Lazio 0-1 AC Milan: Five things we learned – Pioli’s issues evident as subs save him

By Ivan Stoev -

AC Milan travelled to Roma for a tough away clash against Lazio, hoping to bounce back with a win after three games without one. So they did, thanks to a late winner by Noah Okafor, but it was far from a perfect game. 

In the 1-1 draw against Atalanta, Milan were rather dominant and the disappointment of not getting all three points was huge. In spite of that, though, one would expect the team to build on the performance and play just as well/perhaps better in the next clash.

That wasn’t the case, unfortunately, as the Rossoneri looked nothing like the sharp side they were last week and barely managed to threaten Lazio. The first proper chance and shot on target came in injury time of the first half, which says a lot.

In the second half, not much changed except Lazio got a man sent off after a rather a situation that you don’t see every day. Despite this numerical advantage, though, Stefano Pioli’s men didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

Fortunately, Noah Okafor did bag the winner in the 88th minute after a nice move. The game went on to finish in an ugly manner with Adam Marusic and Matteo Guendouzi earning themselves red cards in the 94th and the 97th minute, meaning Lazio finished the game with 8 men.

1. Pioli playing Russian Roulette

This season has been filled with rumours regarding the Italian’s future and despite Pioli stabilising his team’s performances in the new year, it’s becoming increasingly clear that his time at Milan must end at the end of the season.

It has to be the case, because the coach is struggling to find any continuity with his tactics and is just playing Russian roulette each game, hoping that things will work out.

You cannot play the way Milan did against Atalanta, a much better side compared to Lazio by the way, and then proceed to play like what we saw yesterday. Not to say that he doesn’t deserve any praise, but Pioli’s inability to find consistency with his tactics is costing Milan a lot.

Furthermore, he has at least three world-class players at his disposal: Mike Maignan, Rafael Leao and Theo Hernandez. Yet somehow, the football that the Rossoneri played last night was absolutely dreadful to watch. Pioli’s tenure at the club is coming to a natural end.

2. Fortunate to not concede

Despite the man advantage and the win, Milan were fortunate enough not to concede with Simon Kjaer and Alessandro Florenzi playing poorly at the back, committing a lot of unforced errors.

Matteo Gabbia was also a bit clumsy at times, though he was relatively good in comparison to the former two. The same goes for Hernandez, who probably was the best out of the bunch but nothing spectacular.

It’s clear that the pace of the game didn’t suit Kjaer at all, finding himself out of positioning and losing his man several times, and the Dane will likely be on the bench moving forward. Gabbia is the only one who still has a chance (and a pretty good one too), which is commendable given the heavy returns.

3. Midfield trio disappoint

Against Atalanta, a phenomenal game by Yacine Adli helped Milan dominate the pitch, but he was very poor this time out. Although he was the most creative one out of the trio, that is Ismael Bennacer and Ruben Loftus-Cheek too, the Frenchman simply wasn’t good enough.

As for Bennacer, the issue is probably his fitness as he was out for a long time and still hasn’t found that crucial rhythm which he relies on with his playing style. Loftus-Cheek, meanwhile, set a very high bar at the start of the year and has struggled to replicate that at times. Maybe we shouldn’t expect him to, but he was poor this time out.

Adli is the most peculiar one, though, as he looked nothing like the player we saw against Atalanta. Consistency is something he must work on a lot.

4. Attack not firing on all cylinders

We have pretty much gone through all the areas on the pitch, with few positive words to say, and the attacking department is no different on that front. More so than individual performances, before you slate us in the comments, it was the lack of link-ups that hurt Milan yesterday.

Olivier Giroud couldn’t find his teammates with the flicks and was often in the wrong positions, not receiving the passes (to then flick) in the first place. Christian Pulisic had his moments and also got Pellegrini sent off, which counts for a lot, but he also had one or two good shooting opportunities.

Finally, Leao was not at his best this time out either, failing to put the Lazio defence in real danger for most of the game. He picked up towards the end, first with the narrow offside goal and then with the cross which led to the goal. But why didn’t he play like that from the first minute?

5. Substitutes to the rescue

This time around, Milan’s bench did prove to be a game-changer with Noah Okafor’s goal enough to seal all three points in the end. The Swiss international seemed motivated after coming on and positioned himself well on the goal, as he showed good agility and reaction to grab the goal.

Tijjani Reijnders also played a very good game off the bench as he was a big upgrade to Bennacer. Tidy with his passing and unlucky that Leao was offside (by just a few centimetres) following his great through ball.

Davide Calabria was also an upgrade to Florenzi, although not a big one but the Italian still brought some fresh energy to the pitch. In short, Milan certainly have more depth than they did last season and it has been crucial on a few occasions.

Tags AC Milan Europa League Serie A


  1. Kudos to the author Ivan.
    While a lot of fans and especially the Italian media look at this team under Pioli like Milan is Torino, this is an analysis worthy of the stature of a club like Milan. Instead of grasping at straws, trying to sugarcoat an abysmal performance, for an umpteenth time, he actually calls it the way it is.
    The result was the only positive.
    Milan, with a much better squad than mid table Lazio, was getting dominated until Lazio started to self-destruct.
    And even after they went down to 10 men, Lazio still had a better chance to score a goal than 11 men Milan.
    “it’s becoming increasingly clear that Pioli’s time at Milan must end at the end of the season.” Yes, sir. It’s a year and a half too late, but better late than never.
    Roma fired a way more established coach than Pioli for a rookie coach and they look like a totally different team with the same players.
    De Rossi in less than half a season will achieve something that the over paid Mourinho couldn’t do in 2.5 season, qualify for the UCL.
    Again, with the same squad.
    The coach makes a difference.
    Mourinho held Roma back just like Pioli is holding Milan back.

