ultimately, when Milan doubled down on the crosses late, they found more space, as Palermo had to substitute Mauro Cetto in for Santiago Garcia to sure up the left side of defense where Milan were attacking in the last minutes. While unable to prevent Bojan from dancing through the lines, he was able to preserve the draw, which set up Allegri for a press conference in which he could say, “We deserved more..”

From what it seems though, the 3-5-2 is dead.  Galliani declared after the match, “I don’t need any stimulus; I get angry all by myself. I also get angry when I see a line-up with five midfielders.” Reports say that Galliani has told Allegri that he doesn’t like the all-physical midfield that Max has chosen of late (feel free to create a lineup using the only 2 technical midfield options). If only Adriano hadn’t paid for all of these players then he might see more youth development and players breaking into the first team. As it stands, we see Flamini, Traoré and soon Muntari instead. The ideas for the reset are there, but the project seems to be stalling.

 

Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

 

Milan v Chievo Post-Match Comments [Nov 3 2012]

Milan – 4-3-1-2: Abbiati; Abate, Mexes, Zapata, Constant; Montolivo, Ambrosini; Emanuelson, Bojan, El Shaarawy; Pazzini

Chievo – 5-3-2: Sorrentino; Frey, Andreolli, Dainelli, Papp, Dramé; Luciano, Guana, Hetemaj; Thereau, Pellissier

Chievo showed up to San Siro with the intent of picking up a draw. They brought an ultra-defensive lineup with five defenders (and were a little bit more up front about it than Allegri was on the first attempt of the 3-4-3).

 

This game opened up with Chievo’s defense in good position. Milan struggled to break down the five static defenders, and two of the three central midfielders dropping in to plug gaps in between the lines. Combine this with Milan’s woeful finishing up until this point in the campaign, and the first 10-15 minutes of this game were an absolute struggle against apathy.

In fact, the opening goal wasn’t a result of beautiful play or quality planning, but of pure circumstance. Kevin Constant sent in one of many dangerous crosses into the area and it fell harmlessly to Andreolli who made a mess of his clearance, teeing up Urby Emanuelson, who’s shot was subsequently deflected on it’s way into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Speaking of Emanuelson, he had another solid game from the right wing, assisting two goals and scoring the opener. Yet he still faces large amounts of criticism. Part of this is due to the fact that he seems to lose the ball a lot. He was dispossessed 6 times against Chievo, a significant amount higher than his normal 2 turnovers per match. It seems he is more willing to lose the ball in the final third than in the middle of the pitch, and this shows in the amount of risks he has taken. Some will see the failures and point to his ineffectiveness while others can see the same thing and point to the positives. My opinion is that he’s developing into a player who impacts the game significantly.

UrbyimpacttoRW Milan v Chievo Post Match Comments

Emanuelson has changed the Right Third. Previous two years under Allegri, Milan near bottom of rankings for going up right side, now near the top. Difference is Emanuelson shifting to RW. Attack Directions. Milan left, Chievo right.

Part of Milan’s success of today’s match was due to the high percentage of shots taken in the box, 20% in the 6, with over half of Milan’s total attempts for the match were from inside the box, suggesting that Milan were more successful penetrating and getting quality opportunities than they had been in previous matches. For the season, Milan averaged 6% of their shots from inside the 6-yard box, placing them joint 5th most. To contrast that, Chievo are allowing the highest percentage of shots from within the 6-yard box in all of Serie A with 9%.

WhoScored Action Zones statistics show that Milan have spent the least % of time in their own half in all of the Serie A. Additionally, they’re tied for the most time in the opposition half, with 31% of the match spend in the attacking half. The problem has been creating chances from this possession, which suggests that the current side has enough facilitators, but not enough creators.

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Other statistics support this conclusion. Milan average the most crosses in the league per match, as well as the most long balls per match (with 8 more per match than second place Lazio). They’re second to only Juventus on short passes per match, yet are 3 through balls per match off the top of that statistic. Guile is something this Milan side is lacking; not many players are capable of playing key passes this season. In fact, not a single player on the Milan roster averages 1 through ball per match.

But today, they got it right, and a lot of that is due to Bojan Krkic’s inclusion behind Giampolo Pazzini. This was the first time Bojan wasn’t expected to lead the front line, and was allowed to drift around the pitch with more freedom. He’s also coming into form, assisting Riccardo Montolivo’s goal against Palermo and finding the net himself against Chievo. He provides a much different option at the trequartista to Boateng, and against a Malaga side that doesn’t have a reference point in their holding pair, it may be a better idea to start Bojan as opposed to Boateng in the role behind the strikers.

