Roma 1-2 AC Milan: Five things we learned – midfield dominance and a first taste

By Ivan Stoev -

After two wins to start the season, Milan were up against their first big test as they faced Roma away from home. The Rossoneri prevailed 2-1 and looked very dominant for large parts of the game. 

Stefano Pioli’s men started the game with the right attitude and after a lovely combination between Loftus-Cheek and Giroud, Milan were awarded a penalty kick. The Frenchman calmly converted from the spot, making it four goals in three games.

After the opener, Milan continued to be in full control and eventually got their second goal just three minutes into the second half, thanks to a spectacular acrobatic finish by Rafael Leao. It was also the winger’s first goal of the season.

The Rossoneri were pretty much on cruise control after that, until Fikayo Tomori made things difficult for his team after picking up a second yellow. This allowed Roma to press higher and eventually got a goal, albeit in the 92nd minute, after a wicked deflection.

Milan were able to see out the game and thus made it three wins out of three, with the derby up next. Here are five things we learned…

1. Midfield dominance

Milan were clearly the dominant side up until Tomori’s red card and a big reason for that was the total control they had in the middle of the park. Rade Krunic did a fantastic job in the defensive phase of the game, which was highlighted even more after the red card.

Tijjani Reijnders and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were great in both phases of the game, with the Englishman showcasing his physicality to run past players and exploit the open spaces which also helped him win the penalty for his side.

The Dutchman wasn’t the standout in the midfield on the night, but he too did a lot of healthy work in both phases of the game, while his passing and composure really offered a lot of opportunities for Milan and brought calmness after the red card.

Very, very positive performance from the midfield and it just keeps getting better for each game.

2. Deadly from the spot

Olivier Giroud scored his 10th penalty in red and black, continuing to be deadly from the spot after having missed just once since joining the club. The Frenchman was also involved in the sequence prior to Loftus-Cheek getting brought down, as he provided a lovely one-touch ball for the Englishman.

On top of this, the striker combined well with his teammates highlighting just how good he is with his back against the goal. It will be interesting to see how Pioli will manage Giroud’s game time given the big league and European games ahead, but the arrival of Luka Jovic will give him some options.

3. The first of many

There are many ways to describe Rafael Leao’s goal, but we’ll go with sensational. A world-class finish from a world-class player. The Portuguese looks to be in better shape after each game as he started the season on the back foot compared to some of his teammates. He finally got the goal, though, and what a way to do it.

Apart from the goal, Leao also had many good moments in which he beat the Roma players with ease and created chances. Unfortunately, he failed to connect with his teammates on a few of those occasions.

Having quality on the right flank really has opened up a lot more space for the winger, who is enjoying every bit of it and we should expect even more from him given the improvement of his fitness.

4. Dreadful from Tomori

The Englishman was all over the place against Roma making clumsy tackles, resulting in a red card. Whilst his first yellow was a bit harsh, it came at a moment when the referee was trying to take control of a heated game and unfortunately for Fikayo Tomori, he was the sacrificial lamb in a sense.

However, the defender continued with his sloppy mistakes straight away walking on thin ice, and eventually did pick up a second yellow in a situation where he really didn’t need to commit to a tackle let alone give away a foul.

There is the case that Pioli should have really subbed him off earlier, but the Englishman should know better at this point and it has been an abysmal performance overall for him. Pioli also admitted afterwards that he needs to pick his moments to be aggressive.

5. Calabria enjoying life as an inverted full-back

The Italian was pretty much playing as a central midfielder, given how many times he left his flank. He did a good job and looked comfortable on the ball while also involving himself in the game.

The right-back also provided a lovely assist to Leao for the second goal and whilst he hasn’t been at his best defensively, as he was beaten easily on Roma’s goal, he does seem like he’s adapting well to the inverted full-back role.

Playing like this opened up more space for Loftus-Cheek to burst forward and allowed Theo Hernandez on the left to burst forward on multiple occasions. It’s also fair to mention that this tactic is still to be improved, but Pioli has done a good job thus far.

