Left flank overload and a tireless performance: Tactical analysis of Milan’s draw vs. Atalanta

By Rohit Rajeev -

The two best teams since the resumption of Serie A went head to head at San Siro on Friday, with a 1-1 draw being an unexpected final result.

Stefano Pioli was forced into a number of changes, fielding a back four of Calabria, Kjaer, Gabbia and Laxalt due to the injuries sustained by Musacchio, Duarte and Romagnoli plus Theo Hernandez’s suspension. Meanwhile, Biglia started in midfield due to Bennacer’s suspension.

Here are some tactical points from the game…

1. Atalanta’s overloading of their left flank

To be honest, despite scoring over 100 goals this season Atalanta do not have any common pattern of play (such is the brilliance of Gasperini). They are a very zone-oriented and ball oriented system, like Arrigo Sacchi’s great Milan side, and you can see how they aim to create an overload with four players on the left wing and one man (Malinovsky) playing in the centre.

They have aligned themselves in a pseudo rectangle formation with Zapata and Freuler occupying the front most points and Gomez occupying a slightly drawn role, with Djmsiti bringing the ball out from the back to play it forward.

2. Milan’s counter strategy

Milan negated this overloading by having a very narrow system and having enough players on the right flank. The Rossoneri had Saelemaekers playing a in a sort of wing-back role and Calabria tucking in as a make shift CB to deny space to Zapata to make runs.

Kessie and Biglia pushed up horizontally to cover passing lanes and prevent switches of play or a square passed to Malinovsky.

3. Pressing

Both teams are known for their aggressive pressing. Atalanta in the picture below can be seem to pressing Rebic in a triangle to win the ball back.

Another example of Atalanta’s high press, but it didn’t work against the supreme press resistant Kessie.

Milan too were pressing in a triangle. In the below picture they closed out Zapata from a throw in who played a quick pass to Caldara which was inaccurate and went to Çalhanoglu.

4. Tireless, but full of flaws

Saelemaekers has become a very important part of Pioli’s tactical set up. In the picture below you can see how he has occupied a right-back position allowing Calabria to tuck inside to not allow space for runs from Zapata.

The Belgian was instrumental in keeping Gosens quiet all night and was tasked with man marking Papu Gomez when he shifted in to the channels. Keeping them quite is very effective to cancel our Atalanta

In attack, Saelemaekers often tucked inside for Calabria to make overlapping runs and cross inside and aim it at Ibra.

5. Milan’s attack

The importance of Zlatan and Rebic cannot be stressed enough. With Milan committing numbers to cancel out Atalanta’s extremely successful attacking tactics, Milan had to make sure they had some sort of plan of their own.

They mostly countered through the left as they took advantage of a weak right side of Atalanta. Toloi couldn’t handle the pace of Rebic and even had to be subbed as he got a booing.

Rebic carried the ball out from defence, Ibra made runs to pull Caldara out of position and held up the ball and passed to the Croatian who made unmarked runs up the left flank.

Another tactic you could see was Rebic combining with Calhanoglu, who would come to the left wing to set Rebic free.

Whenever the left wing was pressed, Saelemaekers would come into the centre of the pitch or receive crosses like he did for Leão.


It was sad that the game ended in a draw. Fatigue played a part and Milan continued their momentum to gain 1 point. Not an ideal revenge but with no Alessio, Bennacer, Theo and Conti Milan did really well to keep Atalanta at bay.

Tags AC Milan Milan Atalanta
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