Sloppy build-up and Thiaw targeted: Tactical analysis of Milan’s loss against Udinese

By Dharnish Iqbal -

AC Milan fell to another away defeat on Saturday night as they were beaten 3-1 by Udinese at the Dacia Arena meaning they ended March winless.

The Rossoneri’s poor run of form away from home continued as Pereyra, Beto and Ehizibue all got on the scoresheet to give Udinese a big three points at home and in truth it was a win that they earned having been sharper than Milan and making less mistakes.

Milan’s lack of concentration on the pitch combined with a seemingly questionable mentality has seen them lose to Fiorentina, drop points against Salernitana and now get beaten at the Dacia Arena, making the top four race even more tense. Below is an analysis of the game from the weekend…

Sloppiness is fatal

After the 2-0 win against Atalanta at San Siro it really seemed as though Stefano Pioli – a master at adapting to circumstances – had done it again by troubleshooting the problem in spite of deficiencies in selection to make Milan better.

The switch to 3-5-2 seemed intriguing, providing Milan with a sturdier back line and allowing for innovative elements in attack too, like pushing one of the three centre-backs up to aid in overloads.

However, a performance like the one against Udinese may signal that heading into the international break the Italian is in troubled waters.

This may be one of the least complexed ‘tactical’ observations we have posted but it was extremely salient how poor Milan were in build-up. Wayward passes were a plenty, making it almost impossible for the Rossoneri to construct an attack for basically the opening 35 minutes.

It doesn’t matter if Pioli urged a centre-back to be wide or an extra man in midfield if the ball from Bennacer in his own half doesn’t reach him, meaning Udinese can intercept and counter.

In football, it’s a sign of how the game is going if your defence and midfield is scampering back desperately to get back into position, it means they’re already a step behind and have ground to cover.

With the full-backs pushed up to create space wide and Milan sloppily losing the ball in build-up it leads to the first goal. But even if the full-backs weren’t pushed up it’s just poor from Milan to lose the ball so cheaply in their own half.

Milan insisted on throwing numbers forward whilst having the rest in defence despite the passing really not being up to scratch.

The goal wasn’t a freak occurrence, Udinese could latch onto a loose pass and break on a scant Milan defence. There just weren’t enough players around Brahim to help facilitate the ball or work into a composed move, it was a case of forwards committing to try score but being far apart leaving vast amounts of space at the back for Udinese to exploit.

Lack of action

The game plan from Pioli isn’t one we’re unfamiliar with in terms of five at the back, a wide centre-back pushed up near a wide full-back to aid in possession, but the distances between Milan players both in the half space and wide were far too apart.

Now you have a team well off it, with a central midfielder pushed up, both full-backs either wide or inverted high up the pitch and the centre-back who was meant to provide numerical superiority has quickly turned into a liability because of how poorly positioned the rest of the defence is.

Pioli in this situation when he saw the opening half an hour at least in some way or another should’ve encouraged Milan to take the sting out of the game, take a breath and build up calmly, rather than commit so many men forward leaving them susceptible to Udinese counters.

Ibrahimovic perhaps recognising this started to drop deeper to pick the ball up and drag Udinese defenders with him, but Milan’s attackers are so far away from him when he tries to win a foul the rest defence is exposed again and you’re basically relying on Bennacer to hopefully win the tackle (it doesn’t happen) and Udinese are in again.

Despite this occurring, Pioli might not have been able to plan for the issues in build-up, that isn’t really something you can have a plan B for. There are in-game instructions he could’ve carried out, but often in football a team does the simple things wrong. If a team was always robotically perfect we wouldn’t spend as much time as we do watching and cheering a team on.

Thiaw targeted

Malick Thiaw has been an excellent addition for Pioli, blossoming at just the right time to add needed steel to the defence, but this may have been the first game him and the back three were physically dominated by Beto and Isaac Success.

Milan’s pressing structure went something like Brahim Diaz, Leao, Ibrahimovic and both central midfielders joining in the press. Udinese saw this and just went long to Beto either on the floor or in the air, as normally this would mean Milan have squeezed an opposition into relying on a 1v1 duel with Thiaw which he would normally win, or has been winning of late.

Udinese bypassed the press to go for the direct route, reaching Beto who can then play off the midfielder and spread it wide, bringing a wing back into play. Normally it was Destiny Udogie who had a license to roam freely in Milan’s half on either side stretching the pitch as wide as he could.

