Tag Archives: Milan

Champions League Special: Allegri v Barcelona 2-0 @ San Siro

Here’s the 2013 recap of when AC Milan met Barcelona at San Siro with Max Allegri as manager. The second leg saw a massive collapse in which Milan were overturned, but the first leg stands today as one of Max Allegri’s finest tactical achievements as Milan manager. 

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Conversation Milan: Brand, Stadium, Future with Jacopo Piotto

After Fernando Torres’ signing, I asked Jacopo Piotto why exactly Milan had purchased Torres from Chelsea. Technically, it’s because you cannot loan a player already on loan, and should Milan loan Torres to Atleti, and they sold Cerci, then that would mean Torres would return to Chelsea. Now, should Cerci be sold and Torres has to return, he gets to come back to Milan, a favor for Chelsea as they never wanted to see the front side of Fernando again anyway.  The conversation continued, and I transcribed the results.

 

Pete Acquaviva: I basically see Milan entering an even darker tunnel ahead..

Jacopo Piotto: It always comes down to the same conclusion: Berlusconi needs to sell. Because unless he decides to put fresh money (which wouldn’t help for FFP anyway, I suppose), there is no way out.

Pete: Yes, we’ve agreed for years on Silvio: he overvalues Milan at €900m. It’s really worth somewhere in the €750m-800m ballpark, and it’s riddled with another €150-250m of debt depending on how many bank loans you’re trying to cover. Asking for €900m, with knowledge of what it really is, is comical. So much so that one potential investor leaked the information about Berlusconi’s valuation himself.. it’s a joke. Let’s talk what’s actually going to happen: a small minority investment from “a new sponsor”, Fly Emirates picking up a portion of the bill for the new the stadium should they actually get the logistics worked out, and Milan facing the continued prospect of “sell sell sell” when the revenues don’t meet the costs.

Jacopo: I think the risk is Milan being bought by the wrong people, for different reasons. Foreign money doesn’t come to Italy because of a few reasons: the league isn’t marketed properly, Italian clubs aren’t financially solid, and to play in Italy’s backyard you need to know the neighbors. Meaning, you have to know the tricks Genoa play in the transfer market or the power games keeping Lotito close to the FIGC head.  But assuming you do find an interested investor, why would they want to buy Milan? The team is past their prime and can hardly still sell itself as a European superpower. And you can’t count on small investments like Fly Emirates, because 1. Those minority investors have no power, there’s nothing really tying them to the project long term 2. Fly Emirates sponsor several top clubs in Europe, Milan is a minor asset in comparison.

Pete: No one is going to buy it until they fix this shit. There’s too small of a revenue stream for Milan to be considered a big club. Beyond that, there’s the issue of there being no cash on hand, which is why there’s never a transfer for a fee up front when Milan actually do make a purchase. Even if there is, like for Matri or Balotelli, its split over 4-5 years. “So how do you make more money?” everyone asks. Barbara has been trying lately but it’s not working very well, although Casa Milan is a TINY step in the right direction for what it’s worth.

Jacopo: A stadium is not the answer as well, you know. It has to be done, yes, but it won’t solve anything. It will take too much time to build and then we can’t expect the same success that Juventus had. They had a project behind the stadium, which they perfectly executed.

Pete: I agree that a stadium isn’t the answer, but not having one is not unacceptable to the nth degree. Every season without a stadium right now is absolutely a wasted year – fact. There is no realistic chance to compete for any meaningful title until there exists a stadium. That’s a necessary condition to win titles. But it’s not a sufficient condition to win titles. To say a stadium fixes the problem is insane.

Jacopo: And even in Juve’s case, they are starting to have slightly less attendance (because now it’s routine and because in Italy we don’t mix business and sport well).

Pete: Which is why when I hear these people say, “45000 seats? it should be 55,000!” it strikes me as a strange disconnect. Overall, the match day experience in Italy is very poor, and there really haven’t been many strides to improve that.

