AC Milan 1-2 Atalanta: Five things we learned – missing in action; thin ice holds firm

By Ivan Stoev -

AC Milan’s Coppa Italia hoodoo will continue for another year as they were beaten 2-1 by Atalanta at San Siro on Wednesday night to exit at the quarter-final stage.

After a cagey opening in which Milan’s high press caused the away side problems, Stefano Pioli’s men thought they had seized control when Rafael Leao’s powerful finish made it 1-0 just before the break.

However, the lead lasted just 90 seconds before Teun Koopmeiners levelled with a low first-time finish of his own and then in the second half he converted a controversial penalty to give La Dea the lead.

They would hang on to it for the remainder of the game to book a place in the semi-finals against Fiorentina while the Rossoneri were jeered off the field with yet another trophy hope having gone up in smoke.

Here are five things we learned from the game…

1. Missing in action

Pioli started a midfield three consisting of Yunus Musah, Tijjani Reijnders, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek and out of the three only the Dutchman had a fairly good game and was trying to be creative, but seemed a bit tired in the the second half and was subbed off.

Musah and Loftus-Cheek, on the other hand, should’ve been well rested given Pioli’s rotations but both played an underwhelming game as the American was positioned very poorly on the first goal and did nothing whilst in possession, keeping his passes simple and sideways leading to nothing interesting.

Loftus-Cheek was a bit better compared to his team-mate but was also not very productive on the ball meaning that Milan had very little creativity in the midfield with all the responsibility falling on Reijnders’ shoulders.

2. Over-reliance continues

Rafael Leao has seems to have picked up his form lately and he managed to be the main threat against Atalanta too, picking up a stunning goal and also being involved in the most dangerous situations for his team.

However, even though he struggled a bit as he failed to provide great service for Luka Jovic and later on Olivier Giroud, and with Christian Pulisic and the whole midfield struggling for creativity the over-reliance on Leao is highlighted yet again.

We recently wrote a feature about how a challenge has been set for Leao while Pulisic is bagging decisive goals, and yet when two of the three forwards plus the midfield misfire it does leave the Portuguese looking isolated.

3. Cloak of invisiility

Jovic got the nod over Giroud to start the game but failed to follow up on the Cagliari success as he was marked well this time around and when he did have a chance to make something happen he was let down by his technique.

In all fairness, he got almost zero service from his colleagues and he is not the type of striker to create for himself so we cannot be too harsh on him, but he does need to improve his first touch in particular especially when dropping deep.

Giroud also was a disappointment off the bench as he did virtually nothing to help chase down the game. The Frenchman also rarely got quality service from the flanks with so many crosses not beating the first man or sailing over everyone.

4. Unforgettable moment in a forgettable game

Filippo Terracciano only signed two days prior, but he trained on Tuesday and got his chance off the bench, replacing Alex Jimenez in the second half. He was put in a rather unusual position despite the fact he can play virtually anywhere, but he didn’t lack confidence.

The Italian seemed calm and recovered the ball well, while he also wasn’t afraid to carry possession forward into the Atalanta half. He had a couple of chances to wind up crosses, but mostly he left it to his new team-mates to try find that final ball and it never came.

It wasn’t a blockbuster debut nor was there lots of time to assess the 20-year-old too much, but Pioli will take faith from his desire to get on the ball and there are suggestions he might use him straight away in midfield to help with his injury crisis.

5. The thin ice refuses to crack

Following the embarrassing 2-2 draw against Salernitana, Pioli’s job seemed more at risk than ever before after a boring 1-0 win against Sassuolo, Milan grabbed two more convincing wins against Cagliari and Empoli, 4-1 and 3-0 respectively.

The game against Atalanta, however, was the real first test following that game in Salerno and one that was a must-win really, considering Milan exited the Champions League and look like they won’t be anywhere near the Scudetto race.

Now the easiest route to silverware is also gone after another poor display, one would presume that Pioli is walking on the thinnest of ice, although nothing in the media suggests his exit is imminent and on the contrary the plan remains to see out the season.

Even worse than the disappointing result is the poor game management by the coach. His side got the lead in the dying minutes of the first half and gave up the lead just a minute later, which suggests a mentality/focus problem has seeped in.

Pioli then panicked and changed the formation which didn’t seem logical because the team was playing well and not giving much space for Atalanta to exploit. After the system change, though, Atalanta had 15 or so minutes where every attack seemed like it could end in a goal.

