After a fantastic last season, in which the Rossoneri managed to win their 19th league title, Pioli and his men started this season well in an attempt to build on the success and go even further.
In the season opener, Milan hosted Udinese with a starting XI that had no new signing in it. Ante Rebic started the game coming off a really positive pre-season, fired up after struggling with a lot of injuries last season,
The game started off poorly for the hosts as Udinese managed to open up the scoresheet just less than two minutes into the game. The Rossoneri responded very well, very fast. In the 12th minute, Theo Hernandez scores a penalty to bring his side level. A couple of minutes later, Rebic picked up his first goal putting Milan in front. Unfortunately, Masina equalised just before half-time.
In the second half, Udinese barely had a chance with Brahim Diaz and Ante Rebic racking up a goal each to form the final 4-2 in favour of Milan, starting the season in great fashion. Down below are five things we learned…
1. A man on a mission
Rebic has had very good moments since joining the Rossoneri, but hasn’t really managed to play consistently throughout a whole season due to Covid-19 and injuries in the past 2 years.
The Croat started the season all fired up with positive signs coming in pre-season and he got his chance to start against Udinese. Rebic bagged a brace helping his side win all three points and was heavily involved in Milan’s dangerous attacks.
Hopefully, the forward will manage to stay fit and we can see him find the consistency to perform on such a level for an extended period of time.
2. Not settling yet
Another top performer for Milan on the night was Brahim Diaz. The Spaniard scored a goal and added an assist to his tally. Diaz had an underwhelming season last year, but he seems keen to improve on that and with the new additions to the squad, Brahim will have a lot of competition so he needs to raise the bar even more.
The midfielder has the qualities as he has shown in the last two years, but he has lacked in his decision-making in the final third so the case for him is an interesting one as the qualities are there, but he needs to work on his mentality. Yesterday was a big step forward, though.
3. Not a familiar display at the back
The fans have been spoiled watching a flawless defence for the last third of the past season, and thus seeing Milan concede 2 goals in 45 minutes against Udinese certainly did not look right.
Despite the shaky start, Milan’s defence had a solid second half. Pierre Kalulu was on the same high level as he was not a fault for either of the goals. Davide Calabria was a bit sloppy with his passing, but grabbed an assist and won the penalty for the first goal. His colleague on the other side, Theo Hernandez also did well in attack, scoring the penalty and bursting forward as his usual self.
Overall, a mixed display in defence, but a lot of offensive contribution by the back line. It should be added that the goals came from attacking players missing out in defence, and thus perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh on the defence.
4. Unexpected flop and a disappointing performance
After a promising pre-season, Junior Messias seemed determined to seal a spot on that right-hand side. However, the season opener against Udinese was really not what the fans were expecting from the Brazilian. Messias was barely involved in the attack and was also at fault for the second goal.
On the left-hand side, Rafael Leao had an unusually quiet afternoon. The Portuguese had some decent moments, but failed to make his usual impact and couldn’t pick up a goal or assist. After a stellar last season, the youngster will need to cement his position as one of the best in Serie A and continue to improve so hopefully the game against Udinese was a one-off poor display.
5. Pioli showing off his depth
Milan have quietly managed to build a very competitive squad in the last couple of season. Pioli introduced new signings – Charles De Ketelaere and Divock Origi – in the second half in addition to Tommaso Pobega, Alexis Saelemaekers and Olivier Giroud.
Furthermore, Yacine Adli didn’t even come off the bench with Sandro Tonali out injured. Florenzi and Kjaer were also on the bench which just shows how much depth this current squad has, allowing Pioli to fight on multiple fronts this season and it will be very interesting to see how the coach rotates his squad between competitions.