Was this Milan’s announcement on the Serie A stage today? Perhaps, but more than anything else, this was Milan encountering a team that was of lesser quality, even lesser desire, and was broken after the 30th minute. While Milan have shown an ability to come back against Palermo midweek, however, Chievo have not shown that ability this season. In their three wins, two were shutouts, and against Sampdoria, they scored first. Once Montolivo’s goal went in, you could see that the last bit of desire in the Chievo Verona squad evaporated. 5-1 is a bit flattering of a scoreline, but the balanced scorers reflect the overall ability of this side to attack from many different angles.

The one biggest factor in Milan’s performance? They ran. They were active off the ball. Abate wasn’t just crossing to a static Pazzini, he had Emanuelson, Montolivo, El Shaarawy and Constant bombing forward into the box, and this movement is what broke down the 5-man Chievo defense (that and horrible individual errors and deflections). This young squad is capable of this sort of play every match, and now that Allegri has bought himself some breathing room, it will be his next test to instigate this urgency in the future.

 

Statistics and Diagrams Courtesy of WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Milan v Málaga Post-Match Comments

While last night was not a quality Milan performance, a draw felt harsh on the Rossoneri [read Allegri – ‘we deserve more / it all / to win’ etc]. The draw felt harsh because there was only one match in the Champions League this season in which a team had less shots than Málaga did against Milan last night (that was Shaktar v Nordsjælland with 3) [via Opta]. Milan on average concede 10 shots per match at home, however today they were able to cut that number down to four (although not the important stat – goals).

 

The problem is that of those four shots, three of them were on target. Of those three on target, two were going through on goal.  One shot was blocked in the six hard box by Bojan, and a second shot was Eliseu’s opening goal. While they did not have the quantity of attacks that Milan had, Málaga arguably had more quality chances than Milan to score.

The first point I want to discuss is the goal for Málaga. Isco drifted past the central midfield pair of De Jong and Montolivo (too easily, it should be said) and Isco found himself with three defenders in a diagonal line. Mexes was challenging the ball, Bonera was slightly behind him covering the gap behind Mexes should Isco cut left or right, and in the back was Constant, who was tracking the run of the far post man, Eliseu.

The three mistakes in descending order of accountability:

  1. Constant losing his man at the far post. Inexcusable.
  2. Monto-jong were careful to not concede a foul, but this  may have been the time to take down Isco. They allowed him around them with two touches, and that is going to cause problems every time for a defense of the quality of Milan’s.
  3. Bonera could have intercepted the through ball by Isco. It looked as if Bonera had read the ball, and was sliding in to clear it, but appeared to pull back, as if Constant would simply knock it away or clear. Bonera thought he had more support in behind, but he did not.

Positionally, Milan spent as much time in their defensive, middle and offensive thirds as they have averaged throughout the season, and much like most of the season, the final ball was the piece missing today.

ActionZonesSeason Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Milan’s Action Zones [Season-long]

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Action Zones for Milan v Málaga

Milan lead the group averaging 17 shots per match, and they attempted 19 shots against Málaga. Their offense does a good job creating scoring chances, often times they are just not the quality of shots that result in goals. It also seems that the search for a formation has ended temporarily, as the 4-2-3-1 provides the most support for the squad, especially in continental competitions. I mentioned on Twitter how I don’t feel that Ambrosini/De Jong provides the best partner for Montolivo in all situations, but  until the defense is able to get on their feet (and they will never do with Allegri rotating them every 20 seconds) the extra defensive support is a welcome sight. Eventually, I’d like to see the progression to a more forward-thinking duo in the center of midfield. Boateng played in a similar position for Ghana in the 2010 World Cup. So long as he’s not scoring, why not use him further back on the pitch?

Both Milan and Málaga attacked down their flanks. This is a change from the Milan strategy of late (which focused on a lot of central attacking) [as can be seen from the season-long diagram further down the page].

