Tonali pivotal against the low block: Tactical analysis of Milan’s win against Verona

By Dharnish Iqbal -

To say it has been a whirlwind few days for AC Milan might be an understatement, given the face of the club and the plans moving forward have seismically changed.

The removal of Paolo Maldini as technical director will not only impact Milan for the upcoming summer window but for many years to come, as the rug has been ripped out from underneath the successful five-year project.

In another piece we will cover this in more detail, but for now your favourite Milan tactics writer (hopefully me) is back to close the rather puzzling season Milan have had.

It has been puzzling because at many times it felt like this team – rejuvenated and buoyed by its comeback in recent years – definitely stagnated, as the pressure was turned up on manager Stefano Pioli. 

Having said that Milan can be proud of the Champions League semi-final campaign and some of the big performances given, with a real stride forward taken in Europe which brings in much-needed appeal and revenue.

The analysis of the final game should be caveated by Milan securing Champions League football the week prior, but Hellas Verona really should’ve displayed more bite in light of their delicate position in the league.

Another low block to beat

Hellas Verona sat in a stubborn 5-3-2 low block and perhaps tried to nick a goal on the odd occasion they won the ball from Milan’s defence or the Rossoneri erroneously handed them the ball in build-up, but there was little rhythm from the away team.

Besides the fact the game didn’t really matter it’s important to point out Milan were facing a deep/low block which is something they’ve struggled with all season.

At the moment Pioli doesn’t seem to have much of an answer to this problem. Of course the risk would be to commit more men forward, but you can’t instruct players to commit without a specific instruction.

The best teams in the world spend most of the season breaking down stubborn defences using a range of different methods.

With Verona defending deep, Milan smartly sustained pressure and camped in the opposition’s half. The goal came from a nailed on penalty but it must be said that whenever Sandro Tonali received the ball from Rade Krunic, he was able to carry the ball up the pitch.

This meant Rafael Leao could stretch the pitch to the left with Olivier Giroud pinning the Verona centre-backs on the last line and Brahim Diaz occupying the right wing.

Tonali the key

Of course Ismael Bennacer is injured and will be back part way through next season, but the key to breaking down for low blocks may be to focus on getting Tonali in these advanced areas with the build-up structure smooth enough and a midfielder marshalling in front of the defence.

Against low blocks you can throw more caution to the wind and Pioli’s move of advancing Tonali up the pitch last season paid dividends.

Obvious holes

Heading into the summer window though the gaping holes are in Milan’s attack on the right side and up front, another midfielder would give Pioli more options in terms of setting up against the lower-ranking teams.

This must come alongside developing the younger playmakers like Charles De Ketelaere or Yacine Adli, which would make Milan a better team overall and a more well-rounded attacking thread.

It’s hard to deduce much from the final game versus Verona where Milan had less to play for, but it’s been a consistent pattern throughout the season.

As Milan are now forced to recalibrate, re-think, re-adjust in terms of what team they want to be under whoever runs things off the pitch, they must also find an answer to breaking stubborn defences and the key is to unleash Tonali.


Tags AC Milan Milan Hellas Verona

1 Comment

  1. When Verona went all out attack in 2nd half Leao exploited the space. What else?? We play with no vision and creativity under pioli.

    This approach from Pioli won’t take us anywhere. Some individual moments from Leao and Theo and Maignan may help pioli save his job, but as a team we are no way near other top teams. He is a motivator but not a coach who corrects the players. Otherwise Diaz, Messias etc won’t take too much time on the ball, Theo won’t hesitate to clear the ball in the box. We can’t make 3 consecutive forward passes in a game, so poor on the pitch, lack of good creative time during training is evident. Just playing straight with no vision or creativity can’t win new fans or putting a Milan signature in the playing style. No wonder no other top teams wants Pioli having achieved so much results.

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