After a goal fest in the opening game against Udinese which the Rossoneri won 4-2, Pioli and his men travelled away from home to face Atalanta in what was an intriguing early-season encounter.
The Bergamo side are motivated to fight for a top four spot this season and to not miss out on Champions League football – or at least European competitions – for the second campaign in a row.
The game started off fairly balanced with Milan having more of the ball but failing to create any significant chances in the final third. The first to strike were Atalanta through Malinovskyi, who was left completely free on the edge of the penalty area and managed to put the ball into the back of the net.
The Rossoneri continued to hold the ball and the territory more than their opponents following the goal but the chances did not follow as they struggled to break through Atalanta’s defence.
In the second half Milan looked a bit sharperand it was Bennacer that managed to score a lovely goal in the 68th minute to draw his side level. Unfortunately for him, the players in front of him failed to produce anything in the final quarter of the game and it ended all square. Here are five things we learned…
1. Back to mediocrity
Brahim Diaz had a fantastic start to the season with a goal and an assist against Udinese, keeping his spot heading into clash with Atalanta despite the presence of Charles De Ketelaere.
We have seen the odd spar from him here and there, but all the expectations crumbled against the Bergamo side after the Spaniard produced a sub-par performance, which looked a lot like his struggles last season as he failed to make any impact whatsoever.
After this display it seems like a no-brainer to start De Ketelaere in the coming games and Diaz will have to settle for the bench, with Yacine Adli also knocking on the door.
2. The problem persists
After a very positive pre-season with four goals, Junior Messias also raised the expectations towards him, but just as he failed to impress against Udinese he also failed to produce anything against Atalanta too.
This highlights that Maldini and the management should not really settle with Alexis Saelemaekers and Messias on that right hand side since neither of them are able to be a game change like Rafael Leao is on the left hand side.
At this point it doesn’t seem like a new winger will join, but this could’ve been a wake-up call that prompts Maldini to maybe look for a last-minute deal before the market close.
3. MVP struggles to shine
Rafael Leao was not involved in any of the four goals against Udinese and he did not look like his usual self, and it wasn’t much different against Atalanta as the Portuguese winger failed to impose himself in the game.
He managed to beat his man a couple of times in the first half, drawing a yellow card from Toloi, but the end product wasn’t there. In the second half he tried to take on the responsibility himself and attempted a couple of long range efforts but was subbed off looking frustrating.
With a lot of noise around his renewal and rumours that his agent has asked for a higher salary, the former Lille man will need to regain his form from last season and build upon that if he wants that world-class salary.
4. Elegance and dominance
What a game from Ismael Bennacer. The Algerian was Milan’s best player on the pitch and was involved in every good play for the Rossoneri on the night as he also picked up a very important goal.
Bennacer had no troubles with Atalanta’s midfield and showed just how good he can be when he is fully fit, so Pioli would surely like for him to continue in the same fashion especially with Tonali just coming back from injury and Rade Krunic now out for a month.
Unlike his partner in the middle Tonali – who looked a bit off the pace on his return – the former Empoli man actually took on the responsibility and was Milan’s engine.
5. Lacking concentration
After allowing two goals against Udinese, Milan’s defence looked tidier this time around against a better opponent. Davide Calabria did a good job on that right hand side as he registered a few tackles, but failed to make an impact going forward.
In the middle Kalulu and Tomori did well. The Frenchman was unfortunate that the ball deflected into Maignan’s net off his knee, but was good throughout the rest of the night.
It could be argued that Kalulu could’ve also reacted better on the goal and actually charged down Malinovskyi to prevent the shot, but the blame was more on Tonali as he had to push out of the penalty box and mark his man which he wasn’t even close to doing.
On the left, Theo Hernandez did all he could to help his side win the game but it wasn’t enough. The combinations between him and Leao didn’t click as we have seen and the ex Real Madrid man didn’t have as big of an impact on the attack as he would’ve liked to have. Theo was, however, very solid in defence as he barely made a mistake at the back.