Milan have been on a great run since the start of Serie A managing three wins and a draw in their opening four games. Grabbing all three points against Venezia would have meant achieving the same brilliant start to the campaign as last year putting the team top of the table joint with Inter.
With a lot of injuries in the squad hurting depth, head coach Stefano Pioli opted for changes with Matteo Gabbia, Fode Ballo-Toure and Pierre Kalulu grabbing their first start of the season. Tonali and Bennacer formed the double pivot in the middle with Florenzi replacing Saelemaekers on the right flank.
The game started off quite slowly with Milan dictating the game but lacking in the final third to open the scoring. After 60 minutes of the game Pioli decided to change things by bringing on Tomori, Theo Hernandez and Saelemaekers to spice things up.
It paid dividends as Brahim and Theo were the two who scored to secure all three points rather comfortably in the end, and now the Rossoneri will face Spezia at the weekend seeking to get another three points before the Champions League is back.
Here are five things we learned…
1. Good first signs
It was the first time Kalulu, Gabbia and Ballo-Toure found themselves in the starting XI this campaign and fortunately for Pioli all three of them had a solid game. Their main objective was simply to make sure they kept Venezia’s attackers quiet, with Kalulu and Ballo-Toure having some good runs forward.
Given the fact that just a year ago Milan would’ve been in crisis if all four of their starting defenders were injured or needed rest, it’s really refreshing to see that the backline was solid yesterday and full off youngsters who have a lot of room for improvement.
Hopefully, giving them more game time across the Champions League, Serie A and the Coppa Italia can help them grow and increase the healthy competition within the squad.
2. Pushed to the fringes
Having been arguably the best Milan player last season, Kessie has had some difficulties this time around as he doesn’t really seem to have been himself since the start of the season. With Tonali constantly growing plus Bennacer building momentum it looks like the Ivorian will be pushed out of the starting XI, as the level he has been is just not enough right now.
We’ve spoken a lot about Tonali in recent weeks, but last night it was Bennacer stealing the show with the Algerian looking very comfortable on the ball, dribbling past opponents and pulling the strings in the midfield alongside the Italian.
Bennacer had troubles last season with injuries, but now he looks more and more likely to regain his top form and his spot in the team and he is the type of player that has the technique which allows him to carry the ball forward with ease and cut the game open with his vision and passing abilities.
On top of that he is not shy on doing the dirty work as he seemed really good against Venezia.
.@IsmaelBennacer vs. Venezia:
➤ 90 minutes
➤ 90 completed passes
➤ 95% pass completion
➤ 6 successful long balls
➤ 1 key pass
➤ 1 chance created
➤ 7 duels won
➤ 3 successful dribbles
➤ 6 recoveries
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) September 22, 2021
3. Impressive but not clinical
Another player that seems determined to establish himself this season is Rafael Leao. The Portuguese has two goals in Serie A and an assist in the Champions League, but despite the good start you could easily see he can do way, way more.
The youngster was dazzling on the pitch taking on players for fun and was a real joy to watch. He was all over the place against Venezia even winning duels with 4 ball recoveries in the process.
The problem, however, was the fact that while the Portuguese was constantly dribbling past defenders he failed to produce the end product needed for goal or an assist, which is a shame really because he seems like the type of player that can decide the game on his own if he were to get more clinical in the final third.
Except the lack of a goal contribution he also misplaced a couple of passes on the counter where he could have made more of the situation and that’s another thing he’ll have to work on, but the overall display was very bright.
4. Super subs
While Milan were the dominant side they were clearly struggling to get that finishing blow and secure the opening goal which they knew meant three points. Fortunately for Pioli he had Saelemaekers, Theo and Tomori on the bench, and bringing them all in really changed the way the team plays.
Tomori gave stability at the back alongside Romagnoli allowing Theo to burst forward and cause havoc. On the right we finally saw Saelemaekers in a role that allows him to think more about attacking rather than having a lot of defensive duties.
The Belgian was brilliant for his time on the pitch causing all sorts of troubles for Venezia with his dribbling and skills raising the voices of the fans in the San Siro. He’s shown that he has the technique and ability to dribble, but has never been allowed to do so as much since the right flank has always been the more defensive one in Pioli’s side, but last night he just danced past markers in a central area.
Unfortunately for him, Theo Hernandez was also on a high level as he managed to assist the first goal and score the second to secure the three points, otherwise Alexis would have been MOTM. The Frenchman had a couple of bad games and seeing him bounce back like that is a good sign for Pioli.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) September 22, 2021
5. Wise game management
While the subs decided the game, credit must go to the person who actually made those substitutions. Pioli started with a lot of changes in the starting XI giving some players much needed rest and while his team has the better one on the pitch they lacked something in the final third.
The coach didn’t wait too long and made a triple substitution to completely change the pace of the game and make his team sharper and more deadly which resulted in two goals and all three points guaranteed with minimum energy put into the game. A really well managed game by Pioli he has been improving in terms of using different formations and tactics.