Tags AC Milan AS Roma Serie A


  1. Next transfer window or next summer Milan will have to invest in a starting CB to play next to Thaiw. Tomori ain’t it. Between poor play and poor decisions on the field he does not provide the security and stability that position needs.
    He almost caused Milan the game yesterday. A game that Roma had no business being in up until his red card.
    Harsh yellows or not, you have to be more aware of the position you are in and not make silly tackles.

    1. i’ve always defended tomori and actually found his performance quite good in the first two games. BUT: Yesterday he really upset me with the stupid fouls and the red card… maybe it’s good for him to be suspended. maybe pioli will also rely on Thiaw-Kalulu in the next few games After the derby.

      1. I know football is about moments. Loftus Cheek had a poor game but he got the penalty so he had a great game.

        I know you can run the team and make 80 out of 82 passes for 60 min and still have a poor game if you get sent off.

        But if a mistake takes you out of the team, then I question the management. If it happens a lot, its a problem. Guys seem to go out over favor fast…

        I don’t see how you can improve over him without spending 50M+ and they don’t seem too keen on spending that much.

    2. I was thinking the same thing. Next summer Tomori should be sold for whatever he can fetch, my guess 30-35m if he doesn’t get worse this season. Then pair that with the “usual” 50m transfer budget for an 80m budget, and split it between a top young striker and good established CB to play next to Thiaw. Bonus for F&M if they can also manage to bring in a DM.

      1. Tomori doesn’t need to be sold. He just needs competition to improve. We’ve seen him at his best levels – he’s good. But when he starts with no competition, his form dips.

      1. People who wanna win and improve plan ahead.
        They don’t reminisce and live in the past.
        Not only a new starting CB, but also a new starting RB, unless Kalulu is moved to RB permanently.
        Deal with it

  2. a few of you have already commented: how about calabria as a DM. i was skeptical but now that you see it as an inverted RV i actually quite like the idea. and sometimes I find calabria a bit too slow on the flank. I think the idea is a bit too wild for pioli. but he can work as a DM. Kalulu as RV has more speed for opponents like players with mbappe/dembele etc.

    1. He is prefectly fine on RB. Milan went to the CL semi finals and won the Serie A with him on RB. No one but a few people here see problems, he was constantly top or close to top in defensive stats in Serie A from all the defenders. He removed Kvaratskhelia and limited him to a few chances in 180 minutes. And people keep saying he can’t defend..

  3. Please Stefano Pioli go back to the 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Romero,musah,Colombo, Okafor, chukwueze,jovic please this players are important at least test them in the first eleven sometimes to make them more dangerous so please Pioli rotate the line up so every body can participate in this game. So you can know ho good are they and how to use them now in defence we need Pellegranoand Kjaer test them also to know their strength only leao is allowed to start at least you can use Romero to support leao why pulisic and musah can play from 10 chukwueze and Colombo right wing then rejnder and krunic should start why Loftus cheek will come from Second half to sub krunic then pellegraino should compete with tomori why Kjaer compete with thiaw then kalulu compete with Calabria then Bartasaghi will become Hernandez deputy why pobega will sub rejnider like 85 minutes is a good tactical analysis then Acmilan can now carry on with their pressing football which then used to score like 5 goals against Torino last two seasons will score Torino 7-0 but this season with 4-3-3 will score 4-1 so please Pioli put competion between those players for all of them to be dangerous and this pattern will help us to destroy any team will have in champions league Pioli Stefano just try this system it will work

    1. LMAO 😂😂 what???? This has to be a parody
      They literally bought players for the 433 and they’re doing well. We don’t have players for the 4231 anymore 🤦‍♂️

      1. Pioli actually has hinted at using the 4-2-3-1 as i see it as he mentioned in a recent interview that pulisic offered versatility as he besides of being able to play on either wing he could also slot in behind the forward at the cam position so even though we have had a great start with the 4-3-3 and should stick with it for now there might be some games where we will actually play with that formation.
        I might obviously be reading into it wrongly but as i see it could indeed help us utilize the new additions better and that is not meant as a criticismn of pioli to any extent and not to say that i really agree with kelechis view of things but as things stand if we want to fully explore the new attack it could be suitable to play the 4-2-3-1 sometimes.

