Low block frustrations and alternative solutions: Tactical analysis of Milan’s draw against Bologna

By Rohit Rajeev -

AC Milan knew that they needed to win on Monday night in order to re-establish a three-point lead atop the Serie A table, but they were held to a 0-0 draw by Bologna.

As we are now familiar with, a lesser-ranking side came to San Siro to try and frustrate the Rossoneri and to stop Stefano Pioli’s side playing their usually intense style, and it worked. Here are a few points from the game…

Bologna’s 3-5-2

Bologna clearly knew Milan’s weakness has been in the centre and therefore they opted to play a 3-5-2. One of the main strengths of a 3-5-2 is their ability to crowd out the middle of the park and have an extra man in defence.

A significant feature of a 3-5-2 is that when played deep and closer to one’s own goal it becomes increasingly difficult for the opposition to find the spaces, which are areas that Milan’s forwards like Leao, Brahim Diaz and Messias simply need to operate in effectively.

The 3-5-2 needs a lot of counter attacks and runs from the midfielders to complete it’s attacking side and this could be seen in the earlier part of the first half. But the most important part was the partnership between the front two as Arnautovic and Musa Barrow were able to hold the ball up, create interplay and give respite to their defenders who had to keep Milan’s forwards at bay.

What Milan could have done

A deep block is extremely difficult for both sides. For the defenders they would have to keep their concentration the entire time the ball is with the opposition and for the attacking team is it often very hard to find space between the lines.

This would maybe explain as to why Pioli kept on Brahim Diaz instead of subbing him because as a No.10 it is his primary function to find space.

Since parking the bus involved playing a deep compact block, Milan did not attempt to do make passes and positional changes near the wide areas to either set a full-back free to cross or to have space to breach the block and get inside the box

Very few attempts were made by Milan’s No.9 Giroud to get to the near post to receive a cross. One such attempt was when he chested it down to Calabria.

Another method to break a deep block is to have your full-back run to the far post just like Hakimi does below, to create an overload whereby the full-back is the forgotten man and an opportunity is created.

Calabria did make it to the far post but he missed his chance. The same was however not tried for Theo, probably due to the fear of getting countered on the wings through Hickey.


It was quite simply another frustrating display of Milan’s ineptitude to really break down and cut through a team who came to park players and frustrate, either by sharp and accurate passing and movement, through positional rotation or even added value such as clever set piece routines and set plays.

Milan have Torino and Genoa next up before a difficult final five games to close the season. If they are to get six points from six then something simply needs to click in attack – the time for relying on individual moments of brilliant has to be over because otherwise first in the league will quickly become third.

That being said, Milan’s 33 Shots registered a 2.23 xG suggesting that they really should have found the one goal needed to win the game. Sometimes in football a bit of luck is needed too.

Tags AC Milan Milan Bologna
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