After back-to-back defeats against Atalanta and Inter, Milan looked to bounce back against a Bologna side who were unlucky to lose against Juventus despite their spirited performance.
It was a game Milan were expected to win, but given the various absences it was never going to be an easy game. Here is a match analysis of the victory…
Both teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Tonali back to the starting line up in the double pivot, while Schouten benched Svanberg in Bologna’s starting XI and Tomiyasu moved to the right-back position with the club signing Soumaro on loan from Lille.
High line and aggression
Milan – since the inception of Pioli’s tenure – have looked to press the opposition by playing a high line. Until the arrival of Kjaer, playing a high line had huge risk for the Rossoneri.
However, with Tomori there seems to be an added gear in this particular department. With Milan pressing their opponents in their own box, the Englishman helped to cover the space between midfield and defence by aggressively pushing up. Tomori, in case he was bypassed, had the recovery pace to make it back and cover counters.
Horizontal press and overlapping full-backs
Bologna are a team drilled well by Sinisa Mihaljovic to press their opponents. Their man tactic was to push their opponent to the by-line and then outnumber the player in possession. Once they win the ball back they switch play either through Sansone or through Dominguez to Orsolini, who along with Tomiyasu overload Theo Hernandez and then cross the ball in for Barrow or Soriano.
Tomori’s passing and Pioli’s tactical adjustment
While Tomori is an excellent defender, he still lacks elite passing ability. Around the 15-minute mark, Pioli solved this crisis by sending Tonali deeper and therefore closer to Tomori, to help bring the ball out from the back.
Most of Milan’s build up happened through Tomori and Tonali. Once the ball went into the opposition’s half, Leão carried the ball from defence to attack. Hence, you can see maximum touches in these areas.
The extra dimension of Ibrahimovic
With Ibrahimovic (and later Mandzukic), Milan have a tall striker giving an extra dimension to bypass the different lines of Bologna’s press. As soon as the ball is hoisted to Ibrahimovic, Rebic and Leao start making runs expecting knockdowns from the striker. One such knockdown resulted in Calabria’s chance, which ended in a tame header.
Mihaljovic’s sub and change to 3-5-2
With Bologna chasing the game, Mihaljovic brought in Palacio for Dijks and changed to a back three with Palacios playing the perfect foil to Musa Barrow. And this worked with Palacio’s work rate helping to dispossess Theo and the resulting counter-attack for Bologna’s goal.
After two tough games against Atalanta in the league and Inter in the cup that resulted in two defeats, the most important thing was simply for Milan to win against a side struggling to win games and sliding down the table worryingly.
Getting a two-goal lead on the board was important and allowed Milan – as pundits have pointed out – to win without any real dramas, but there are still tactical points that Pioli can work on even in games like this.