        1. i thought we were passed this ‘krunic out, 4-2-3-1 thing…’. On offense the team is playing with positional build up (there is no set formation from game to game), they will try to build into a 3-2-2 with wide wingers and a target man. On defense the high press is a 4-2-4 back into a 4-4-2.

          Playing a 4-3-3 with a mezzela is so identical to playing a 4-2-3-1 that half the football sites have us down as playing a 4-2-3-1 yesterday…

          If what people are trying to say is they would prefer pulisic in loftus cheeks role and chuk on the wing. but then just say that.

          the formation thing makes no sense..

          1. Yea we’re not playing anything close to what we we’re playing last year and that’s a good thing. We were so stagnant last year. What we’re playing now i really have to give credit to Pioli. It’s a dangerous setup. The opposition has no clue where the attack is coming from and neither do I lol. I always said here the formation is not the issue, it’s the movements and how to interpret roles

          2. exactly if you look at average positions on offense, its basically a 3-2-2-3…on defense, it looks like a 4-2-1-3 (with that 1 really moving between pressure getting back).

            One formation describes nothing…

            But when you hear from Pioli, the ideas are never, ‘we do this’. its more so based on where the opponent is giving them a numerical advantage and reading that quickly.

            If people want to question personnel, thats one thing, but these are the tactics that the best teams use.

          3. Well im clearly referencing pioli quote in a recent interview that pulisic can play behind the forward so i think its a fair conclusion that we might play that formation at some point.

        2. Interesting there Martin. At the time I thought Pioli was just sticking to his favoured 4231 but as the game progressed it didn’t seem like it’s that formation. The current set of players aren’t meant for a 4231. Krunic would be the only one that can play the double pivot and using either RLC or Tijji would limit their effectiveness. And then there is no real CAM. We can ‘try’ players there but it’s not the same. Hence why I said the team had depth for the 433 but not the 4231

          1. I think all 3 of them could slot in to the mid 2 and pulisic as the central attacking mid as pioli hinted at himself. As i said though as things stands we should continue with the 4-3-3 but i wouldnt be surprised to see us field the 4-2-3-1 if theres a tactical need for it, Pioli has always been open about the fluidity of his formations choices.

          2. id argue they just played a 4231 in the last game….at least defensively, they man pressed and it ended up like a 4231…the point is what you said, that they will will play the team they are playing, but i dont see them changing their build up structure, its way too effective. It was Tijji who played that role. they could switch but Tijji is a very important player both offensive and defensively.

    2. Got a headache reading this. But as they said, don’t fix things that is not broken… We actually played better and with clear game plan now, why revert to 4 2 3 1 ? If it’s something that is tactically needed then sure, why not, but the main formation clearly should be 4 3 3.

      Also that 7-0 against Torino was 2020/21 season, last season we lost to them twice, win once. And in scudetto season, 1 win and 1 draw. We have only score maximum two goals in a match in last 2 seasons against them, with your favorite 4 2 3 1.

      I know you won’t read it anyway but, smh

    1. I guess you are being sarcastic. I watched several “prediction” on youtube, saying they are the one who will go through the group of death. But after watching their last 2 games in EPL, I am so confused how can those people predict that? Overhyping EPL teams? It is not that they are so bad, it is just, they don’t look that strong either

      1. There is some kid on YouTube my friend showed me named Thodgen or something like that. He said Milan will finish 4th without a win, lmao.

        1. Yes, I saw that too. Seriously, just because the EPL clubs tend to overpay mediocre players after just 1 quite-good-season in transfer, they think they are better than most of italian clubs that have been being smart in transfer market. I am really amazed about the ridiculous transfer cost of a lot of players in EPL. I believe, someone like Kalulu, who won scudetto and play quite regularly, would had value 70 Mil, if he were playing at EPL, not Serie A.

          1. Napoli bought Lindstrom for 30M, Inter did Fretessi for 30-35 if I remember, we bought RLC/Reijnders for 20/24. Meanwhile, Man United were asking for 40M pounds for Scott Mctomminay, West Ham asked 100M for Paqueta. Just how much these EPL clubs overrate their players is damn shocking.

