GdS: Structure, attitude and individual talent – how Pioli has begun to revive Milan

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan had a terrible run of results to begin 2023 but now they have a couple of wins in a row under their belt and two much-needed clean sheets as well.

La Gazzetta dello Sport writes how Milan basically had a month where all of their certainties had vanished. From the 87th minute against Roma to the half-time mark against Torino, the Rossoneri looked lost and were playing without an identity, unable to keep goals out and then failing to respond.

So what has changed? It starts with ‘oxygenation’, as Pioli stated after the game against Spurs that the team can breathe again as they are playing with a smile on their face. Theo Hernandez and Leao have resumed their dynamic play down the left, Tonali is back as virtual captain in the heart of the pitch, Kalulu and Kjaer have taken Thiaw by the hand accompanying him to a finally solid defensive phase and Diaz has remembered that a number 10 is sometimes also called to score goals and not just assist.

Then there is the attitude. Pioli has chosen to change tack from a four-man defence to one with three or five men, which requires completely different game principles. They faced a Spurs side on Tuesday night who play the same system but have done for much longer, yet with the right attitude and a clear mind Milan won.

Co-ordination has always been re-discovered, like in the Scudetto winning season when defending was done by running forward first and foremost to press and suffocate. Tonali and Krunic snapped at the heels Skipp and Sarr, while the defence moved up and closed the lines.

Diaz has connected the frontline and midfield very well while Saelemaekers and Theo prevented the descents of Perisic and Emerson Royal. Giroud and Leao made Conte’s three-man defence anxious since their first touches. In short, a collective effort.

Looking at the defensive phase, it took some time to assimilate the new tactical strategies of the 3-4-2-1, especially on the flanks. Against Torino for example, Leao played too centrally, but then he realised that he could have more joy by running into wide spaces and he did it against Spurs. The backline also looked in harmony against one of the more deadly attacks left in the competitions.

Finally, the individuals. What happens when the collective regain their confidence? Simple, the most talented players return to making a difference. The most striking case is undoubtedly Theo Hernandez, who went from a state of hibernation to a leading role again.

Close behind is Tonali, who in the last month had been visibly in trouble, while Leao too – even though we are not yet seeing levels we know he can hit – has regained strength and confidence and, instead of trying to solve matches on his own, has started assisting his team-mates again.

There are three games before the return leg against Spurs back in London, with the hope that the new certainties can continue to blossom.

Tags AC Milan Stefano Pioli
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