Key battle lost

From early on in the game it felt as though Saelemaekers was going to engage Udogie up the pitch which left space in behind without a high chance of him winning the ball or stopping Udogie bombing up field.

Milan’s back five quickly turned into a back four and left them vulnerable as it meant Kalulu as the right-sided centre-back had to come across and cover for Saelemaekers who was dragged out of position, causing Milan to lose their defensive shape.

Saelemaekers would try close down Udogie, Pereyra or another midfielder would create a 2v2 situation or overload to combine with him, dragging Kalulu away from the back three leaving a huge gap between the frenchman and other two Milan centre-backs.


The results are one thing, but there has been a worrying regression in the way Milan have been playing generally since the turn of the month. Errors have crept back in again, the compactness and organisation seems to be exclusive to the Champions League and the attack is toothless.

It leaves an awful lot for Pioli to ponder over the international break as he hopes to come up with yet another antidote to get his team out of a crisis.

Tags AC Milan Udinese-Milan


  1. No tactical analysis needed since there is nothing called tactics under pioli. Just playing unattractive, sloppy football. Depends on one or two individual brilliant moments from Leao, Theo, giroud for scoring goals which luckily worked last season. In this system Players don’t know when to pass or anticipate or make runs. Creative and elegant players like CDK or Adli can’t shine in such a playing style. They need partnership, coordination with other players to finish their movements and passess. Pioli just asked players to play like you want rather than building a playing pattern or style for the club. Hire a proven modern coach to take the club to next level.

  2. It’s really interesting that in the build up to the first goal, that Bennacer and Tomori never really got most of the blame and it became a Thiaw thing. The biggest culprit was Bennacer then Tomori next. He was caught in the left wing back position which he should have never been there. And then Ballo was poor 1v1 leaving Thiaw exposed even if he should have come across better (see my previous comments on 3 at the back being difficult for defenders marking and zoning). 3 legendary defenders couldn’t make it work (Maldini, nesta and stam) but we’re expecting these guys to make that work? It’s not that simple to implement unless you have a knack for it. Chiellini, Barzagli and Bonucci being able to play a 3 doesn’t mean any 3 good defenders can.

  3. Since I had missed the Udinese game.. I just watched it a few minutes ago.

    And Holy F’ing ‘ell. How TF can players play in a highest professional football league without EVER running properly? And that’s in a formation thats DESIGNED for counter attack? AKA.. based on running like your life depends on it. LOL What Kind of gameplan do we have on a 3-4-2-1 that requires the players to NOT RUN and the coach be alright with it? The only few players that can ACTUALLY RUN with the ball are Leao, CDK and Theo. The rest just walks around, in a COUNTER ATTACK BASED FORMATION with the ball as if that’s what they are supposed to do in a counter attack based formation. W. T. F?

    Diaz does try.. but he runs straight into defenders lol As for Saele..he runs as well.. but in the wrong direction. EVERY. TIME. lol As for Messias.. he runs once in every 15 matches. Bennacer.. Can run and wants to run.. runs and plays like a magician in Algeria NT.. But cant run in Milan because his double pivots are SLOW AF. Krunic.. is thousand times better if he DOESN’t RUN. Rebic.. well.. he forgot what running looks like. Ibra and Giroud.. Well.. age obviously, Origi.. all he does is running unfortunately instead of playing football.

    We need Calabria back soon.

    It’s clear that the whole gameplan of our team is passing to Theo and Leao and wait for something to be done. Changing formations MEAN Nothing to the team when we don’t know where anyone will be anyway. if one of Theo/leao doesn’t play. .we can’t even draw. We lose outright.

    Bakayoko, Origi, tata, Mirante, Messias and Dest should leave for sure. But I wouldn’t let a single other player go unless another coach that’s not Pioli gets to evaluate them first. I refuse to believe Adli, CDK and Vrankxx are all bad. CDK definitely isn’t bad. CDK has the best vision in the entire team who can actually place passes where he intends besides bennacer but the whole team has no positional coordination and doesn’t have ANY IDEA where to be or where their teammates are supposed to be. So EVERY one in the team take too long to spot the teammates and reading their intentions before making a forward pass which gets misplaced 90% of the time.

    This team has never been a well oiled machine under Pioli in attacking phase and will never be. On the other hand, defense used to be our biggest strength and for some reason we lost that. What happened to Tomori? We all know he isn’t this bad. of course airballs are his weakness but his blistering pace is gone for some reason. Kjaer should be in. Something is severely wrong in the dressing room and we need to fix it ASAP.

    Forza Milan.

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