We’re not going to discuss the officiating, because the reality is that this Milan side plays dreadful football with zero creativity in the midfield and an over-reliance on individuals such as Leao and Theo, who played as a centre-back which speaks volumes.

At this point it seems that Pioli has to be out of the door, but the question is when it will happen and whether the 2023-24 campaign will be allowed to evaporate to nothing.


Tags AC Milan Milan Atalanta


  1. As a Milan fan, this season is sad. The team seems to have lost it’s soul. From the dismissal of Maldini, (especially the manner in which it was done) to losing Diaz and Tonali, giving up on CDK, to a poor transfer strategy. We needed four PROVEN players; a striker, a right winger, a defensive midfielder, and an attacking midfielder after losing Diaz. Everything else, we had. The current transfer rumors are also worrying. We have a plethora of defenders and three strikers but we want to sign more, not willing to admit that we have a dysfunctional midfield that needs to be scrapped.
    I love that Maldini is being vindicated, but I hate that it’s at the expense of the club. I’m hoping lessons are learned because we still have foundations to build for next season. We have a world class keeper, a solid backline, two dangerous wingers and talented youth players that are already being integrated, arguably the biggest positive of this season.

    1. Excellent comment, i completely agree with all you say

      I firmly believe if we spend what money we have on a good DM that will give us the structure we are lacking

    2. How is Maldini vindicated? I love all of these Maldini fanboys rooting for the team to fail and for the the new signings to fail. Please. This years squad is much stronger than last seasons. Last season’s squad had absolutely zero depth at any position thanks to Maldini’s horrible mercato signings. No depth at striker, no depth on either wing, no depth in midfield or defense.
      Now we have have a proper RW finally who already has more goals and assists than Messias and Saelemakers combined. ANd we have Okafor and Chuku as back-ups for the wings.
      Jovic already has more goals than the terrible signing Origi had all last season. We have more depth at midfield than we had last season. So the squad is a stronger squad than last season. So not sure how that is any vindication for Maldini.

  2. The summer transfer market was terribly handled. Reijnders and Pulisic passed the test. The rest are underwhelming. Getting in a good performance here and there for RLC and Chuk is simply not enough. Do Milan miss any of their paydays? If Milan do not then they must also put on a good game more frequently.

  3. There is nothing more painful than what AC Milan is doing to us as supporters. They win matches giving us hope of a better future, and in one game they are able to crash that hope in 90mins. Now you just wondering if the banter era has begun. I wouldn’t be confident even if we played Frosinone week in week out. (All due respect to Frosinone)

  4. What striker (or player generally) ‘creates for themselves’?

    Is this like a person who can be in two places a person – a quantum player?

    They can cross the ball in and get on the end of it?

  5. I really wish we could tone down the drama.

    Last week it was all like ‘woo we’re awesome, look at all our wonderful Real Madrid owned Primavera players…woo hoo”.

    This week it’s all “baaaaa this is the end of road, sack Pioli, where’s Conte to save us?… this is why you don’t trust Milan owned kids”.

    It was not beyond the realms of possibility that Milan would lose to Atalanta in a competition we have not won in 21 years.

    It happens.

    We will judge this season at the end.

    We are out of the Champions League after a group where there was always a possibility of going out (and where any team in Serie A would’ve struggled).

    We are sitting comfortably in third after a ton of injuries.

    We are out of the cup in the Quarter Finals.

    We have one more chance of a trophy.

    Nobody can predict the future.

    We could win the Europa League or we could crash out or we could painfully lose on penalties. Who knows???

    But try and take this one match at a time and judge at the end.

    Can we all do that?

    Here’s a deal:

    I’ll shut up about transfers if people stop calling for Pioli to be sacked and for new signings?

    it’s only fair. We all have our trigger points (it’s just mine tends to look at the bigger picture…..).

    1. Listen to yourself clutching a straws.
      Do you know anything about football at this level, or are you just blowing gas?

      Pioli has players but “No idea how to construct a winning Team at this level”
      Milan under Pioli have no Creativity and rely on Theo and Leao to do something and in defence the are at sixes and sevens it was displayed against Atalanta twice, PSG twice, Inter once but only because we’ve played them once and so on.
      Against the sort of teams we conceded more than two goal and struggle to score more than two. Defence against teams like these concedes always ask CAPELLO, and great Italian coaches!
      The system Pioli has brought in never worked 100%

      1. We won the Scudetto which makes everything you say complete nonsense.

        But keep denying reality and screaming at the clouds.