Once again, Emanuelson’s presence on the right wing saw a significant portion of buildup play come to the right flank, however, on the other flank, Stephan El Shaarawy (more the threat of him – in actuality El Shaarawy was mediocre at best) and Kevin Constant were controlling the left flank.  Constant had an impressive 87 touches (second on the field to Montolivo’s 88) and was rated WhoScored.com’s man of the match. I don’t think Constant was the best player on the field, but he certainly did dominate the left flank, especially after conceding the opening goal. Whether or not you consider Constant at fault for the goal, he certainly made his best effort to make up for it. That sort of effort is appreciated and has not gone unnoticed. Does he have the class to compete in the Champions League week in and week out? I do not believe so, and on that same thought – Mattia De Sciglio is not ready either.

Looking at the season-long average,

MilanSeasonShotDirectionsAllowed nov 7 Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Shots Conceded by Milan – Season-Long

Milan have allowed less than half of their opposition’s shots from within the 18 -yard box. 3 of Málaga’s 4 attempts were from within the box, which represents an area for improvement for the Milan side. The positive is that they didn’t allow a shot in the six-yard box, however to be fair, once Málaga got their goal, they appeared to stop pressing for a goal and were content to ride out their victory / draw into the knockout stages.

I also want to discuss shot direction, as this indicates where the play is coming from as the shots are taken (as opposed to which third the teams build up on). On the offensive end, Milan normally attack with ⅔ of their attacks coming from the center of the pitch.

Screen Shot 2012 11 07 at 9.21.02 AM1 Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Milan Build-up Attack Directions – Season

Milan’s attacks usually come from the center of the pitch after the buildup play comes from the flanks.

Attack Sides Milan Season Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Build-up Play for Milan – Season-long

However, today differed from this season in that there was not much buildup play through the center of the pitch. In fact, both Milan and Málaga seemed to abandon the center of the pitch,

MilanMalagaAttackSides1 Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Milan v Málaga Build-up Attack Sides

and created play in the channels and along the flanks. Once it came to the final third though, the ball  was not distributed to the center of the field for the shot as it normally has been under Allegri. In fact, Milan spread the ball nearly equally, shooting from all angles.

MilanvMalagashots Milan v Málaga Post Match Comments

Shot Direction – Milan left, Malaga right

This suggests a diversified attack by Milan, and one that was not able to discern it’s greatest strengths.

Going forward, it is clear that Milan are starting to emerge with an identity, however it has taken too long for this to happen. It’s understandable that Max Allegri would struggle to find a new system for his team after losing his top 3 players, however now that he seems to have found some stable ground to stand on, whether he will persist with the 4-2-3-1 or whether it’s time to try another new formation or combination of defenders.

Statistics and Diagrams courtesy of the incomparable WhoScored.com

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Napoli v Milan Post-Match Comments [Nov 17 2012]

Napoli – 3-5-1-1: De Sanctis, Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Gamberini, Maggio, Dzemaili, Hamsik, Inler, Zuniga, Insigne, Cavani.

Milan – 4-3-3: Abbiati, De Sciglio, Mexes, Acerbi, Constant, Montolivo, De Jong, Nocerino, Bojan, Boateng, El Shaarawy.

 

Allegri opted for the 4-3-3 formation. The theory here was that on the break, Milan would have three forward players pressing the back three of Napoli, which should create a large number of chances. That is what happened, as Milan took a season high 28 shots in the match. The issue with these shots is that they were not the most quality of opportunities.

 

Milan Shots Season Napoli v Milan Post Match Comments

Milan’s shot position [Seasonal]

Milan Shots Napoli v Milan Post Match Comments

Milan Shots [Match]

These shots were from further out than Milan normally take this season. I would speak more on the shot statistics, however Kevin-Prince Boateng and Antonio Nocerino managed 10 shots between the two of them, none of which looked close to scoring. It’s understandable these players want to shoot, as they both had 5+ goal seasons last year and are yet to get on the scoresheet. This is a different kind of year than years past, and they will need to adapt in order to create quality chances. So far they have not.

 

More worrisome to me, was Milan’s relative inactivity with their chances NOT from open play. Milan had 5 set-piece opportunities (to Napoli’s zero) and 5 counter attack opportunities, and yet were not able to convert any of these chances. The counterattack has been a mainstay of the “New Allegri” tactics, and when it’s ineffective, the squad as a whole struggles to break down opponents.

1 big Napoli v Milan Post Match Comments

If Milan aren’t able to exploit the space quickly before the opposition packs in defensively, they struggle to score. That’s not to say chances aren’t abundant, as Milan’s 17 shots per game are near the top of the league, but quality chances and therefore goals are not in as great of supply, with the Rossoneri only putting in 20 goals this season in Serie A. Grande Stephan.

