A battle for Europa league places ensured on Sunday as Milan went to the Stadio San Paolo to take on Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli.
Milan went into the game feeling good about their chances after they came from 2-0 down to beat Juve in midweek, but eventually the shares would be spoiled in a 2-2 draw in Naples.
Here is the tactical analysis, courtesy of Rohit Rajeev…
Milan as usual set up in a 3-4-3 in possession with Paqueta tucking in to give space to Conti who made overlapping runs while Calhanoglu and Rebic took up the half spaces on the edge of the penalty box.
At times Ibra would drop off to relieve pressure from the midfield while Paqueta took up his No.9 role temporarily. In defence Milan were in a 4-4-1-1 and deployed man-to-man marking while the Swede was free to press the centre-backs of Napoli who were intent on bringing the ball out from the back.
Napoli meanwhile attacked in a 3-5-2 or a 3-4-3. Depending upon which flank they attacked down – which was mostly on the left – the winger would tuck inside while the attacking midfielder or Mezzala would occupy a wide role. Insigne would also cut inside to give space to Mario Rui to make overlapping runs.
Napoli defended in a 4-4-2 system with a different set up. Depending upon which flank Milan would move down, the centre-back would be pressed by a Mezzala. For example, if Romagnoli had possession he would be pressed by Fabian Ruiz while Lobotka occupied his position to make it a narrow and tight 4-4-2.
The understanding between Mertens, Insigne and Callejon is fundamental to Gattuso’s attacking play. Insigne and Mertens would often swap positions and this unpredictability made Milan’s defenders unable to track their movements.
Either they would have a quick exchange and whip a diagonal ball out to Callejon who would make deep runs in behind, or they would cut inside and give the full-backs something to aim at with their crosses.
Napoli’s pressing was also quite aggressive. They would have a narrow block overloading the centre and when Milan tried to attack on the wings they would create a 3v2 situation and dispossess the player, while Mertens came inside or dropped to start a counter.
Milan’s goal came from a good passing combination coupled with good movement. Romagnoli quickly switched the play to Conti who found Paqueta occupying the half space. Paqueta draws Kalidou Koulibaly out creating space for Rebic to run into.
He is then found by a brilliant ball by Bennacer. Callejon misses the run of Theo, and Di Lorenzo is drawn away by Ibrahimoviç. Theo blasted the ball into the roof of the net to finish a flowing move.
Milan subbed Saelemaekers for Paqueta and the impact was almost instant, but Napoli took the lead with a good bit of individual skill and passing movement.
A poor pass by Rebic was intercepted by Koulibaly who found Mario Rui who made a run while Mertens was on the edge of the box. Rui drew four players out including Kessie who lost his man in Fabian Ruiz, and a quick horizontal ball was played to Callejon.
Mertens made an unmarked run into the box and met Callejon’s cross and a poor bit of keeping from Donnarumma gave the home side a lead they probably deserved on the balance of play.
A clever run from another substitute in Giacomo Bonaventura drew a foul from Maksimovic and a penalty, which Franck Kessie confident converted.
From 70 minutes onwards both side looked tired. Milan after a gruelling run of fixtures can be happy that they took 10 out of a possible 12 points against Roma, Lazio, Juvnetus and Napoli but are still far away from being safe in their pursuit of a European spot.
Milan have Parma, Bologna and Sassuolo before facing Atalanta, with the first three being absolutely crucial and the fourth game incredibly challenging.
In the analysis of the match against Juventus we noted that Paqueta as a winger does not work. The only reason he is starting is because of the injury to Samu Castillejo and fatigue for Saelemaekers.
A rather immature five minutes from the Belgian saw him sent off, meaning Pioli will be hoping Castillejo is fit for the encounter against Parma, but it seems unlikely.
Gattuso’s side look a different breed but not unfamiliar from the Milan in 2018-19. He has them playing a mash-up version of Sarriball and his Gattusoball tactics. With technically better players it is good to see his career blossoming.