MN: Milan’s over-aggressive approach exposing defensive frailties

By Oliver Fisher -

Against Bologna, AC Milan conceded their 24th and 25th goals of the season in Serie A respectively and the second one ended up costing them two valuable points.

As MilanNews writes, Milan’s defensive record is one of the worst among the top 10 in the table (only Roma have let in more goals in the top eight). Fiorentina (22), Lazio (20) and Torino (19) have also conceded fewer goals than the Rossoneri.

These are obviously significant numbers, and Stefano Pioli will be working with his staff and the squad in the coming days and weeks to find a solution as soon as possible.

But what is Milan’s real problem? One of the reasons behind this fragility defensive could lie in the attitude that the defensive line is asked to have, which at times does not match the characteristics of the players who are deployed on the pitch.

On several occasions during the January window, Pioli has publicly asked for an addition in that department but the impression is that in the end Milan’s squad will remain like this.

How much could the arrival of a new defender have affected the defensive stability of the Rossoneri? Well, it depends on the characteristics that they would have.

If the team were to continue to accept 1vs1 battles across the pitch throughout the match without changing their aggressive attitude, one new centre-back might not help.

On the other hand if the central defender were to have the speed, athleticism and physicality to thrive with a high line – like Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu and Malick Thiaw – it could give Matteo Gabbia and/or Simon Kjaer a much needed hand.

Still, the point remains that Milan simply have to get more streetwise in the defensive phase, and there is also an argument that the lack of protection from midfield leaves them exposed in transition.


Tags AC Milan


  1. Milan over-aggressive approach IS the reason for the defensive problems.
    They were never great at the back under Pioli.
    In the first 2 seasons under Pioli Milan was defending by relentlessly pressing opposing teams in their own half. That’s how they defended. But at that time they had players that were great with the press like Zlatan, Rebic, Saelemaekers, Hakan, Kessie, Bennacer and the 2 full backs Theo and Calabria. Their 2 CBs were Kjaer and Romagnoli who are not good in press because of the lack of athleticism, but good with their positional awareness.
    Some of those players, especially the front 4 were replaced with Giroud, Leao, Brahim and Messias who were not good at pressing but Pioli still pushed the team to play the same way and opposing teams easily beat that press which left Milan defense exposed.
    Same is happening this season.
    Still some will come to defend Pioli here without realizing that his lack of tactical adjustments based on the characteristics of the players at his disposal is the reason why Milan is so vulnerable defensively.
    He is forcing Milan to play the only way he knows how even though he doesn’t have the personnel to play that way.
    He is a very limited coach and his limitations are holding Milan back.

    1. Alternative is Conte with his 3-5-2 and an overly defensive game plan? Many will complain about that too.

      So what lineup are you suggesting to maximize the current crop of players? 3-4-3?

      Pioli won’t change the system so we’re gonna play the same way likely until the summer. Hopefully Adli continues to improve and Benny is more available for a decent defensive mid setup.

      1. It’s not about 343 or 4231 or 442 setup, but about the strategy.
        I gave the example of Inter yesterday. Inter neither has great defenders nor has a defensive midfielder in their lineup and they are great defensively. They sit back and hit the counter, while Milan presses high with the forwards and the midfielders and once they get beat there is a gapping hole of wide open space the other team exposes. Milan midfield for the last 2 years is constantly caught chasing the ball carrier from behind while running towards Maignan.
        Inter defends as a unit, while Pioli makes them play man defense even though he doesn’t have the defenders that can actually play that style.
        Also, some said that Barella is inter’s DM. If you really think that, you either never seen inter play or you don’t know what you are watching. Out of the 3 midfielders , not only Barella is the worst defensively but he provides nothing in the defensive phase. Check datamb and compare Hakan, Mikhitaryan and Barella and you will find your proof. Hakan is the closest thing to a DM they have.

        1. Yep. Top managers adapt to, and get the most out of, what they have as opposed to trying to force a square peg in a round hole.

          1. Well said. The issue with Milan has been for years that they’re trying to force the players to play in a formation that doesn’t suit them – instead of adjusting the formation based on the players available. And that’s on the lack of professionalism and know-how of the coach.

          2. Are those the same ‘top managers’ that have worse records than Pioli?

            He has one of the best win ratios of any Milan manager in history so what is your definition of ‘top’?

            More just completely arbitrary ratings based on personal preferences and grievances.

  2. Refuses to play any other way despite clearly seeing this squad isn’t built to play that type of defensive football. It’s ridiculous, especially when you brought in this many yourself. Either suck it up and admit the tactics are wrong, or leave. Simple as that

  3. We won the last Scudetto by being the best in defence, yet he (Pioli) tried to do different things. By looking at the Serie A table from 15 years ago, the winner (14 out 15) has always been nothing but a team with the best defensive work (conceding the least).

    We have built our team in the 4231 system, yet he tried to shake all things up using 433 with all box to box mid.

    We have been famous by our fast counter attack / defensive to offensive quick transition, yielded many results, yet he tried to play possesion football this season.

    Time and time again, this is what I mean by Pioli gets ahead of himself. He tries to reach something that’s clearly not in his limit. And that alone is enough for him to loose his job.

    1. I don’t see how switching to 433 was such a big deal (other than it’s a terribly rigid, boring formation).

      I think a lot of people are blaming the formations and the coach because they want to imagine last summer was simply awesome.

      1. On paper it’s not such a big deal. But looking at the whole play, it’s kinda big deal. He switched back to the old 4231 recently, no?

  4. It’s basically February, he should have fixed this by now. But not our lord Pioli. Nah. Let’s keep doing the same thing over and over. We’ll win some draw some lose some. Btk

  5. I love the aggressive press.

    It worked a treat in the title run in. The key was the pace of Tomori and Kalulu at the back, and Tonali and Bennacer, and even, dare I say it….,Kruuuuu

    The problem now is due to injuries and form we don’t have the same Tomori and Kalulu (or Thiaw) and Kjaer and (as much as I love him) Gabbia are not suited to a high press. Oh and we have Adli and Reijnders in front and no….Kruuuu.

    I mean the consensus around here (and it does genuinely seem to be a consensus) is that Milan are missing a 6 (ignoring the fact we’ve retired that number – sorry I can’t help but be argumentative).

    So that’s the issue right?

    Not sure what the solution is with the midfielders we have available but we’re still third!

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