Jacopo: Not at all; and you can’t expect enthusiasm for a team that, by the time the stadium is completed, will have lost every single bit of the golden age aura

Pete: By the time it’s done it will have been 15 years since the last Milan push in Europe

Jacopo: Actually, if you delay it a bit more, maybe you can hope that Milan fans have forgotten they were once great, and take it as a big development for a medium team.

Pete: We can be like Udinese!

Jacopo: Haha, I had Udinese already written.

Pete: Except with much shittier scouting.

Jacopo: I’m glad Milan were great in that age were supporting your team matters the most. The problem is that I can’t pretend it’s fine to never win again. I can’t be an Inter fan.

Pete: Like 10-18 years old..That was the golden time for us as Milan fans while being the formative years of sports fandom. So my question is: how do you convince new fans of this team, and those young fans you need to be developing into lifelong fans, into sticking with this club? So far the answer has been: bring back the players they used to love and hope they don’t notice they’re not the same.

Jacopo: I think we have to split between Italians and foreigners. Milan fans which are also Italians. If they already are Milanista at age 14 (right around the age where you can’t change your mind), they will be forever. Under that age, if they are still deciding, there’s little to no chance they’ll turn out to be Milanista unless they have a person in their family they really look up to, and he’s a Milan fan.

Pete: Exactly, why would they be fans of Milan unless it’s passed on?

Jacopo: Even though you don’t change the team in your heart, the culture of the team will of course still change. Milan won’t be the “European power” they used to, but those fans will adapt to the new culture (the losing one that affects the players now).

Pete:  “You give me one domestic title and one Champions League every ten years and I’m ok” – that was you on April 28, 2014.

Jacopo: Yep, only that it won’t happen again. I will be a Milan fan forever, even if we lose. But I can easily imagine myself, 20 years from now, telling a kid (my son?) how great Milan was when I was young, “It’s not the Milan you see right now..” Maybe Milan’s dimension won’t change and we’ll still be a top 5 club in Italy.

Pete: Maybe we’ll be looking back on Milan the way Nottingham Forest fans do to their club, “back when I was a young fan, we won TWO CLs in a decade..”

 

Follow Jacopo on Twitter @Jacopopiotto and Pete @PDAcquaviva

Milan v Napoli Post-Match Comments

82% passing success. That is Milan’s completion for passes throughout this entire season. Why do I bring this up? To tell you that it’s X% better or worse than last year, to give a statistical imprint of what trend is emerging? Actually, just to illustrate how statistics should always take a backseat to common sense analysis. Kobe Bryant is putting up incredible scoring numbers and attempting massive numbers of shots while breaking scoring records. But anyone who watches him, still sees a top-10 all time player, but one hampered by injury still, who takes up too large a portion of his team’s available spending cash, and then complains that the rest of his team are scrubs. Looking at the stats doesn’t always help you understand the situation. 

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Cagliari v Milan Post-Match Comments

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: I don’t think Milan played poorly against Cagliari. I don’t think there’s need to panic, and I don’t think that between Monday and Friday of this week that the situation Inzaghi has found himself in has changed. The stakes remain the same.

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The race is wide open for third place. The footrace for the Scudetto is out of reach for Milan, and never really was a feasible outcome. That being said, the lack of a strong candidate for third is both a missed opportunity for Milan – draws at two newly promoted sides can go either way, but I can’t escape the feeling Inzaghi’s side should have taken full points from at least one of the two encounters at Empoli and Cesena. 

So what exactly is the verdict for now? Sort of exactly what we expected. Inzaghi isn’t a magician like Clarence Seedorf, who waved his magic wand used his magical antidote to remove the bad habits built up over the better portion of a decade of “half-assery” from the Milan board. Back up to the summer, Milan compete in an open race for third place, sound about right? Best case scenario sees Milan finish where they are right now. So why the doom and gloom?

