In the early kick-off, Milan took on Spezia away from home days before their return to the Champions League at San Siro to take on Atletico Madrid.
Spezia came into the game off the back of a narrow defeat to Juventus as Thiago Motta has shown to be promising coach, while Milan had a few injuries and niggles to contend. The good news was that Giroud was back in the starting XI while Daniel Maldini made his first ever start for Milan in Serie A at the age of 19. Here are a few points from the game at La Spezia…
Fatigue a real concern
Milan have a heavy schedule and play almost every three days. They have played three games in the space of six days and with injuries piling up Pioli has very little in terms of rotation options.
This means that Milan have to keep their intensity low and win with minimal efforts in order to conserve energy in the long run. This can be seen in the athletic data. Milan only covered 97km against Spezia while they covered 103km against Lazio and 105km against Juventus. It clearly shows a drop in fitness levels.
Spezia and their high press
Spezia under Motta did not play like normal lower/mid-table side. Instead they pressed Milan high up the pitch using man-oriented pressing and force Milan defenders to make a mistake.
Countering the high press
Pioli countered this by having his centre-backs split far and wide and having Tonali play as a quasi third centre-back while Bennacer sat back as a creative midfielder.
Kessie, Saelemaekers, Theo, Leao and Kalulu/Calabria pushed up. Pioli gave Saelemaekers quite a free role where he would drift into the centre from the right often being a passing option to help make the transition from defence to attack.
Below we can see Tonali sitting as the third CB while Tomori and Romagnoli are the CB and LCB, with Bennacer acting as the deep-lying playmaker. Watch how Theo, Leao, Kessie and Pellegri are in Spezia’s half unsettling their defensive shape.
The Leao effect
While Leao did not contribute directly towards any of the goals his ability to beat defenders and take them out of the game is important in setting up chances. For Milan’s first goal Leao’s movement to beat his marker and pull his opponent out of position before he could prevent Leao’s pass to Kalulu gives us a fair idea as to why Pioli still has faith in the youngster
The deadly counter-attack
In a prelude to what we can expect from Simeone’s Atletico at San Siro on Tuesday evening, Milan maintained a high line against Spezia which was breached quite a few times only for Tomori’s or Kalulu’s pace to save the day.
Against Los Rojiblancos this may not be the case as the attackers in Madrid are far more gifted physically and mentally to take their chances and this would be something Pioli would need to work on.
Balls in behind
Another chance creation technique Spezia used was to create 2v1 on the wings with Bastoni and Gyasi to create a crossing situation. One such situation is the one that led to the goal while the other chance ended up with Maggiore missing a sitter.
It is clear that Milan cannot play their high intensity pressing game without the required depth when playing every few days. It just simply isn’t sustainable and would likely result in even more injury problems.
What the Rossoneri were unable to do last season is find a plan B to win these games, by playing more direct and even winning ugly when needed. The wins over Venezia and Spezia might be a sign that is a corner is being turned.