Another matchday has come and gone, and Milan are now winless in three matches. The fortunate outcomes of the Rossoneri’s unbeaten streak that was courteously snapped by Sassuolo two weeks ago have come back to bite the Milanese club, and yesterday’s hosts now find themselves six points off of fifth-placed Inter Milan in the Serie A table.
Lazio proved themselves to be worthy opponents, holding Milan to a dire 1-1 draw as both sides drew upon each other’s lack of defensive skill to make their offensive power plays. The teams came close in several instances, and both could have scored more goals than they did last night. The clubs had plenty of faults and mishaps during the match, and both could easily have swung the game in their favour had a few minute match details gone slightly differently.
This article, of course, will be focusing on the good, the bad, and the ugly portions of Milan’s performance against Lazio on the 30th matchday of the 2015/16 Serie A campaign.
This week’s edition of this piece, unlike the last piece under this name, is starting out with the good parts of the match. As Milan ended up not losing, it was only fitting that the article would kick off profiling the draw’s positives. First and foremost, Carlos Bacca finally showed us that his dementia has not yet set in, and he still remembers how to find the back of the net. After a drought in front of goal stretching back to the draw with Napoli in mid-February, last night Bacca finally got his hands (or foot, in this case) on a goal, bringing Milan level at 1-1. His movement off the ball was convincing, and he constantly put in effort to find space and link up with his teammates.
Due to Niang’s injury, Bacca ventured farther away from the center opposition box than he normally would, which played a part in his equalising goal. The Colombian, who was on the edge of the box when Luiz Adriano came into possession, had the opportunity to cut in from the side and get enough of Adriano’s short pass to send it flying past the ever-inconsistent Federico Marchetti. Bacca had a few other chances this match, but this was largely his only goal-threatening one. While one can argue that it was a fairly basic goal, Milan fans and management alike want nothing more from their star striker than to poke the ball past the goalkeeper, regardless of how the task is accomplished.
Bacca’s partner in crime, the Brazilian Adriano, had quite the tidy game himself. Beyond providing an assist to Bacca whilst falling/ being pulled down, Adriano involved himself with the attacking plays throughout the entire duration of his time on the pitch before being (somewhat unfairly) substituted for the endlessly mediocre Mario Balotelli. The striker, who was all but set to leave the San Siro in the winter, is now making a case for not only being a capable Niang substitute, but a player who may well keep the youngster out of Mihajlovic’s starting 11 upon the Frenchman’s return from injury.
Completing the trifecta of attacking players who did well is, naturally, Giacomo Bonaventura. The brightest spark in a chiefly mediocre season, the talismanic winger once again put in an inspired, hard-working 90 minutes. Though nearly all of his attacking plays fizzled out into nothingness, Bonaventura’s work ethic was a the most important factor–well, he and Lazio’s makeshift defensive line–in the constant pressure Milan applied to the Biancocelesti.
This jumbled map sheds light on just how much Bonaventura did this match. The blue passes are those he completed, most of which are contained to the left flank and Lazio’s half. The pressure Bonaventura applies was key in drawing out defenders and peppering the capital club’s box with swinging crosses. While a lot of his passes going into Marchetti’s area we incomplete, the sheer quantity of them and the way he forced defenders out of their natural positions was more than enough to make trouble for the Lazio goaltender on several occasions. There was also of course his crossbar-rattling shot late in the first half, one that could have changed the entire narrative of the match had it been a few centimeters lower.
As it is with any Milan match, there was plenty of silliness and poor decisions to go around. Lazio’s goal lone goal, courtesy of a header from Marco Parolo, resulted from atrocious aerial marking and confusion between the Rossoneri defenders. Antonelli completely fumbled on marking the Lazio midfielder, freeing him up to make a quick dart to the center of the box and rise up, practically unmarked, to send the ball easily past a helpless Donnarumma. This lack of attention to proper defensive positioning was addressing in the tactical review of the loss to Sassuolo two weeks ago, and it reared its head again last night. It is simply unacceptable that defenders at a team aiming for Champions League qualification cannot seem to grasp the basics of staying with the man you’re meant to mark, and it is certainly not an aspect of a team destined for success.
Andrea “Back pass” Bertolacci was also once again in his predictably mediocre form. Before you start tweeting your disgust, this is not to say that he did poorly, or that he cost us the match. Rather, he was once again, for lack of better words, “just there”. He completed some passes and made a couple of tackles, but in the grand scheme of the match accomplished little. His standard passes to defenders two feet away were once again prevalent, and made little difference in the tempo of the game. One can only wonder how much longer fans will be patient with him, because for now, he is for all intents and purposes an off-brand €20 million Montolivo.
Milan’s unacceptably slow start was another dreadful yet not unanticipated feature of the 1-1 draw. The team’s inability to string together a respectable opening 10 minutes has stabbed the team in the back in many a game, and yet little has been done to combat this clear and present weakness. Lazio are only the latest team to capitalise on the sluggish Rossoneri starts, robbing the team of two points in the process. How many more times will points will have to be dropped in order to motivate players to get to work right out of the gate? The answer to this question has remained shrouded in the mysteries of the AC Milan locker room, and does not look like an ailment that will be remedied soon.
The ugly section. One that brings out the worst of the already poor Milan team and highlights just how ludicrous expecting Champions League qualification as a given truly is. This match day’s ugly section’s focus is none other than fullback extraordinaire Luca Antonelli. The Italian, who has been mislabeled by many as one of the season’s best players, put in yet another 90 minutes of perpetual evidence to the contrary.
From the opening whistle to the final kick of the game, Antonelli played wretchedly. Poor in defense as always, he was exploited by Antonio Candreva, Felipe Anderson, and any other Lazio attacker who made their way down his flank. Lazio knew that he was an easy target to get past, and one that would often leave his position exposed after foolishly venturing too far forward during an attacking sequence.
While, of course, the visitors failed to score any goals from open play, that does not absolve Antonelli of his terrible defending, nor does it excuse the lack of sense he seems to have when caught out. Going forward he is fine, there is no doubt about that; as far as attacking full backs go, he has been doing an adequate job. But as a defender, his job is to defend just as much as it is to attack, and the Italian consistently ignores this arguably more important aspect of his position. In a formation with wing backs Antonelli would be a godsend, but unfortunately he is fielded as a pure flanking defender, as such he has responsibilities to patrol the wings in addition to make quick runs forward on Milan offensives.
His counterpart on the other side of the formation, Ignazio Abate, a player who was once condemned for similar crimes, has found a way to fix himself and achieve success in defending. The question is when, or rather if, Antonelli will have a similar breakthrough. Without it, Milan might as well be fielding three defenders and two left wingers.
The snapping of Milan’s unbeaten streak has yielded unsavory dividends. The team that looked like they could challenge for a Champions League spot a month ago doesn’t even look like a Europa League place contender now. Though the return of Menez is a welcome one, the lack of confidence the Rossoneri so visibly play with can only serve to harm the team. Fans that are baying for European competition fail to understand that the team is not ready for it, that every small obstacle results in catastrophe.
Against Lazio, the usual suspects played to par, and nobody did anything unexpected. It is, however, an unacceptable level of play, unbecoming to one of the most storied clubs in the world. One can only hope that some sort of changes are made, because at the moment, the team looks better suited for Serie B than the Champions League.