BZL 4264 big Napoli v Milan Post Match Comments

Back to Kevin-Prince Boateng – he had another divisive performance. Napoli manager Walter Mazzari noted at the end of the match that he felt Boateng was a threat that Napoli did not deal with well. I disagree, and for more than just the fact that Boateng didn’t find himself on the scoresheet or provide an assist. His passing % was down almost 10% from his Serie A Average. What Mazzari may be referring to, is not Boateng’s shooting (which was 0 / 7 ) but his key passing. Boateng provided 4 key passes in the Napoli match, a significant improvement on his average of one per match. Is it because he was told to play riskier passes? Were the situations different than he’s seen in previous games? Was he just more motivated? More time is needed to answer those questions.

 

Tactically the 4-3-3 provides one of the most positive attacking formations if done right. Today Allegri managed the 4-3-3 sort of right. For a man that wrote his A-Level managerial thesis on the 4-3-3 (italiano) though, more is expected.

Milan conceded 4 minutes in after a long-range Inler shot bent past Abbiati. Cue Adriano Galliani in the stands: Shitty Keeper! While it may have been a mistake of a “shitty keeper” (for which he apologized after the match), or at least one that has been on the decline, the fact is that Inler should not have had the time he did to shoot the ball. One may blame De Jong or Nocerino for not marking up (as they should – these two players were directly responsible) however, the fact is that the formation they were in did them no favors. When playing in the 4-2-3-1, the midfield pair often have the support of SES/Emanuelson dropping back to double up on the wings, which allows the central pair to shift left and right without worrying so much about being bypassed quickly. In the 4-3-3, there is not as much midfield support. The “wide” players in the 4-3-3 in this instance were playing with a lot of width, especially defensively. De Jong was almost left alone in the regista spot – seen in many instances by him being the one chasing Cavani down the field. This leads to extra gaps in the midfield, which would normally not be a problem for a player like Antonio Nocerino who made his living by being on the move, however, his defensive marking is poor. He didn’t track back in the opening minutes well enough, and it seemed that all of the squad seemed to lack focus for the first half, Stephan’s 44th minute goal aside.

It’s no wonder they were skittish – having been ripped into by Allegri after the Fiorentina game as well as Silvio Berlusconi’s helicopter-laden descent into the depths of the devil.

 Napoli v Milan Post Match Comments

Silvio asked Nocerino to shave his beard, and Mexes to cut his hair – making sure to cover his vanity basis while delving into the “motivation” aspect of his trip. More players are leaving in January. Cue the pressure to perform. Robinho answered that with an assist, however, if the reports are to believed, it shouldn’t de-rail his January move to Santos.

The second half improved upon the first half significantly, although the lack of close-range finishing remained an issue. Long shots are not quality enough opportunities, and if Boateng/Nocerino continue to add 10 misses to that with all-long range efforts then they will find themselves back on the bench quickly. Emanuelson has proven himself to be more than just a rotation player this season, and the fact he was rested today says to me that Allegri plans to start with him from the first minute in the CL midweek.

More than Milan earning a point today, Napoli lost 2. They were up 2-0, controlling the match, and then sat back and went into a defensive phase for almost the entire second half. I understand that Napoli is a counterattacking team, and from time to time, they’re going to be put under immense stress, but it seemed that the progressive passing and positioning from Insigne and Hamsik diminished as time went on. Insigne came a little more centrally to receive the ball, and Hamsik put in a little less work defensively and didn’t exploit the space that he was afforded around De Jong to full effect in the second half. Milan were lucky to escape with a point here, as a clinical Napoli (such as last season) hung a 3-1 loss on the Rossoneri (who had a much more quality side). A draw does little for either team, really. Napoli had a chance to pick up points on Juventus and failed, and Milan squandered an opportunity to put some space between them and the relegation zone.  For the Rossoneri, they face a must-win match against Anderlecht in the Champions League, and the opportunities for Allegri to turn it around are disappearing one at a time.

