AC Milan kicked off their 2023-24 preseason campaign with a 7-0 rout of Serie C side Lumezzane in a bizarre 66-minute game at Milanello on Thursday afternoon.
It goes without saying that the priority in fixtures such as these is to get minutes in the legs of the players in a game situation given most members of the squad only returned to training just over a fortnight ago.
However, it was still a good conditioning exercise for Stefano Pioli’s men as they lined up in a 4-3-3 formation in the sweltering heat of Carnago, albeit with a patchwork line-up.
Given that those on international duty only returned yesterday, the Rossoneri had Marco Sportiello in goal, Matteo Gabbia at centre-back, Alessandro Florenzi at left-back, Christian Pulisic on the left and Lorenzo Colombo up front.
Four goals in the first half set the tone in what was a very one-sided affair with Pulisic and Tommaso Pobega combining for the latter to score twice before Junior Messias and Colombo each netted.
The second half was played at a bit of a lower tempo in truth, but Colombo bagged a brace with Luka Romero getting an assist, then the Argentine netted a penalty and Primavera midfielder Kevin Zeroli added the final gloss with a glancing header.
Admittedly this is not the kind of opponent nor game situation where concrete conclusions can be drawn, but what did we see during the first bit of preseason action?
1. Puli-Pobega combo
Milan played their most impressive football inside the opening quarter of an hour as their energy levels really showed, and a lot of what they generated came down the left hand side with new signing Pulisic at the heart.
He could have had a couple of goals in truth, but what he did do brilliantly was get himself deep inside the box – often to the byline – before picking his head up and assessing his options rather than rushing a decision.
On two occasions when he scanned the box he saw Pobega arriving into a good position, and twice he found him with a cut-back which were both emphatically converted as the Italian netted a brace.
🤝 Pulisic and Pobega combining again for the second goal.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) July 20, 2023
How much we will see that particular duo combine once the season gets underway remains to be seen, though the positive signs are there regarding the decision-making and composure from each.
It was also positive for Pobega to get his name on the scoresheet twice in trademark late-unmarked-run-into-the-box style too, given the previous doubts about his future and the speculation he could remain purely because of the switch to the 4-3-3.
2. New midfield approach at work
There has been a lot written already about Milan’s attempts to rebuild the midfield in the post-Tonali era, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tijjani Reijnders – the latter of whom did not feature due to only arriving earlier in the week – having already arrived.
A report from La Gazzetta dello Sport spoke about Pioli’s desire to have a midfield focused around ‘dynamism, intensity and physicality’ with Yunus Musah the target to complete a department that would not have a natural deep-lying player.
Concerns have been voiced about the balance this would have, but in the game against Lumezzane we got a first glimpse about how the trio would function in the head coach’s eyes, with Loftus-Cheek and Pobega lining up either side of Rade Krunic.
It was predominantly a flat three with Krunic often dropping deeper to start build-up but also often pushing up the field to engage the ball receiver, which contributed to the systematic press.
Pobega got his goals from the freedom to attack while Loftus-Cheek looked razor sharp with his dribbling, shielding of the ball and his passing too, playing on the right side of the three and combining well with his team-mates.
The jury is still out until the three-man midfield is seen against better opponents, yet it was a useful teaser of what Pioli might try to do if a number six type player is not signed. Essentially, it will be pressing in pairs and advance the ball quickly.
3. A positive audition
As of 48 hours ago, the news was that Arnaut Danjuma was going to arrive on a loan deal from Villarreal to cover the striker and left winger roles (third choice for the former, presumably) which frees Lorenzo Colombo to go out on loan after the USA tour.
However, fast forward to the present moment and Danjuma is undergoing a medical with Everton while we are none the wiser as to whether a similar profile will arrive to cover those two roles, nor who the centre-forward signing will be.
A sliding doors moment presented itself to Colombo and he seized it well, netting a brace with a goal either side of half-time. The first was handed to him on a platter as a defender misjudged a headed clearance, while the second came from a high recovery and was also quite a simple finish.
2️⃣ Colombo's second strike of the afternoon, Romero with his first assist for Milan.
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) July 20, 2023
Goals are goals though – the real currency of a striker – and the 21-year-old cashed in with two instinctive finishes that have become quite customary even in his loan spells at SPAL and Lecce in the last two seasons.
Aside from that, the Primavera graduate also demonstrated some good hold-up and link-up play with the other forwards, while someone of his size is always going to command attention leaving space in other areas.
It may not be enough to change the management’s plans, but he will be on the place to Los Angeles tomorrow and anything can happen from there.