Pressing traps and creating isolation: Tactical analysis of Milan’s defeat against Fiorentina

By Rohit Rajeev -

AC Milan succumbed to their first defeat of the Serie A season away against Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi as Vincenzo Italiano got one over on Stefano Pioli again.

Contrary to the narrative, Milan actually outplayed Fiorentina in almost all departments except in scoring goals. So where did Milan go wrong? Where did Fiorentina get it right? Let’s take a look…

Fiorentina’s approach

Fiorentina – like Italiano’s Spezia side – lined-up in a 4-3-3. This meant that Fiorentina had two extra midfielders in build-up and attack while a single pivot in the centre protected the goal.

Build-up and wing play

Fiorentina used Torreira as a single pivot forming a passing triangle at the back. This helped Fiorentina’s full-backs push up and pin Milan’s wingers away from where the build-up was happening. Since Fiorentina were playing a three-man midfield, Torreira was flanked by Duncan and Bonaventura on either sides.

In reality Fiorentina build up using a 2-1-4-3 or at times a 3-4-1-2 with Vlahovic dropping off from his position and acting as a makeshift attacking midfielder.

Once again owing to their structure of three-man midfield it helped Fiorentina to overload the wings and create passing diamonds. Diamonds, unlike triangles, obviously gave the man in possession even more options.

Milan’s narrow formation and switches of play

Milan as usual played a very narrow formation to reduce the playing area press Fiorentina but La Viola have effective midfielders and functional full-backs to counter this.

Using the full width of the pitch Fiorentina initiated quick switches of play that flipped Milan playing a narrow formation into a quick disadvantage as it turned into many attacks for Fiorentina but somehow they weren’t able to convert.

High press, high line and offside trap

Italiano like many modern coaches is a forward-thinking manager who likes his team to press up the field and not give the team on the ball any space. With a functional No.10 like Brahim this meant that there would be space between the lines particularly with Fiorentina committing numbers to the high press.

To close the spaces, Fiorentina played a high lines and maintained 15-20 meters between their first line of defence and their last line, usually Vlahovic. This gave Milan much less of an area to play in.

Milan tried to exploit this using Simon Kjaer’s ball playing ability as he lobbed balls above the lines of defence to a tall Ibrahimovic, but Fiorentina played the offside trap very well which is a very difficult technique.

Fiorentina’s advantage and weak link

Fiorentina committing more men forward had its advantages. For example it helped in created so many overlapping situations between the winger and the wide midfielder or it helped in overloads of the wide area.

The second goal – although it came courtesy of a stunning piece of work from Saponara – was caused by a series of movements. Duncan underlapped Biraghi and pinned Kalulu to the wide areas creating a space between the centre-back and Kalulu. A poor clearance from Tonali was pounced on by Vlahovic who laid it off from Saponara and Kjaer couldn’t cover the space to shoot.

Gabbia came under a lot of criticism for his performances against Fiorentina, a lot of it justified. Fiorentina (although we are unsure if they were aware if he would play) targeted Gabbia with Vlahovic constantly on his shoulder creating trouble for the young Italian more than once.

The third goal came as a result of Fiorentina’s structure and clever targeting. Initially Fiorentina created an overload in the wide area by having Bonaventura, Duncan and Saponara push on Messias and Florenzi making it a 3v2.

While Tonali played on the right side of the double pivot he was out of position in this particular sequence of play. This meant that Kjaer had to go across to even the odds and this put Vlahovic on a 1v1 vs Gabbia. The latter could not match the Serb’s pace and power and he made it 3-0.

Smart pressing

Milan’s first goal came as a result of some smart pressing. To ease the pressure on his keeper Bonaventura came out of his position and received the ball. However, this was a trap.

Milan had cut off all the passing options available to their former midfielder as Ibra covered Venuti, Giroud covered the keeper, Tonali covered Torreira, Leao covered Odriozola and Kessie pressed Bonaventure to pressure him to making a quick decision.

Rather than risking a long pass with his weaker left foot, Bonaventura decided to risk the pass to Venuti and this turned out to be a mistake.

The stats

The statistics from the game paint a different picture from the scoreline. Milan played Fiorentina off the park really and should have by all means won the game, but alas they wasted their chances and conceded goals at crucial times.

As we can see above the xG – or expected goals – are a metric to quantify the quality of chances created by a team. Milan registered an xG of 2.1 while Fiorentina only had 1.8 – further proof of how Milan were wasteful in front of goal

Milan made 40 progressive passes (passes that are not sideways or backwards) and completed 27 passes in the final third while Fiorentina only amassed 28 progressive passes and 19 passes in the final third.

The only area where La Viola seemed to better Milan was in terms of their pressing which seemed skewed because Milan – who were chasing the game from the 13th minute – pressed relentlessly and attempted more pressure compared to Fiorentina. In other words, it is a stat that goes against the eye test.

The most disturbing analysis is the save % of the keepers. Tatarusanu saved only 20% of the shots on target he faced while Teracciano saved 50% of all shots on target.

READ MORE: Fiorentina 4-3 AC Milan – Five things we learned – careless mistakes and obvious positives

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