AC Milan played Udinese on Friday night in a game where they could have put the pressure on Inter and because of their draw against Genoa could have extended the points lead, but once again the Rossoneri could not capitalise on their opportunity.
In the end they were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw in a game against a Udinese side that are fast becoming a bogey side, given the two games prior to that had the same end result. Here a few thoughts that follow from the game…
Same situation, no answer
Milan’s nemesis is the deep block, or as layman would say teams that ‘park the bus’. When fans question why the team crumble against lower-ranking sides, it is because smaller teams have a different mentality to the bigger sides. You can see how Udinese are sitting in an asymmetric 5-3-2 with little or no space for Milan’s attackers to navigate.
When Milan face teams such as Inter that play a 3-5-2 like Udinese, the difference is that the Nerazzurri play to win and are not satisfied with a draw. This means in the course of play spaces will open up especially in the second half when the team is tired.
For relegation-threatened teams like Udinese or Salernitana even a draw is precious, which influences their managers to instruct the team to stay back and defend more, and rely on set pieces or individual pieces of brilliance. Milan still need to find a way past this.
Lack of intensity
What made Pioli’s side stand out from previous Milan teams and other clibs in Serie A (except maybe Gasperini’s Atalanta) was the intensity with which they pressed and played. Milan closed down the space, won the ball and launched quick counters.
This came at a cost of huge injuries and Milan were in a crisis. Up until Milan’s match against Lazio, it seemed Milan’s intensity was back especially after an energising derby victory against Inter but the last three games have been extremely worrying.
With each game Milan cover less ground and allow more space and time to the opponent. As you can see against Udinese Milan only covered 103km, a very low total considering how the team previously covered 110km easily.
When you are progressing through a deep block like that of Udinese’s the most important step is to always move the ball quickly and accurately. Milan were misplacing so many passes like the one shown below, which helped Udinese to gain control of the ball and kill the attack.
Free role for Rafa
Unlike last season, Leao has become the go-to man for Milan this campaign which in turn means that Pioli has given him the license to roam. With Milan’s midfield completely devoid of ball progression and creativity, Leao took it upon himself to come into the midfield and take the ball and beat defenders to create space.
Ever since coming back from Injury, Tomori has looked a frail figure and a shadow of himself from earlier in the season, especially in the air where he has been beaten a lot in aerial duels by attackers.
Udinese tried it in the early stages where Molina crossed the ball. Deulofeu cleverly drags away Romagnoli who is a better defender of crosses than Tomori and this put Tomori in a 1v1 with Beto, who hit the target but it was thankfully straight at Maignan.
For a team that relied a lot on crossing last season, it is surprising how Milan barely crossed the ball despite having a No.9 in Olivier Giroud who is scoring at San Siro. The Frenchman barely got any service all game and his frustration showed.
A majorly worrying factor for Pioli and his coaching staff would be Milan’s Expected Goals (xG). Milan’s xG was only 0.7 while Udinese had an xG of 1. It shows how poor we were at creating chances, and now the pressure is on the game against Inter where a bounce-back performance is needed.