 

Statistics and Diagrams via WhoScored.com

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Anderlecht v Milan Post-Match Comments [Nov 21 2012]

Milan: 4-3-3 – Abbiati, De Sciglio, Yepes, Mexes, Constanti, Nocerino, De Jong, Montolivo, Bojan, Boateng, El Shaarawy

Anderlecht: 4-2-3-1 – Proto, Gillet, Kouyaté, Nuytinck, Deschacht, Biglia, Kljestan, Jovanovic, Praet, Bruno, Mbokani

 

Screen Shot 2012 11 22 at 10.31.23 AM Anderlecht v Milan Post Match Comments

via Gazzetta Dello Sport

Milan didn’t attempt a shot in the first half of play. Not a single one. In fact, the first half may go down as the worst half of play in the modern Allegri era. This game is useful to think of as two halves, because the two halves represented two completely different tactical approaches from Milan. It’s not that there was a formation change (one of the more common ways to alter tactics), there was a philosophical shift at halftime.

Milan completed 67% of their passing overall – their worst outing of the Champions League campaign. Breaking down that statistic even more, their passing became less accurate in the second half, dropping from 65% completion to 57%. Also interestingly enough, between the first and second half, Milan actually completed less short passes (68% down to 56%) and were more successful on their long attempts (increasing from 58% to 68%).

Their urgency also seemed to drop. Milan allowed Anderlecht to take the attacking position, as Anderlecht attempted 44 runs/passes into the attacking third or key areas in the first half (Milan had 33). In the second half, Anderlecht ballooned up to 81 runs/passes into the same areas, compared to Milan’s drop to 18 runs/passes into the final third and key areas.

The passing was less accurate, there were less runs, and yet still Milan managed all three of their goals on four total shots all of which came in the second half. The red card helped. It certainly was a last-man foul, and I think Nuytinck can have few complaints after catching Pato’s standing leg on the follow-through.

Rather than talk about Mexes goal I’ll let it speak for itself. This goal came soon after the Nuytinck’s red, and the man down is what put Anderlecht at three at the back for the latter portion of the second half. Anderlecht had to push on another attacker rather than replace a defender, as this was a must-win game for their progression hopes as well. Unfortunately for the Belgians they ended up playing a 3-2-3-1 and were extremely vulnerable to the break. This is when Milan started taking advantage of the counterattack, which has been and continues to be their best attacking outlet (as they lack the creativity to break down more organized defenses, the best way is to spread them out and use pace on the counter).

Overall it’s a game that should confirm Max Allegri as manager for the foreseeable future. Milan didn’t deserve a 3-1 scoreline, and in fact that 2-goal cushion doesn’t express how close they came to drawing the match, and even facing severe trouble when Milan Jovanovic blew his 1v1 opportunity with Christian Abbiati in the first half. In any event, Milan persevered through the attack, which is certainly a positive, although as many have noted – it would be nice to start the engine in the first half once in a while and not have to rely on a tirade from Max Allegri in the dressing room to bring their sharpness. Good match? No, but as Allegri has said many a time before, it’s a game of results – and today Milan took the result.

Stats provided by UEFA Champions League
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Milan v Juventus Post-Match Comments [Nov 25 2012]

On Saturday, Silvio Berlusconi made his second visit via helicopter to Milanello to deliver another of his self-made “famous pep talks”. Interestingly that pep talk included a section in which Berlusconi spoke of Pep Guardiola. Comments regarding Marco Van Basten being considered for manager may have spoke of a time before Allegri, but Silvio left little doubt as to his faith in Allegri’s long-term abilities. As Silvio indicated, “We will try to sign Guardiola, but it’s difficult. We have also spoken with Allegri about Guardiola. When you have this kind of possibility, then everyone is working hard to reach it. We know that the English clubs want to sign Guardiola, but we will also be there.”

Enter Max. Noticeably unset by this revelation by Berlusconi, Allegri replied to questions, “”I don’t like talking about the things that the president and I have said to each other,”

AC Milan (4-3-3) – Massimiliano Allegri
Marco Amelia; Mattia De Sciglio, Philippe Mexes, Mario Yepes, Kevin Constant; Riccardo Montolivo, Nigel De Jong, Antonio Nocerino; Robinho, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Stephan El Shaarawy.

*Amelia started after Abbiati injured in warmup.

Juventus F.C. (3-5-2) – Angelo Alessio
Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Martín Cáceres; Mauricio Isla, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Kwadwo Asamoah; Mirko Vučinić, Fabio Quagliarella.

Last season, before the crucial derby against Inter Milan, Milan attempted to take the pressure off Max Allegri by giving him a two-year contract extension. Milan ended up losing the match 1-0, and many considered this the turning point for Milan’s eventual second-place finish. Entering yesterday’s match, Max Allegri was perceived to be on the hot seat. His job had not only been questioned by Silvio Berlusconi, he had outright admitted that he believed Pep Guardiola could and would do a better job than Max. Working in Max’s favor was the fact that Guardiola ins’t available. His hiatus continues until presumably January in which time he will begin the process of choosing his club for the following season.