    1. Finally someone who says the things as they are. I hope more “experts” and Pioli defendants read this article. Everything spot on.

      1. Month one here claims that Pioli coaching is masterclass. He has been inconsistent throughout his time at Milan. The same Pioli that coached milan through the Atalanta performance didn’t do himself any favors with the Lazio showing.

        But to blame every single thing that goes wrong at Milan in Pioli is ridiculous and absolutely idiotic. he has done a lot of things right.

        Having said that, we ABSOLUTELY need a coaching upgrade in the summer.

        1. You are praising Pioli for Milan’s performance vs Atalanta, a game that Milan didn’t even win. I guess it was a moral victory.
          Like I said, some act like they are fans of a mid table club like Torino, not a club like Milan.

        2. These last two games are the perfect example of life under Pioli – it’s like watching two different teams. I’m all for switching coaches but I guess I’d be more damning of him if he hadn’t had to put up with all the extraneous circumstances going on:
          Integrating 10 new players
          No starting central defenders
          Leao Mike Theo Giroud off the boil half the time
          Insane ref/VAR decisions
          Bennacer injured/awol
          Pobega in the squad

        3. so how is Motta a ‘upgrade’

          2 years of experience

          never managed big players

          never won anything

          but apparently Motta is so good he is 1000% guaranteed to be a success, don’t understand this type of teenage mindset.

          1. He may have never managed big players, but he played alongside as well as shared the locker room with some of the biggest names in football history. He knows what needs to be said and how it needs to be said and when, unlike maybe Pioli who hasn’t spent as much time with big names as Motta has. Yes, he might be an upgrade, the results show you everything, with a smaller team, what he has been able to achieve, and consistency, unlike Pioli. The freshness of mind and tactics, a modern-day way of doing things, not an outdated and limited one, like Pioli.

    2. Big talk from someone who underestimates what it takes to beat a team like Lazio.

      You talk about ‘stature’.

      Stature is beating the teams in front of you.

      If you can’t get that then there’s very little point whatever happens to Pioli.

      You’ll never be happy, always demanding more, no players or managers will ever be good enough and it’ll be back to the years before Pioli – the revolving door club that goes nowhere on the search for some imagined greatness.

      You’re right the manager does make the difference. The minute Pioli came to the club we stopped being a mid table club. We could go back there just as easily with the wrong moves.

    1. What truth?

      A truth that ignores the actual results on the pitch?

      That presents opinion over facts?

      It’s just the media stirring up more drama.

      You seem easily impressed

      1. Agree. Besides the fact that for example Kjaer had:
        The most accurate passes (67)
        Most clearances (6)
        Most interceptions (3)
        1 keypass
        Via @WhoScored X

  2. Maybe watch the game again from Lazio perspective and you’ll see they packed the midfield and tried to stifle the game (or press when specifically Adli had the ball) . I didn’t see the drab encounter everyone is talking about. I saw a tactical and absorbing contest with few spaces to exploit, not to mention physical. We can’t always win nicely and playing attractive football. The midfield pivots were a problem. Adli, once pressured, either gave the ball away or was close to. Bennacer isn’t fit. Lazio wasn’t exactly lighting it up either. It was just a more physical, tactical than usual game. There’s a certain appreciation to these sorts of games most fans I guess don’t have.
    I find we tend to talk too much about how easy to can be to just walk into a game and expect to simply win with ease. Serie A coaches are notoriously tactical. They study you and your team in depth,.make adjustments and leave you with very few spaces. And most of all they mark off their calendars for when they meet Milan. It’s why I said before the game of they played like vs Fiorentina we’d win easily, with the reason being that they’re playing us. It was never going to be easy. Teams play us like it’s a final. And that’s what Motta or whoever the next coach will have to deal with.
    Also, unrelated, in some sense wrt the red cards, i can’t wait for the return I guess next season. It’s going to be spicy

    1. “We can’t always win nicely and playing attractive football” – exactly. I said something similar recently along the lines of when Liverpool or someone win playing badly “that’s the mark of a true champion” – when we do it “oh that’s not good enough.”

    2. I agree here.
      While coaching is definetly one of our problems, you can’t always win smoothly against everyone especially in away games.
      Honestly I’d take a win even if it’s ugly anytime over a “beautiful” but draw like against Atalanta.

      1. We’ve scored so many goals and played nice pretty football in other games. We can’t expect that to happen all 38 games. Sarri set up the team to close the spaces and we tried to work the ball to get chances. This wasn’t an easy game by any stretch, glad to take the W

        As u said, 3 points I’ll take that anyday after a game like this. It’s very satisfying. We’ll have other opportunities to play well in other games. That I’m sure

  3. I would have felt better if Milan played like they did against Atalanta and came out with a draw against Lazio, then win and be totally bottled up throughout the game. Lazio is tactically and technically a far superior team than Atalanta and they had a proper game plan that stifled the sh#$t out of us (high press, tight spaces, quicker turnovers, better passing). A lot of people underestimate Lazio’ game, it was not an easy win. And high press teams have shown us up on so many occasions, something the coach doesn’t have an answer for. By the way, we should think of getting Sarri instead of Conte to replace Pioli, if we want to compete with Inter and Juve…

    1. I disagree – it’s better to feel good about a draw than win? And as for Sarri – I dunno, maybe I have a bias against grumpy faces (Mourinho, Dida, Balotelli, CDK…) but it’s a hard no from me.

  4. The tactics of lazio was far different from the tactics of Atalanta. Atalanta use a “man oriented press” while lazio blocked spaces by staying very compact so that we don’t easily play through them like we did against Atalanta. This Milan team is better against “man oriented pressure” teams because we could draw their players out of position with movements and passing.

    It was an interesting tactical battle which is why the serie A is very interesting. Different tactics for different teams

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