AC Milan 5-1 Cagliari: Five things we learned – quartet excel as joy emerges from doom

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan returned to winning ways after six games without a victory across all competitions on Saturday night at San Siro and they did so in comprehensive fashion, beating Cagliari 5-1.

Milan took a bit of time to get going amid an eerie atmosphere but captain Ismael Bennacer got the ball rolling by capitalising on a ricochet to fire in, and they doubled that lead early in the second half through Christian Pulisic.

Nahitan Nandez halved the deficit for Cagliari, but then Tijjani Reijnders fired in a scorcher before Pulisic and Rafael Leao each scored inside the final 10 minutes to ensure there would be no nervy finish.

The win means that the Rossoneri have taken another big step towards finishing in second place while waiting for other results, and most importantly they put on a show for the supporters after a difficult month. Below are five things we learned from the game…

1. Bold selection pays off

The rumours of the previous 24 hours were confirmed when the starting line-up came out before kick-off with Stefano Pioli opting to bench the likes of Davide Calabria, Fikayo Tomori, Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao, while Pierre Kalulu, Yunus Musah and Samuel Chukwueze all got the nod.

Pioli had hinted at the idea of making some bold changes during his pre-match press conference when he alluded to the fact that a lot of the players that have played plenty this season are feeling the after-effects.

With the benefit of a 5-1 scoreline against a team who are really struggling, we can say that the changes paid off because the team that did start the game like Kalulu and Chukwueze looked bright in parts, and then the players that came off the bench contributed in a big way.

We have already written at length about Pioli’s battles with rotation throughout the season and while these last couple of games feel like a separate chapter, he went with his gut feeling and the proof was in the pudding.

2. A two-pronged attack

It is the two wingers Christian Pulisic and Rafael Leao who will steal the limelight as both were ruthless in front of goal in the second half, helping to put the game beyond doubt.

Pulisic started on the left and got little joy but moved back to the right at half-time and scored his first brace for the Rossoneri. He is having an excellent debut season at the club with 15 goals scored across Serie A, the Champions League and Europa League, topped off with nine assists.

The contribution that he offers to Milan is not purely numbers-based either though because his versatility means that he really is comfortable hopping over to the other wing or even occupying central areas.

Leao came on at the break with Chukwueze injured, and when he the crossbar after three minutes it was a sign of things to come. He set Pulisic up for the fourth goal then collected a through ball from Ismael Bennacer 10 minutes from the end and finished calmly to add the cherry on the cake.

It was his 14th goal of the season across all competitions and last season he had 16. The current campaign has been more complex than expected for the Portuguese winger, but it was nice to see him smiling again after being jeered off last Sunday.

3. Missed chances

It does feel somewhat harsh to pick out multiple negatives from a win with a four-goal margin, but we figured we would at least sandwich them in with the other positives from the night.

Firstly, Yunus Musah was given the opportunity to start in what would be his preferred role in a three-man midfield. And yet, what he offered was a sloppy performance on the ball and an even sloppier one off the ball, culminating in him losing Nandez completely for the 2-1 goal.

Despite the decisions to make changes to reflect the heavy workloads, Giroud still got the nod up top and any hopes of him getting a grand farewell are evaporating fast. He was totally off the pace, with his hold-up play reduced to failed flicks. Noah Okafor came on and gave so much more.

Another small despondent note was that Matteo Gabbia did not have his best outing. He struggled to deal with Luvumbo and received a yellow card that will mean that he is suspended for the trip to Torino.

4. Bossing the middle

It was an emotional game for Bennacer as he donned the captain’s armband given the absence of those ahead of him in terms of appearances, and it seemed to elevate his performance level as he was the general of the midfield.

The best way to symbolise a bright and commanding display was the assist he got for Leao’s goal. An excellent recovery inside his own half was then followed by a long and perfectly weighted through ball to the former Lille man. It was like watching the Bennacer of old, now let’s hope that version stays.

In addition to the Algerian, Reijnders had a good game too. His stats include 98 touches, 76/79 completed passes (96%), one key pass, four successful dribbles, two blocked shots and two interceptions.

He also had a hand in sealing the victory too with a beautiful goal. Having found space around 25 yards out, Reijnders let fly and unleashed a fierce low shot that perfectly arrowed into the bottom corner past a helpless Scuffet.

5. Carrying on regardless

A fan protest had already happened during the 3-3 draw against Genoa at San Siro last weekend and they decided to repeat it six days on, wanting to reiterate their stance that clarity and ambition must come from the management.

Another statement was published by the Curva Sud as part of a fanzine that was distributed ahead of the game and they spoke of their silence being ‘a desperate cry of love’. What that translated into, once again, was a rather eerie atmosphere.