Perhaps this took some of the pressure off Allegri. He now has a probable expiration date (as he’s reached the next level of the Champions League and should be confirmed through the end of the season) at the end of the year, while knowing he has the support of the management at least until then.

It was also reported that Silvio Berlusconi told Max Allegri to play both Robinho and Boateng up front and that he suggested Boateng in the False 9 role, which turned out to be an effective plan to deal with Andrea Pirlo. Whether or not Allegri is the architect behind the Rossoneri’s performance is debatable, but he deserves credit for it’s success just as he deserved criticism for the team’s previous failures.

JuvevMilanPirloshutdown1 01 682x1024 Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

The midfield trio of  Nocerino, De Jong and Montolivo were very influential in shutting down Juventus’ MVP midfield threat. This began because Milan were able to occupy Juventus’ wingers with their wing-backs. Yepes and Mexes were able to deal with the strikers, while Boateng dropped back to occupy Pirlo. This often left De Jong as the free man. De Jong was able to drop back and allow the wing backs to push up in situations, and was also able to step up and challenge any midfield runners who came through.

De Jong catching r unners coming through 1024x482 Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

De Jong picked up most of the offensive players for Juventus at some point during the match, but in particular he paid extra attention to Andrea Pirlo when Antonio Nocerino and Kevin-Prince Boateng were caught up the pitch and unable to defend. By stepping to Pirlo, he would force him to make a hurried pass, many of which were cut out by Mattia De Sciglio, who was the defensive MotM (Kevin Constant’s goal line clearance shouldn’t go unlauded but De Sciglio was more consistent).

Boateng defensively dropped back on Pirlo.

BoaShadowPirlo 1024x654 Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

Boateng’s primary responsibility was to shadow Pirlo.

CoverPirloleaveCaceres 1024x544 Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

Milan preferred Caceres coming forward to Pirlo. Boateng stays to Pirlo allowing the CB to come forward from his less favored left-side of defense.

Offensively, he interchanged with Robinho on the counterattack. These two would make diagonal runs crossing each other and linking up using small passing triangles especially in the first half when the passing was less constrained. In fact, Milan’s best segment of the match was before they scored, as once they had the goal they appeared to sit back content to protect their 1-0 lead.

The secondary cover for Andrea Pirlo was Antonio Nocerino. Primarily he was tasked with marking Arturo Vidal however if Boateng was not in a position to put some pressure on Pirlo he would step up to direct Pirlo in one direction (he usually forced Pirlo to left foot).

NoceSteptoPirlo 1024x540 Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

Nocerino stepped to Pirlo if he got past Boateng. De Jong only stepped forward after other options had been exhausted.

Nocerino had to be extra cautious when stepping to the able-footed Pirlo as he was on a yellow card for much of the match. Overall, he was effective as a second defender on Pirlo, and was only wrong footed on a few occasions leaving Vidal open for the next level defenders to pick up. Stephan El Shaarawy also used his speed on several occasions to come back and pick the ball up strengthening the left side of defense.

Most importantly in the Pirlo plan was the closing down of his passing options, and this required positioning as well as timing. Mattia De Sciglio was the most effective performer in this area, as he was able to cover both Claudio Marchisio and Kwadwo Asamoah by placing himself in the space behind both of them and in a position to step forward to intercept the ball.

handball Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

Here’s a shot of the called penalty kick, one which upon several reviews, seems to have come off Isla’s chest rather than the underside of his arm. Isla is an experienced defender and should have known better than to keep his arms up (understandably – it’s difficult to not protect the face in a situation like that). The call was harsh. Buffon had a chance to redeem the side, and should have, however he, much like the Juventus side today, let the opportunity slip right through his hands.

Primarily though, Juventus pinned Milan deep in their own half.

ballareajuvemilan Milan v Juventus Post Match Comments

This was even more apparent after the goal when the Rossoneri seemed content to defend their 1-0 lead. Despite their lion’s share of possession (61%), Juventus were only able to put two shots on target, the goal line clearance by Kevin Constant the most likely of the two to score. And even this opportunity wasn’t the result of building pressure, as suggested by Paolo Bandini but rather a one-off attack. Juventus did not play to their full potential today. Far from it, as they turned in a performance that lacked motivation and conviction. One thing is for certain, Champions League football is weighing down their performances. While Juventus remain the strongest side in Italy, and will most likely still retain the Scudetto come May, today served as a significant confidence booster to the ailing Rossoneri.

