AC Milan managed to get back to winning ways on Friday night as they beat Genoa 2-0 at San Siro, but it was far from their best display of the season.
It was a win that was much needed in front of the biggest crowd of the season as goals from Rafael Leão early in the first half and Junior Messias late in the second half secured three valuable points, ensuring the correct response after consecutive goalless draws and after Inter beat Spezia. Here are five things we learned…
1. Master of all trades
News filtered before kick-off that Davide Calabria was unwell and would be replaced by Matteo Gabbia, meaning Pierre Kalulu got a start in the right-back role having played centre-back over the past few weeks.
If there were any concerns about how he might adapt to being shifted back, those were eliminated within 11 minutes. The Frenchman showed that in addition to being reliable, strong and composed on the defensive end, he can add something to the attack too.
He whipped in an inch-perfect ball to the far post where Leao was on hand to finish with a lovely volley to give Milan an early 1-0 lead. No matter where Kalulu plays, it is now obvious that he is a certainty for this defence, and for years to come.
.@Kalulujr_ vs. Genoa:
➤ 1 assist
➤ 46 passes
➤ 93% pass accuracy
➤ 1 key pass
➤ 1 big chance created
➤ 1/1 successful dribbles
➤ 2 tackles won
➤ 2 interceptions
➤ 1 clearance
➤ 5/7 duels won
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) April 16, 2022
2. Questionable management
There are too many hypotheticals thrown around with regards to narratives in football nowadays, but we find ourselves questioning if this result and performance might have been viewed differently if the score stayed at 1-0.
The Rossoneri got an early goal like they have done many times this season, yet just like they did against Spezia, Empoli and Udinese at home plus Cagliari away, they then really struggled to manage the game and control the pace of the encounter against an opponent who are far inferior on paper.
Milan having their fast, intense setting is fantastic for setting the tone and coming out of the gates quickly, though the team have still not figured out how to effectively manage a one-goal lead. They lost possession in sloppy areas, created very little and just generally looked like a side lacking confidence.
3. Starved of service
Olivier Giroud got the nod to start up front and while he must be cut some slack for having been made to work overtime in the last few weeks, the fact of the matter is that he is not only struggling to score consistently, but he isn’t even getting into the game.
The French striker had one big chance to double the advantage in the second half from Alexis Saelemaekers’ cross, yet aside from that he got very little service. Of course this reflects badly on the wingers, the playmaker and the midfielders, but we are now learning that Giroud is quite static and won’t look to stretch defences or drift into pockets of space.
Simply put, he is quite easy to defend against because he is an old-fashioned No.9. The potential arrival of Divock Origi and/or Gianluca Scamacca should help Milan in that respect because at the moment Giroud is more of a hinderance than a help.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) April 16, 2022
4. Confidence boosters
The build-up to the game was dominated by the fact that Milan have been having a lot of problems scoring goals having netted just four goals in the six games prior to last night’s win, including back-to-back goalless draws against bottom-half teams Bologna and Torino.
While it was hardly the swash-buckling performance we were hoping for after such an early goal, there were at least a couple of positive contributions from two players who are under pressure.
The first came from Leao who had not scored since February and appeared to be struggling with the extra attention he was getting from opposition defences, and the second was no doubt a big relief for Messias who ended a drought in front of goal and did so off the bench.
Pioli needs contributions from all of his attacking players and he simply hasn’t had them in the past few weeks – let’s hope this is the beginning of a resurgence.
5. Experiment fails
Pioli’s decision to play Franck Kessie as a playmaker was first tried during the 4-2 win over Empoli before the Christmas break and he scored a brace which instantly made the move look like a masterstroke.
Then, the Ivorian was again fielded in the same line-up as Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer in the 1-0 win away at Napoli, this time in more of a neutralising move in what resembled more of a 4-3-3 system.
Every other time it has been tried, it hasn’t worked at all. Kessie should have the physicality to cause problems and disrupt the low block – especially when there is minimal space between the lines – but he lacks the technical quality and the natural movements to play the role.
Some things look like they could work on paper and playing Kessie close to Giroud with Leao tucking in, which should give a mix of pace, physicality, finishing and dynamism, but he just isn’t cut out to play the No.10 role. It should now belong to Rade Krunic or Junior Messias, presuming Brahim Diaz hasn’t grown a foot overnight.