      2. according to Opta they haven’t played a team yet outside of the top 20 teams in the world. For context, they rank Roma 40th. That said, Dortmund and Milan are ranked just ahead of Aston Villa and Brighton (PSG just behind them).

    2. 😂 Newcastle got lucky last season because of how bad Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham were so they sneaked in into the top 4, and thought they were this good team.
      Borussia Dortmund also isn’t doing so well this season.
      PSG has a new coach and a lot of new players.
      Milan winning group F

  4. I was really nervous about the 433 but it looks great so far. We have more control and composure in the middle third than I can remember last year. And more creativity and attack coming from our midfield. I’m very hopeful for this season. Forza milan!

  5. Where’s Tonali?

    Three straight losses.

    Brighton 3 – Newcastle 1.

    You want to know what happened in that game? Tonali’s poor clearance led to Brighton scoring a goal. His performance was disastrous overall. We lucked out. I bet he’ll come back to us on loan.

    He’s had three average to poor performances in a row.

    I can’t help but notice how bad Newcastle is looking again.

    Also Lazio bounced back and beat Napoli.

    Great weekend!

  6. The inverted full backs thingamajig is great.

    It seems to have been introduced to allow the team to build from the back and to avoid the press from the predictable, traditional set up.

    As we get further up the pitch the full backs then go side again running from the inside to out which again makes for an unpredictable run.

    1. it should only improve with more familiarity with each other and with the triggers based on other team’s actions as therere is a lot of quick decision making involved but the team as seemed up for it to this point.

      The team is slowing down in the second half is my only concern. The system requires more than most and having enough for 90 min of that style is a challenge. Fortunately, the cbs (especially thiaw), theo, reijndiers, krunic and Calabria are all really fit.

      1. That was my concern.

        I used to play full back so am a bit biased but I always thought full backs provide the most certainty in terms of always being available as an outlet.

        So I thought the inverted full backs would remove that outlet. I do think it generally slows things down. It’s a very different style to the way I’d set up a team but I do quite like it.

        In the second half we seem to be switching to more of a 4231 with Reijnders moving into AM.

        It’s certainly interesting. Ironic that Pioli’s critics accuse him of being tactically rigid!

        1. he just watches all of peps games, pep started with a fb too. He woud invert lahm at Bayern. Then kyle walker at city.

          Basically ruins a high press because you can’t push anyone towards the sideline.

          Recently, they moved to pushing up a CB, Stones, instead of the fullback, purely because theye are already closer and requires less ground to cover. Especially when covering on defense…

          Could see Thiaw doing it…

          But they also general start a cb at one of the fullback spots (Kalulu?) and one that can venture up.

  7. Bennacer might struggle to get back into the team if Krunic keeps performing the way he is.

    Bennacer doesn’t have the same positional discipline and doesn’t tend to keep things simple like Krunic.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens when he returns from injury.

    1. Yes, don’t forget that after come back from such lengthy injuries it often take a long time to recover to previous quality, and a lot of times, they won’t be able to back to their best.

      So I think it’s going to be Krunic until at least March, and if he consistently perform Like this, then that’s good too

          1. did you just say Bennacer is not a DM? That’s exactly what he is. so apparently you are the one who is high. Or just stupid and don’t know what you are talking about. The only reason Krunic is playing there is because Bennacer is hurt.

  8. Wait transfer market just close and ppl here still : sell this to buy this. Just because FT get red card in one match , ppl be like : sell him and replace him. Do you think AC Milan are rich club like chelsea ,psg and all saudi club that easily splash money ? And it seems management will all out budget on top young striker next summer to replace jovic ( end of loan )

  9. Tomori is good enough for now but in the next 2 years milan’s management should built on the very successful transfer market and the good team we have now so a world clase CB and ST is a must and they should spend some money because we’re past the rejects or decent players phase we should start paying 50+ and they can build a team to win the CL in 1 or 2 years with just 4 great signings

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