Without the support of the Curva it was like a throwback to those games in the mid 2010s when the team were fighting to finish seventh in front of a half-empty stadium where jeers and whistles met the first bad touches of the game

The players are stuck in a very difficult position here, even if it is at least somewhat partly their own making. They will be aware of the external noise regarding the head coach, the protests directly impact them during games and they are expected to play to their highest level.

Considering everything, that it was it feels right to praise the fact that they put on a show in the second 45 minutes. Yes they are professionals, yes they have a job to do (that they haven’t always done), but the fans bouncing and singing ‘Chi non salta nerazzurro è’ by the end paints a far more jovial picture than the pre-match doom suggested it would.

Tags AC Milan Milan Cagliari

32 Comments

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  1. They just made up a thing where pulisic is a midfielder and he is the first to score 10 goals since kaka?

    This is why i hate twitter… pulisic a winger. Lol. Giroud probably a fullback, a?

    1. Kaka wasn’t exactly a midfielder, either.

      Don’t forget Milan’s long list of world class keepers, like van Basten, Inzaghi and Weah!

  2. With Juventus losing points vs Salernitana, only 2 wins in the last 15 serie A games, and Milan securing 2nd place, the Peeoli better give some of the young players a chance these last 2 games.
    Give me Terracciano, Simic, Zeroli, Camada, Bartesaghi

    1. We’ll see but i think there is great potential for disapointment because the primavera is still fighting for their chance at the playoffs so it seems unlikely that he will weaken their squad selection.

    2. Better….or else?

      And then you’ll be the one advocating for new signings this summer which will block those very same players, before declaring they are not ‘’Milan quality”.

      1. Plus, everyone in Milan management knows what those players are capable of. They see them in training every day and watch all their games. But no, let’s throw them out there one time and that will tell us if they are good enough? It is so clear that so many posters on here have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

  3. First- Leao is still one of the main driving forces in this team (can’t believe many people say he just casually be sold) despite all his weaknesses.
    Second- Our defense is still shaky
    Third- Musah still has to prove himself
    Fourth- Bennacer is starting to go back to his form. Let’s hope he doesn’t get injured again.
    Fifth- it was Pulisic who scored it.

  4. Hello Ac milan Youth Academy please follow up to sign for pec zwolle fc forward Daviao jhair-Bobson with great talent skills & goals to booster for next generation in our club

  5. This team is not that bad, it just needs certain precise buys, and it would serve us better to permanently play with 3 midfielders, with Bennacer on the left, he easily gets closed down on the right side…
    We just need a coach who is brave enough and confident enough to use the players and the young ones

    1. 🤣🤣🤣
      Settle down bro.
      You’ve been talking about Bennacer since the game ended.
      What form is he gaining?
      He played one decent game after being either Injured or being awful for a whole year. He was getting subbed off at half time just up until 10 days ago.
      Also, Milan played vs a relegation team without any pressure.
      When you need him the most, he will be either Injured, out for the African cup, or in poor form.
      Someone offers 30 mil for him, Milan should take it immediately.
      Gaining form with 2 games left in the season!
      Gaining form for beach football during the summer break 😎. 🤣🤣🤣

        1. Isn’t everyone asking for a DM? Guess whose spot that new DM is going to take. It’s not Reijnders. Bennacer’s spot
          Plenty of players out there as good and better than Bennacer for 30 mil.
          Fans are asking for Amrabat. He can be had for 15 or less.
          Fofana from Monaco has 1 year left on his contract. Can be had for 30 or less.
          Wallace from Udinese.
          Ricci from Torino.
          Just of the top of my head.
          All as good if not better than Bennacer and most importantly you can count to stay on the pitch.
          You are not replacing Pirlo. There is nothing special about Bennacer. During Milan best seasons over the last 5 years he was nothing more than a bench player. Milan beat Tottenham last year in UCL without Bennacer. He lost his spot to Krunic in the lineup and then he was played as a 10.
          If Milan needs to raise their transfer budget this summer, Bennacer and Maignan are prime candidates to move on.

          1. Ha ha I said above that you’re on the one hand demanding all of these youth players be given chances and in the next breath you’ll be demanding new transfers!

            Hilarious.

            Your loyalty also knows no bounds.

            Wheel and deal.

        2. If Bennacer can come good next season he can potentially save us over 50m for a DM and we could spend that money on a CF.

          I wouldn’t rule it out.