    2. It’s a deal. We finally agree on something.
      Pioli 100% earned the right to come back and coach this team this season. After winning the scudetto with probably the 3rd or 4th best roster in the league, then making it to the semi-finals of the Champions League last season, he earned that right.
      Now as for the team’s performance this far, this season, I don’t think he should be back for next season, but the season is only half over and he should be given the chance to turn it around and possibly save his job. Maybe we win Europa League, and challenge for the Scudetto.
      Either way, all this public speculation of who the next coach is while Pioli is still there is not good for him or the players.

  6. Milan is not strange now. It hasn’t felt this drab in a long time. Where are the Italians? Where are the inspiring players? not here anymore

    1. Outside of Chiesa and Barella I am unsure who is a class italian player. Maybe DiMarco amd DiLorenzo? They aren’t on par with their European counterparts. Would love to see an italian be half as good as they were 20 -40 years ago.

      And I agree with the sentiment in your post. Some players that will be sold for a lot should likely move this summer.

      Speculating here – but I now believe the summer expense spree was partly justified with the management knowing that the growth decree was about to go away. Not to mention we finished 5th.

  7. Week in week out we talk about lack of structure in the midfield. Missing a key player in DM role.

    What I see as a problem is, if Pioli is the one having more word on mercato, why doesn’t he demand a DM? It’s almost as if he doesn’t want one and wants to play a midfield of runners and chasers (namely box to box players).

    I’ve been saying since the summer, this midfield just won’t work. We can have Haaland and Mbappe up front but they would s*ck. There’s no service from the midfield in both offense and defense.

    So I wouldn’t really blame Giroud and Jovic here, they get close to no service up front and it’s evident from an earlier article with analysis from DataMB.

    1. “I’ve been saying since the summer, this midfield just won’t work. We can have Haaland and Mbappe up front but they would s*ck. There’s no service from the midfield in both offense and defense.

      So I wouldn’t really blame Giroud and Jovic here, they get close to no service up front and it’s evident from an earlier article with analysis from DataMB.”

      This. It’s like a broken record. That has been said many, many times but no one listens. 😛

    2. Yes Sir!

      How many times have we seen big clubs with good squads struggle and then all of a sudden they sign 1 player (the missing link) and boom they take off.

      We have loads of defenders, loads of attackers and plenty of box to box midfielders, yet it’s not working, why?

      Give us 1 good DM with the ability to dictate the play and then we can actually judge the other players fairly.
      How can we judge our defense with so much change, a defense that gets no cover from midfield?
      How can we judge our attack when they get no service from midfield?
      How can we judge our box to box midfielders when they have nobody covering for them or creating space with some tidy play?

      Put all the available funds into buying the best DM available and just watch the other departments thrive!!

      Bennacer and Reijnders with a good DM behind them would be a very creative midfield

      1. p.s Amrabat has not settled well at UTD.
        Most players are struggling there.
        He is proven Serie A quality player, exactly the profile we need.
        Take up his loan with option to buy right now and we have the solution, both in terms of football and financial

  8. There’s no hoodoo. When a team field weakened line-ups and lack depth, they risk defeat.

    Pioli will see out the season because the overall level of the league is poor enough for us to pick up the points we need for a top 4 finish.

    Musah has the footballing intelligence of a pea. Maybe a better coach can get something out of him, but I’m doubtful.

    The only good thing to come out of this season is seeing the Primavera players getting a chance and Pioli deserves some credit for that.

  9. “We’re not going to discuss the officiating, because the reality is that this Milan side plays dreadful football with zero creativity in the midfield and an over-reliance on individuals”

    Nothing to add. It’s all here.

    1. Totally agree. It’s why I don’t have faith in Pioli really. Its not just that he’s losing games. It’s that there is no creativity that gives one a glitter of hope for the future.

  10. I’m nearly shocked that you do such a thorough analysis and you don’t mention (again) the numer 1 pain point of Pioli s Milan:

    the SLOW TRANSITION to the attack

    The players carry the ball toooo freaking much, instead of passing it fast and gain momentum over the defenders.

    As a result we are dead predictable and, what a surprise, we rely constantly to Leao to make a miraculous break through.

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