Yes, Milan’s midfield is poor. Yes it’s disconnected from the attack. Yes, Alex has these moments that make Zapata look like a world-class athlete. Yes, any sort of set-piece has a greater than average chance of going in the net against Milan. Yes, the squad is disjointed and uneven in several areas. Yes, Mattia De Sciglio and Stephan El Shaarawy have made little to no progress this season in their developments. Yes, Hachim Mastour is stuck in the oblivion between the first team and the primavera, not really being apart of either for an extended run. Compare these issues to the issues of last season, and you’ll see while things are far from sunshine and rainbows, the larger existential issues facing Milan simply aren’t as prevalent and aren’t pushing down on the players themselves as was clear through last year especially.

But against Zeman’s Cagliari, a hit or miss offensive side granted: one with the knowledge and coaching to go out and put goals in the net, Milan were reasonably in control defensively. This isn’t to say that Ibarbo shouldn’t have scored his open net goal, nor his several one on ones, or many of the other gilded edge chances Cagliari had. What I do want to point out is that they didn’t go in, which regardless of the luck of Rami’s boot making the last ditch challenge, or De Sciglio’s slide on Ibarbo near edge of the box, they (by and large) worked. Defense is about keeping goals out, and since this side looks built on a house of cards anyway, regardless of how it happened, keeping the score down to one goal is a start to build on. Let’s be honest, this Milan side will not be relying on the clean sheet.

So the issue then seemed to be in attack, rather than defense, at least for now (the midfield has been picked apart already this season – see previews and other post match reports). What was the issue with the Milan attack?

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Stephan El Shaarawy isn’t scoring goals, which is a problem for a lot of supporters. Against Cagliari (like any other game) the time was just right for SeS to break his goalscoring duck, but it didn’t happen. That’s not to discount his play this season, which I’ve been pleased with. His first touch is terrible this season, but after the amount of injury layoffs he’s had of late, it’s reasonable to expect that to come with time. His work rate, movement and speed are still at the level you want to see, and it’s becoming more and more clear over time that the issue with El Shaarawy is a mental issue. I’m not saying Pippo has the solution, but if theres someone I would suggest could fix this..

Honda – Can’t be on all the time. Excellent defensive contribution, I think his understanding with Abate is particularly effective.

Menez – We knew this was coming, the crash after the start of the season. Give Torres some more starting time as Silvio Berlusconi wants and we’ll see the Menez beast rise from the ashes of the PSG bench. Not to mention Niang, who will probably be sold/loaned without a whimper in January or June. Now we hit the part of the season where playing time is heated (no injuries, one competition for now), and Inzaghi will have to add balance to his attack, or risk losing Menez (and less importantly Niang) to their own heads and egos.

 

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Milan v Inter Post-Match Comments

Mazzarri didn’t want to give anything away in his press conference. He wouldn’t give a probable lineup, in part he says, because Seedorf didn’t give anything away the day before.  But Seedorf did give out some information, and it actually turned out to be a key piece – Andrea Poli was looking likely to start.

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Genoa v Milan Post-Match Comments

Disclaimer: I only saw the second half of Genoa v Milan. As such, I’d like to discuss one of Seedorf’s tactical ideas, and that’s the functionality of the front three midfielders: Taarabt, Kaka and Honda. Multiple competitions and limited fitness coupled with typical Milan injury policy have forced rotations, but it seems fairly clear that this is Seedorf’s preferred trio. The only regular break of those is Andrea Poli, who offers the side a more balanced look, and many of the better performances have not coincidentally included Poli in the midfield 5 in some role.

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Fiorentina v Milan Post-Match Comments

Of late, I’ve discussed less and less tactical matters and more context of Milan’s current situations. But seeing as how this is Milan’s first win over a top 6 side in the Seedorf era (and what ought to be the Seedorf era continuing through the summer), I’d like to explain the match itself before delving into the context.
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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.