The must-win week that Allegri was supposed to struggle through ended with a draw and two victories and the important progression in the CL. Adriano Galliani has asked Silvio Berlusconi to visit with the team on Thursday before their trip to Catania.  Unless his return to the forefront of the Milan side coinciding with the return of form is a coincidence, the Rossoneri have found the man they need to motivate them as well as Max Allegri. He happens to be the same man who claims the ultimate credit for every success the Rossoneri have had in the past quarter of a century. He’s also the same man who intends to oversee his prized possession returning to the top of world football. Whether or not he directed Allegri to line up the way he chose to today, he certainly left his mark on the side with his recent comments and appearances. Berlusconi told Allegri to get back to his job and win, and the Rossoneri manager responded on the pitch.

Stats provided by Whoscored.comFollow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Catania v Milan Post-Match Comments [Nov 30 2012]

  • Francesco Acerbi despite his questionable performance in practice, had an excellent statistical match, completing 99% of his passes as well as winning 8 aerial duels (the rest of the Milan team combined won 5). Positionally Acerbi was lost, and his marking directly led to Nicola Legrottaglie’s opener.  He needs significant improvement in his marking as well as his positioning especially on set-pieces, where he let his man go on a second occasion but was not made to pay.
  • Boateng started on the road back to form, however he took a detour, earning his league-high second red card of the season. Before that, he had a markedly improved match, with crisp passing and movement. His goal to put Milan in front was one of genius as he adeptly moved the ball away from would be tacklers, creating a pocket of space for him to bend his effort around the keeper. Glimpses of what he’s capable of, but his discipline, decision making and focus remain issues of contention.
  • Catania overloaded their left flank, and it wasn’t until Barrientos’ red card did they begin to balance out their right side.

CataniaMilanAttackSide Catania v Milan Post Match Comments

Attack Directions, Catania left, Milan right

  • The 4-3-3s matched up nicely against each other, with both sides opting to play through the channels and utilize the width of the pitch. Milan didn’t see much progress in the first half, and they were not particularly sharp with their passing, movement or finishing until, as has been the case all season, the opposition scored, and they were forced to turn on.
  • Pablo Barrientos lost the match for Catania single handedly. His dive in the first half can be excused as a mistake. But he had time to go to the dressing room and speak with his manager. When he did this, his manager would have informed him that he needed to be careful on the pitch. Barrientos responded with a reckless and unnecessary challenge on Antonio Nocerino who was near mid-field and facing away from the goal. There’s no excuse for clattering into him as he did, and for a team like Catania, in order to beat a Milan side finding their form, the performance has to be near perfect, and can’t have mistakes such as that.
  • How much did the card affect the match? Within 7 minutes after the red card, Milan had overturned the 1-0 deficit and were ahead 2 goals to 1.
  • After the goal, Milan shifted their priorities significantly and opted to kill the match by passing the opposition to death. Nigel De Jong was the architect of the passing effort, as he completed a season-high 130 passes. Milan as a whole compiling Barcelona-like numbers: 751 passes overall with 621 of those being short passes (and tellingly, only one through ball). Milan’s attacks don’t often rely on through balls, they look to cross in/play the ball in from the wings, as was demonstrated on both El Shaarawy goals.

Screen Shot 2012 12 01 at 9.21.26 AM Catania v Milan Post Match Comments

Pass Types

Final Thoughts:

Luck was on the side of the Rossoneri. Antonio Nocerino had a penalty shout late in the match (a very dubious challenge that even the most arduous Catania supporter might feel was generous refereeing) however it was understandable that it was not called, especially seeing as how the referee probably got wind of Milan’s opening goal coming from an offside position. Milan still haven’t shown me a convincing ability to go out and win matches, and even though they have had a very successful run over the past 4 matches, their play has not matched their output. That being said it’s been a significant improvement over previous matches, and Milanisti will hope that Max Allegri continues to improve his squad.

