Quick combinations, high pressing beat Sarriball: Tactical analysis of Milan’s win over Juventus

By Rohit Rajeev -

In a night that will live long in the memories of Milan fans, the Rossoneri beat current Scudetto holders Juventus 4-2 in an amazing comeback win.

Thanks to goals from Ibrahimoviç, Leão, Kessie and Rebic, Milan were able to secure their first home win over the Bianconeri since 2016 and solidify their claim for a Europa league spot next season. Here is a tactical analysis of the game, courtesy of Rohit Rajeev

First half

Milan switched back to the 4-4-2 formation that they used before the forced break due to Coronavirus. Ibrahimovic played as the striker while Paqueta slotted in on the the left hand side and Saelemaeckers kept his place on the right in the absence of Castillejo. Going forward, Milan attacked with a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation while they defended in a 4-4-1-1 formation

Juventus meanwhile played in their usual 4-3-3. Without Dybala, Chiellini and De Ligt the depth of the Bianconeri was tested. The front 3 were Ronaldo, Higuain and Bernadeschi while Rugani slotted in with Bonucci in the place of De Ligt.

In attack Juventus could be seen using 3-4-3/3-4-1-2/3-5-2. The defenders would bring out the ball from the back and play quick vertical passes to the midfielders. A few elements of Napoli’s ‘Sarriball’ could be seen with this Juve team.

The first half saw both team cancel each other out as Milan deployed quite a high line and tried to get behind the visitor’s press. Milan once again used various passing combinations to get around the press and create chances but nothing came out of it.

Juve’s best chance came from Cristiano Ronaldo who drifted out wide on the left and cut back onto his left foot and unleashed a shot which took a deflection and went for a corner. As the game moved on, Juventus grew into the game and you could see Bentancur and Rabiot dropping in and combining with either Pjanic or the full-backs.

The Bianconeri exploited Paqueta’s weak defensive skills as Bentancur combined with Cuardado or Pjanic couple of times. Paqueta was even forced to challenge Bernadeschi as Theo often went up the pitch and isn’t as accomplished as Hakan when it comes to defending.

Second half

There is plenty to say however about a half that saw six goals in total. Juventus took the lead through a solo effort from Rabiot, his first goal for the club.

The Frenchman picked up the ball from the right wing and dribbled past Theo, while Higuain made an outward decoy run which drew Kjaer out of position and freed up space through the middle. Rabiot beat Romagnoli and outpaced him before shooting past Donnarumma with a precise strike.

A few minutes later Milan were 2-0 down when Cuardado played a quick vertical pass to a Ronaldo, and a total miscommunication between Kjaer and Romagnoli – something which has been very rare so far – freed the Portuguese star up to make it 2-0.

Juventus settled nicely and pressed Milan horizontally very well often using up to five players at times. To counter this, Kessie and Bennacer would drop in for Alessio to pass the ball to, and with quick passing combinations involving Bennacer or even Calhanoglu, Kessie would break the press and move into a counter-attack.

Juve’s press and Milan breaking the press

The first goal came via a hand ball off Bonucci. After some good work on the left hand side between Rebic and Theo, the ball bounced off Bonucci’s hand after VAR a spot kick was awarded, one which was converted by Zlatan.

The second goal was the coup dé grace. Once again Milan broke out from the back with Theo who moved the ball to Kessie. The Ivorian invited two Juve players to press him and released a quick pass to Theo.

With two vertical passes Milan played the ball to Rebic who switched play to Leão waiting on the wings. He then dribbled towards the centre before playing a horizontal ball to Kessie who combined with Hakan and Zlatan, who held up the ball well against pressure from Rugani.

The Swede then passed it back to an onrushing Kessie, and a bit of poor defending from Bonucci and Rugani saw the former Atalanta man finish off a brilliant passing move with a deflected effort from inside the area.

Kessie’s goal

Milan found themselves defending a bit deeper than usual and using Rebic upfield as the solo man, who was targeting Juve’s weak spot in Rugani.

Juve upped the ante and used both full-backs to attack Milan. Pioli then brought on Bonaventura and this restored the numbers in midfield.

Ronaldo, who was isolated until that point, dropped deep to get the ball from Bonucci but was tag teamed and tackled by Bonaventura and Calhanoglu before they released Rebic on the counter.

Rugani fouled Rebic who tried his best to hold off Rugani but an unmarked Leao sped towards the ball from the right wing and scored from a shot deflected via Rugani who was once again exposed.

Milan scored three goals in six minutes. The only goal threat Juve conjured up after this was from a corner when Rugani got a free header but a top save from Donnarumma kept it out.

Ronaldo closed out by Milan players and started the counter for the 3rd goal. The effect of Bonaventura’s substitution was instant.

The last goal, which might look like a silly mistake, came off smart pressing by Milan. Matuidi was chased all the way behind by Leao who back-heeled it to Alex Sandro who took a turn and brought the ball to his left foot.

Milan pressed high up the field, with Bennacer covering Bentancur and Leao cutting off the passing lane to Matuidi. Sandro could not pass to Rugani via a ground pass because of Rebic, so he then foolishly attempted a cross field pass which was interrupted by Bonaventura who passed to Rebic who was free in the centre. The comeback was complete, and the champions were beaten.

Smart pressing by Milan forced the error for the fourth goal.


This may be a premature assessment, but Paqueta does not appear fit to play as a wide player. Overlapping full-backs or overloads on his side with pacy players puts him on a difficult position, so his best role is in centre.

Rebic had a game of two halves. While he was poor in the first half, his constant pressing in the second as well as runs behind the defence tormenting Rugani worked wonders for Milan.

Saelemaekers may not be the most technical player but he provides an outlet for Pioli’s men on the counter. He has shown to why he deserves a spot with his work rate especially in defence.

Another man who showed exceptional work rate was Kessie, the engine of Milan’s midfield. He acted as a deep-lying playmaker and was able to penetrate Juve’s press on several occasions with his composure, while he always works tirelessly off the ball and in physical duels.

Sarriball hasn’t really taken flight in Juventus.  Both their goals came from individual brilliance rather than goals borne out of brilliance of the system in Napoli. Often the pattern of movements and the chemistry in midfield from Juve seemed a bit off as they seemed to get on each other’s foot.


Tags AC Milan Milan-Juventus
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