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Napoli v Milan Post-Match Comments

Let’s begin with the match, and move onto the implications of “a failed test”. In the days leading up to this match, Clarence Seedorf referred to it as a test, an examination. And seeing as it was a test, I thought I’d break it down into the simplest method possible (and a lovely way to reduce a lot into a little – let’s call it a formation grade card) pass/fail.

To the results –

Abbiati – fail

Abate  – fail

De Sciglio – pass

Rami – pass

Mexes – fail

Emanuelson – fail

Essien – pass

De Jong – fail

Taarabt – pass

Robinho – fail

Balotelli – fail

Substitutes –

Pazzini – n/a

Kaka – fail

Montolivo – fail

 

Thing is: I assessed these players around the 80th minute. Something awful happened after that in which De Sciglio, Mexes, Rami and Abate were again turned into a schoolboy defense as Napoli rounded the back four, squared to an open Higuain and left with another 3-1 scoreline. For that, everyone in defense failed. This leaves two passing grades, which I will talk about briefly.

Taarabt started excellently, doing a great job covering for Emanuelson in the defensive phase while breaking out for an excellent debut goal. After that he faded significantly, although his dribbling remained quality – he had 4 successful dribbles: the most of any player in the match (seconded by Essien’s 3) and also completed over 85% of his passes, a very successful debut especially considering the player switched from the English Championship to a match against the team who amassed 12 points in the group of death.

But the player I really want to talk about is Michael Essien, who in my opinion was Milan’s most successful player in this match. The general consensus of those I spoke with after the match was negative, in particular against “slow and broken knee” Essien. By contrast, I felt he provided the most important role on the Milan side, performed his duty better than his competitor, and if he had a better supporting performer in Nigel De Jong, may have been able to change the shape of the match.

Essien was matched up against Gokan Inler, who had a solid match by all standards (WhoScored placed him as MoTM after a goal and an assist, but compared with Essien, his stats line looks incredibly similar. 88% passes to 89%. 76 touches to 75 touches. The difference being Inler looked to intercept and tackle (4 and 3 respectively) while Essien looked to launch more attacks from the base of the Rossoneri midfield. Inler’s job was in essence split between Essien and De Jong, which is a redundancy that needs to be avoided. I don’t believe Nigel De Jong can fit in this formation in a long-term scenario but that’s for another day.

I’d like to break down Essien’s passing a little bit more, not because breaking down passing patterns provides any sort of long-term analysis but it does give you a clue into the role and the function that the player is looking to exploit at a given time. Knowing that Clarence Seedorf is aware of the problem of Milan’s engine and how there isn’t a hard-working player in the holding pair, Muntari and Essien have recently been deployed, which shows a recognition of the problem, at the very least. The question is how Essien has chosen to interpret this role, and that’s where the passing will be useful.

essienrecieved

Firstly, I want to break down the passes Essien received, which formed two distinct groups, those passes from his own half, which were positive passes forward, and balls he received in the opposition half, which were traditionally back passes. That being said, overwhelmingly, the passes Essien received seem to be lateral or at least close to square passes.

essiendistributed

From there, we look at what Essien did with the ball. He completed 3 successful dribbled according to WhoScored, the second most in the match, indicating he looked to drive the ball forward (several examples on film of this). What did Essien do when he didn’t dribble? He attempted only one shot, so the rest of his contribution was through passing, of which his was overwhelmingly lateral – looking to spread play out wide.

Abate (#2) positioning strange due to switching from RW -> LWB

Abate (#2) positioning strange due to switching from RW -> LWB

The one last thing I want to delineate about Essien’s role is how it deferred from De Jong’s (a more traditional holding player). Most importantly, positionally, Essien started in front of De Jong, and despite the fact they played as a holding pair, they were very rarely laterally positioned directly next to each other (it’s far too easy to bypass a lateral pair than a staggered one).

ndj -> essien

And one final point on Nigel and Essien’s combination play, is that Nigel’s passes to and from Essien tell you about the relationship between the two players. Essien received more passes from Nigel De Jong, who passed to him 16 times, than any other player.  12 of these 16 passes were forward passes to Essien (not coincidentally, and a fore bearer of the issues NdJ has as a player, all four of his passes to Essien in the opposion half were negative), indicating that he’s sitting deeper behind the Ghanaian.

essien -> ndj

Winding down on the discussion of Essien, his passes were not meant to be negative unless he was retaining possession in the opposition half, and as a result, he often played square balls wide to De Sciglio and Emanuelson, who were his favorite targets (10 passes to Abate + MdS and 9 to Emanuelson) – spreading play again.

