One of the topics that has been talked about at length in recent weeks is AC Milan’s defensive record, one which has them in the bottom half of the league.
This morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport (as seen below) writes about the ‘defenceless Diavolo’, a team that – due to injuries and carelessness – are on the wrong side of the table when it comes to goals conceded.
The Rossoneri have the 11th-best defence in the league, which causes concern. It may also have to do with the more attacking attitude of the team, who are second in terms of goals scored, but titles are won by keeping goals out as well.
Twice Milan reacted and came back: trailing by a goal in Udine, they turned the game on its head towards the end. The same happened in Frosinone as Luka Jovic scored a winner inside the final ten minutes.
Aiming to score one more goal than the opponent guarantees entertainment and excitement, but with the risk of getting into some very tricky situations as the Udinese, Bologna and Frosinone games showed. Milan’s defence needs to find confidence again.
A big return
This is why we are celebrating Malick Thiaw’s upcoming return to the team. His recovery from a muscle injury is almost complete (and early too) so he will be able to return in the middle of the month.
He will not be available to face Napoli nor Rennes, out of caution, but most likely available for Monza on Sunday 18 February. The hope is that the German will be able to help raise the defensive wall.
Looking at the 27 goals conceded, this is 17 more than Inter and 13 more than Juventus. The distance in the table can also be explained like this and the proof is offered by the season of the Rossoneri’s Scudetto win when 31 goals were conceded throughout the entire season.
There is an encouraging fact: at this point of the season, i.e. the 23rd round, the title-winning Milan side had conceded 25, just two less than today. They then ended the campaign with 10 clean sheets in 14 games.
If they followed the same trend, then Pioli’s side would have solid foundations to build their recovery. Last year it was worse too with 30 goals conceded at the same point, and of course a top four spot was only sealed right at the end.
Attitude > recoveries
Getting back the three main centre-backs will help even if it seems more a question of attitude more than anything else. In the last four league games Milan have conceded seven goals, practically two per game.
Yet in the same matches Matteo Gabbia was worth a rating of at least six out of 10, and Simon Kjaer went below six on just one occasion. This is an attacking Milan, more devoted to scoring, but thus neglects the defensive phase.
Pioli recognised this after the last game which saw two goals conceded against Frosinone, the second with the complicity of Maignan.
I believe that the more the level rises, for example against Napoli and Rennes, the more we will have to raise the level of attention,” he said.
“It’s not a situation that tells us that we’re not working well in the defensive phase but it’s clear that many things can still be done better, especially when not in possession of the ball.”
Tomori and Kalulu
Soon Milan will have Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu back as well, because they will return to group training before the end of the month, undergoing a short period to regain their match fitness and then they will be completely available.
Tomori went off in the away game against Salernitana on 22 December and has missed eight games, while Pierre Kalulu has been missing since the end of October after suffering a bad muscle tear against Napoli.
The patched defence inevitably had an impact on the team’s stability. Of the 27 goals conceded in the league, 18 came in the second half. In addition to distraction, it can have to do with physical tiredness.
Between the Coppa Italia and the Champions League the data remain in line. In Europe they conceded eight goals in six games, while in the cup it’s three goals let in across two games.
A first test of the defensive work will take place on Sunday evening, when Napoli – without Victor Osimhen – will be guests at San Siro. For Gabbia and Kjaer, but also for the rest of the team, the trio they face will be Politano, Simeone and Kvaratskhelia.