      1. I guess you’re right. We can always just get another “16 millions + bonuses to reach 20 million” random moneyball to replace him. Hopefully it’ll be another ball carrier turned regista🤞

  6. Can we see the Stats for Gaming Winning or Tie goals, for Pulisic.
    Last night he scored the 2nd goal which turned out to be the game winner.

    Im sure of his 12 goals. 10 of them are prolly Game winners.

  7. Pobega has better Hold up play, Defensive tackles and a Prettier Shot than Giroud.
    Giroud has better positioning and is the best header in europre tho.

    Keep Pobega.

  8. And Sempre Milan doesn’t take any responsibility for the atmosphere around the club?

    Things have played out sort of how I expected after last summer.

    Except for the fact that I expected Milan to struggle to qualify for champions league after all of the upheaval, I was concerned generally that expectations were completely unrealistic after all of the excitement.

    And we now are in a perverse position where we’re finishing 2nd, that still isn’t good enough, and rather daring to question last summer’s mercato Pioli is the fall guy.

    People in the same comment will declare last summer’s mercato the best ever whilst declaring this season the worst ever.

    The gist seems to be that the bastard Pioli didn’t make the most of the players we signed from mid-table clubs in other leagues.

    And nevermind that 99% of our problems stemmed from not having any midfield after selling/forcing out Tonali and Krunic, and replacing them with three new signings and Adli.

    NEVER QUESTION THE MERCATO.

    Just save your anger for the coach and the players (particularly the longer serving ones – bastards).

    1. In my opinion the only significant flaw in the last transfer campaign was that they recruited midfield players for 433. And then Pioli almost immediately abandoned that idea and went back to 4231.
      So our midfield have unsurprisingly looked short of options for much of the season.

      I still don’t like the Tonali sale. But they did get a big price for him to reinforce multiple areas. And as it turned out we would have lost Tonali to a significant ban. Despite what the club says publicly. They must have known about at least some of his gambling problem. I assume it was part of their decision to sell.

      Overall I would suggest most of this mercato was successful.
      Pulisic – perhaps our best player over the season
      Okafor- decent contribution off the bench. Looks like he should have got more game time.
      Jovic – ditto
      Chukwueze- slow start but has come good in recent months and looks good for next season. Opportunities limited by Pulisic brilliant form, Afcon and injuries.
      Rjeinders – has been our best / most consistent midfielder.
      Musah – has been hot and cold but you expect that from a young player. Gives flexibility.
      RLC – His goal numbers from midfield are excellent. Is often frustrating in the CAM role in terms of creativity. Could be deployed further back and still make runs into the box.
      Sportiello – Great free signing. Big upgrade on previous number 2 keeper and looks capable of displacing Mike in his current form.
      Romero – potential talent sent out on loan
      Pellegrino – ditto

      That seems very positive on balance to me.

        1. I don’t see the link to why this would mean Pioli should stay.
          No I don’t think he is getting the best we could out of this squad.
          He doesn’t manage a squad well. He picks favourites like Giroud, RLC, Theo, Pulisic, Tomori and Leao and then almost never rests them until there is suspension, injury or a mass rotation game.
          It takes an emergency for him to properly integrate new young players.

          1. They are not favorites, they are the starters. You play your best players every chance you can. What’s so hard to understand about that?

      1. The mercato blew hot and cold, while we did get many players and reinforce some departments (namely the right wing and the central midfield), we failed to reinforce the one where we lacked the most (the defensive midfield).
        The quality is there, although aside from Pulisic, none of them was really superb this season, but it’s not enough.
        We didn’t need all of RLC, Reijnders and Musah. It would have been better for example not to purchase Musah who costed us 20M and gone for a true defensive midfielder. Okafor was also supposedly Leao’s deputy but turns out he is actually better as a striker. We also have now Calabria, Florenzi, Kalulu, Terraciano and Jimenez who can play as RB.
        So you could say that the mercato could have been better in terms of targerting actual players that we need.

        1. I mostly agree. The mercato gave us a big upgrade on Right side.
          Most of the thin midfield options came from us recruiting new players for 433.
          Be then quickly shelving that idea and returning to 4241.
          CDK could have stayed to have another try at the CAM role instead of playing RLC there every week if we had known this was the case.

          Then in the January market we did nothing to address these midfield issues.
          We even offload Krunic (who requested to leave) and failed to replace him.

  9. This game showed that Rafael Leao was a good sub. He is perfect to come on at half time, when the opposition is a bit tired. With his pace, this could trouble them. He can also track back.
    But when he starts and plays full time, he doesn’t have energy to track back (aka. a bit lazy)

  10. 6. Sorry to say this but it’s only Cagliari..let’s be real for a moment. This team play well against crap teams, terrible against proper teams

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