Statistics and Diagrams courtesy of WhoScored.com
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Milan v Zenit Post-Match Comments [Dec 4 2012]

Milan: Abbiati; De Sciglio, Zapata, Acerbi, Mesbah; Flamini, Ambrosini, Emanuelson; Boateng, Pazzini, Bojan

Zenit: Malafeev; Anyukov, Alves, Lombaerts, Hubocan; Witsel, Denisov, Shirokov; Semak, Hulk, Danny

This match was so bland, so uninteresting that it doesn’t even require dissection. I’m putting in even more effort just typing this than Allegri put into his match plan. The shape was 4-3-3 but Boateng played terrible, and centrally. Emanuelson and Mesbah on the left? Dear me, if there was a coherent plan by Max, it certainly was hidden under layers of apathy.

The match was conceded when Mathieu Flamini’s name was written on the team sheet. Flamini has played in 5 games this season. The four he featured most prominently in were some of the worst matches of the season. He played in the first half of the Palermo match (in which Milan went down 2-0 and he was subbed), the opening day loss to Sampdoria, the 0-0 home draw to Anderlecht and yesterday’s brainfart of a match. Depending on your point of view, Flamini is either the victim of circumstance or he’s just a very ineffective player that detracts from the team.

FlaminiScreenShot Milan v Zenit Post Match Comments

This match was always going to be an issue of motivation for the Rossoneri. Quotes coming from the management in the build-up to this dead-rubber match indicated that the Rossoneri were going to play for the win. This is where I have a problem. I understand players like Mesbah, Flamini, Bojan and other fringe-players don’t get to see the field too often, but in a game with no pressure and a chance to play international opposition, why in the world did that opportunity go to the previously mentioned names instead of the names that will be here past June?

Some have no issue with using the older players in this match, “They were trying to get the game over as quick as possible.” I don’t buy this. There’s simply not enough time in a season to waste matches. This was a veritable “European” Coppa Italia tie, an opportunity for young players to be showcased. They were for many other teams across the match day who fielded youth reserves, especially among those teams already qualified with nothing left to play for. Milan had absolutely nothing to gain from this game save a possible €700k bonus for a win, and yet they sent out a squad that was plain to see would be overrun in a normal match, let alone a must-win situation for a struggling Zenit St. Petersburg side who were trying to continue their European aspirations after spending €80m+ on two players. Oh, and after the match, the more expensive of those two players re-iterated his desire to leave in January. His manager’s response? If he isn’t gone I am. Spaletti plays the game well.

More concerning to me is the desire to have our cake and eat it too. I don’t expect Max Allegri to do anything consistent anymore, however today’s match was managed with two goals in mind. The first was giving a breath to players like SES who had played in every single match for Milan so far this season at some point. But you would think that after being down for 10 minutes in the first half, having a halftime talk, and then giving it another 35 minutes on the pitch, Max would have given up on the match. After all, the strategy up until this point was to field a weakened side and expect them to perform some magic and have a Zenit defender nick a Flamini shot into the net. But come 80 minutes, Allegri puts on not Andrea Pentagna, but Stephan El Shaarawy, who appeared as surprised he was making an entrance against an opponent in which there was NOTHING TO GAIN. He had no impact, and Andrea Pentagna was put on to get 4 and a half minutes of time. Had he gotten those extra 10 minutes, Milan might have los…oh right. You can’t play 80 minutes with apathy and then expect throwing El Shaarawy on the field will solve things. Well Max can, and indeed SES has delivered before. But I’d like to see more discretion from Allegri rather than throwing our best player on in a dead-match with 10 minutes left against a frustrated side in 0 degree weather.

75 90formation Milan v Zenit Post Match Comments

Team positioning from 75-90 minutes. Allegri time for everyone to cluster in the center of the box.

I say that Milan didn’t want to win because they, according to manager Max Allegri’s post match comments, “[Zenit] were more motivated than us. We were not focused enough and we showed it when we conceded that goal..” They also showed it before the goal, as well as after the goal. But this is in contrast to what Captain Ambrosini spoke of post-match, saying, “We are sorry for ourselves and for our fans, but the spirit was right. We gave everything from the start to the end.” Ambrosini may be right, as the team in total covered 117k meters in total, 8,000 meters above their normal average in the Champions League. The problem, is that this match wasn’t managed intelligently. The opportunity to do something positive for the young players was there but squandered. Nonetheless, it still ended in a magical night for Andrea Pentagna, who said he will be framing his match jersey. There could have been others like him tonight, and the fact there wasn’t speaks to a shortcoming in the planning aspects of this match. Every match counts. Opportunity missed.

Statistics courtesy of UEFA.com

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