Between goals, red cards, coach ejections, and handballs, this match had it all. A confident performance from the hosts and a lackluster showing by Milan left neutrals purring and Rossoneri faithful hopelessly unsatisfied. Several times the match flipped from being in Napoli control to within Milan’s grasp, but poor defending and inability to communicate throughout the match ultimately proved to be the nails in the visitors’ coffin.
Milan’s second game of the season showed more faults than positives, and though it was supposed to continue the “new Milan” era started under Montella last week, last season’s nagging pitfalls continued to rear their heads. Although a small group of players tried their best to salvage an impossible victory in the second half, Napoli’s constant pressing and brutally effective attacking trident proved to be too much to handle.
While the performances of this minor collective of players is encouraging, the inability of the entire team to come together to fight back as a unit must be on the minds of everyone involved with the club as Milan aims to bounce back on match day three.
Despite the majority of the team failing to muster up a modicum of creativity, several players in Milan’s starting 11 managed to come away with respectable performances. M’Baye Niang worked tirelessly for the entirety of the 88 minutes he was on the pitch, showing once again why he is considered one of the league’s best attacking prospects. Making run after run down the left flank and causing all sorts of headaches for Hysaj, it took several shots and careful setup before the Frenchman was able to grab his first goal of the season.
Though he owes the goal partially to Hysaj stopping his closing run slightly early (thus giving Niang an extra yard or two of space), it was his tidy finish from a tight angle that sealed the goal. Though he would later get sent off on a second yellow card, his movement on the wing invigorated Milan’s faux comeback in the early second half.
On the opposite side of the pitch Suso, the club’s indisputable player of the match, worked magic throughout the second half. First assisting Niang’s goal in the 51′ followed by scoring a screamer just four minutes later, Suso’s eclectic and energetic playing style made him a tough target for Napoli defenders to deal with. Twisting and turning through the Partenopei midfield and backline, the Spaniard was unlucky not to pick up another goal or assist in the minutes immediately preceding Niang’s goal.
In the heart of the defence, Alessio Romagnoli also put in a solid if not spectacular performance. Stretched thin due to being the lone defensive player on the left flank (Bonaventura and Mattia De Sciglio were pushing up the pitch more times than not), the Italian youngster did th best he could against the triple threat of Hamsik, Milik, and Callejon, all while simultaneously trying to cover the other side of the pitch.
The multitude of tasks thrust onto the youngster’s shoulders shows a lot of resemblance to the way Nigel De Jong was forced to play with Milan: doing the defensive work of two or three players week after week. And while Romagnoli did an adequate job against Napoli, he cannot be relied on to do the same every week. The handball/ own goal/ attempted save he made in the final moments of the match served to only show the defender’s dedication to his club, albeit if not executed in the smartest way. Romagnoli is a true gem, and Milan have done well to reject Chelsea’s bid for him. Now it’s up to the club to show their youngster that Milan truly is the best place for him.
In a loss as heavy as this, the negatives naturally far outweigh the positives. The fullbacks, Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio were some of the main offenders, executing more of the same offenses that plagued Milan’s flanks last season. Both players pushed up the pitch the entire match, opting to leave the center backs as their team’s only defensive cover in favor of half-hearted runs to the Napoli box.
Both players on numerous occasions were found further up than Milan wingers in defensive situations, and generally were uninvolved in stopping Mertens and Callejon. Abate in particular was at fault for two close chances from Mertens early on, one that resulted in a goal and one that forced an outstretched save from Donnarumma. Mertens ended up being Napoli’s most influential player, and Abate’s inability to not just stop him, but even slow him down, resulted in three of Napoli’s four goals.
Carlos Bacca, Milan’s savior just last week, this week demonstrated his inconsistency for the umpteenth time. The forward failed to register a single shot on target, and only completed 12 passes during his time on the pitch. Neatly marked out of the match by Koulibaly and Jorginho, Bacca’s technique of standing and waiting for the ball to come to him failed to work as expected, much to the frustration of the Colombian. Perhaps if he executed more runs through pockets of space or made efforts to shrug off his marks, a goal or two could have ben on the cards.
Uncharacteristically, Juraj Kucka also had an disappointing match. Perhaps it was due to being matched against Hamsik and Mertens, but the Slovakian international proved to be completely unable to muster up a smidgen of defensive grit. After being Milan’s most combative player last season he was more chihuahua than pit bull at the San Paolo.
No tackles, major interceptions, or big clearances were made by Kucka, and the only thing he gained attention for was a double yellow for a foul and dissent late in the second half to seal Milan’s doom. Better is expected from Milan’s midfield enforcer; if this performance was a fluke, then all can be in time forgiven. However, if it isn’t, then Milan will find themselves in recurring defensive peril very soon.
Once again, the worst portions of Milan’s performance came not from individuals, but from the team as a whole. Throughout the match, it seemed as if the Rossoneri were doing 70% of what was expected from them. Runs upfield with the ball frequently ended too early with misplaced passes, defenders refused to fully commit to tackles or close down attackers, and midfielders hesitated in distributing the ball.
This meant that while Milan was doing less than what was required in order to win, Napoli were firing on all cylinders. It was no accident that the Partenopei scored first, and the two first-half goals scored in quick succession were well deserved. It had to take a lapse in concentration from the hosts in order for Milan to get two goals back, and when Napoli woke back up, they quickly put the game to bed.
The lack of focus the Rossoneri showed in their movement also translated to the team’s tactical and positional awareness. On the first Napoli goal, Milan’s defense woefully underestimated Allan and Mertens, allowing the duo to set up Milik’s opening goal just 18 minutes into the match.
In the gif above, Allan is shown making a run towards the box with no defenders anywhere near him, before slicing a pass between Suso and Abate to Mertens, who also didn’t have a single player marking him. This defensive failing meant Mertens was able to place his shot, which after a parry from Donnarumma fell neatly to Milik.
Had either Allan been marked tighter or Mertens not been allowed to sneak behind the backs of the Rossoneri back line, perhaps the goal could have been avoided. This same failure reared its head once more just 12 minutes later, in the build up to Napoli’s second goal.
The Napoli player circled in red is Dries Mertens, in green at the bottom is Emil Hysaj, in purple at the top is Arkadius Milik, and uncircled in the bottom right is Jose Callejon. All the players have at least one Milan man marking them, except (for reasons unknown) Mertens. While Milik has three defenders near him, the Belgian’s progress into the box is completely unimpeded.
As a result, Hysaj was able to neatly tee up his teammate for a shot, that after a double save from Donnarumma culminated in a corner from which Milik scored his second goal of the match. If not for Milan’s tactical negligence, both of the Pole’s goals could easily have been avoided. These same tactical missteps are the ones that cost Milan an innumerable amount of points last season, and even though there is a new coach and new players in the starting 11, old habits die hard.
This season was meant to be a fresh start for the Rossoneri, but it has been haunted by the same blunders that perforated the San Siro the past few season. There is new management, new owners, and fresh faces at Milan. It’s up to them to prove that they are better than those that came before.