After a successful run of five wins in a row in all competitions, Milan suffered a setback in their top four hopes after being held to a 1-1 draw by Hellas Verona at the San Siro.
Stefano Pioli had a number of different selection issues to contend with as Simon Kjaer, Andrea Conti, Ismael Bennacer, Rade Krunic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all missed out.
Hakan Calhanoglu was moved to the middle partnering up with Franck Kessie to replace the suspended Bennacer while Ante Rebic partnered Rafael Leao up top.
The absence of both the Swede and the Algerian were clearly felt as the midfield was constantly outrun, while Theo Hernandez probably played his worst game in a Milan shirt in an afternoon to forget.
Here are five things we learned…
1. Leaving a hole
With Bennacer suspended, Sunday provided a big opportunity for Calhanoglu to show his versatility, but instead we saw that there is no one capable of replacing the former Empoli especially with his recent graduating performances.
With Lucas Biglia a forgotten man and Hakan unable to play in the middle with Kessie, it was obvious on Sunday just how important Bennacer has been on the recent good run and also just how little depth is available.
There were rumours towards the end of the window about signing Benfica’s Florentino Luis, but the deal did not materialise leaving Pioli with only one defensive midfielder and nobody capable of covering for him.
This is surely an area that needs to be worked on in the summer, but for now hopefully Bennacer can be disciplined and does not earn himself a new suspension until the end of the season.
2. Zlatan’s absence
While Leao and Rebic both showed promising signs in the last few games, it is just obvious at the moment that their end product is not as effective as they would want it to be.
Both of them possess pace and ability to take on defenders and create chances, but without Zlatan on the field it seems as though there is no player that can finish it off or provide the final sharp pass.
Rebic did show great desire and willingness to take things into his own hands, but a pairing with Leao just does not work. As for the future, one of them may be more efficient on the left wing, and an Ibrahimovic-Rebic pairing could be worth trying too.
3. A stalled resurgence
When Giacomo Bonaventura recovered a lot of fans expected him to perform at the known high level and help the team straight away.
Despite scoring twice in three games soon after returning, Jack has not looked like his former self and with the exclusion of a few decent plays he has been more of a burden for the team offering little to nothing.
As much as the Milan fans love him, it might be time for him to sit on the bench and put the hard work in training if he truly wants to help the team.
This is by no means said with intent to disrespect Bonaventura who has been a fantastic servant to the club already and has worked so hard to recover, but it is probably best for him to focus on the next season and be fully fit, and perhaps play in a more defined and familiar role.
4. Setback for Theo
By far Milan’s best player from the beginning of the season, Theo Hernandez has established himself as a key figure in the Rossoneri’s project going ahead.
💛💙 Faraoni strikes first for Verona at the San Siro!
⚽ A nice finish from the wing back puts Milan under early pressure pic.twitter.com/OfLYOcLywO
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) February 2, 2020
However, as was the case with his team-mates, his performance against Verona on Sunday was far from satisfying. The Frenchman was at fault for the visitors’ opening goal early on and constantly gave the ball too easily while offering little to nothing up front (for a change).
Since this is probably his first bad display we cannot criticise him much, but it is fair to say that he did not look like himself and with the derby against Inter upcoming he could be in for an even bigger test on an even bigger stage.
5. Struggles on the right continue
While Theo’s bad marking was key for Verona’s goal, the away side were allowed too easily to cross the ball from the right.
Davide Calabria was given the chance to start from minute one, but it did not look like a positive change as the Italian had a very poor first half. Although he improved in the second, the majority of dangerous attacks for Hellas came from Milan’s right side – a recurring theme even when Conti is starting, in fairness.
An issue that has been there since the beginning of the season, but Boban and Maldini may well start thinking of summer solutions in case neither Conti nor Calabria can better their performances between now and the end of the season.