In conclusion on Milan’s new #15: he has much work to go on this role. Essien comes unaware of some of the larger tactical issues that are being wrestled with in Serie A, although his initial impression was positive and showed that he’s not as broken as previously insinuated by his “failed medical”.

The final point I wish to make is on Mario Balotelli, and the response to his emotional outburst – read: tears on the bench caught by cameras. In sport, we look to our athletes as super human, so much so that when they make a mistake, it comes across as such a massive deal. Lebron James publicly apologized for “the decision”, but it’s still one of the first things that come to mind when discussing the King. Balotelli is still known for lighting fireworks in his basement (something his friends did), visiting a ladies prison (which he denied), giving money out to strangers (he won’t comment on every instance but has denied it before) and more. Everything is seen as “crazy Mario” and his off-the-pitch antics.

Mario is a lightning rod for this Milan side, one that is exposed metal ever since Max Allegri departed Milan. Before, Max can be the problem. The tactical imbalance of the side? The players are great, it’s just the manager. But now that the manager has been stripped away, and the other problems of the squad are obvious for the casual observer to see, Mario gets even more flak. He’s not delivering. He’s not performing. He’s getting red cards left and right (none of which are true).

This isn’t to complain about the treatment of Mario, it’s to remind people that he’s a human being, and a very immature one at that. He’s lived in a bubble of privilege his whole life, that gets popped when he visits stadiums full of booing and fans abusing racial insults at him week in and week out (although there are no reports of it happening this weekend, a whole separate issue – by and large this is something the man has to deal with and even if these specific whistles weren’t racially motivated it’s quite easy to see how someone under the kinds of pressure Mario is could interpret it as such).

Balotelli found out he was a father this weekend, to an ex-girlfriend he spent almost a year fighting a battle against denying his daughter was his child. He wanted to dedicate a goal to his new daughter, but instead, continued his poor form in Naples, continuing his streak of never beating Napoli. Oh, by the way, Seedorf hasn’t been able to right the ship in 3 weeks, and as a result everyone is blaming Mario Balotelli (lightning rod) for not carrying the team’s defense, midfield and attack, while also creating and scoring and shutting up and not doing anything off the field.  Seems reasonable right?

So before this becomes too much of a panic button – let me summarize. This was a test – and Milan failed. It’s far from the end of the world, the season was scrapped already. Clarence Seedorf has taken intense interest in the development of Mario Balotelli and he believes in the player. Individual mental and physical development is what needs to happen from this point forward until the end of the season, and it looks like Mario just had a moment where it all hit him and he realized how much better he’s going to need to do. The real question in Milan is not whether he is up to the task, it’s whether his teammates are going to be able to support him when he needs it most. 

After all, when your side tires after 55 minutes and the opposition are still pressing all the way back to the goalkeeper in the 90th minute, a win was never really a realistic option.

 

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Dai Dai Dai: An Existential Cleansing

I know management never ends well, but does sacking a manager usually feel this way? Allegri’s tenure at Milan has been aging into a senile old man that just yells at the television camera and gets confused when there are too many things going on in the room at one time. He came in this young coach, untested yes, but with a fair bit of optimism. Maybe it was just the Zlatan talking and Allegri was more than happy to ride the wave, but come January/February the first problems appeared. Young coach, he’ll figure it out, he got the benefit of the doubt. He erred again, and again, and let’s be honest many times in many arenas.

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