AC Milan played the first game of their preseason tour of the USA in the early hours of this morning – at least for those in Europe – and were beaten 3-2 by Real Madrid.
Stefano Pioli named a starting line-up that likely wouldn’t be his first choice – including the likes of Marco Sportiello, Jan-Carlo Simic, Alessandro Florenzi, Tommaso Pobega, Junior Messias and Lorenzo Colombo – by virtue of the fact the internationals started on the bench.
However, the second half did not exactly go to plan. An error from Marco Sportiello saw Federico Valverde halve the deficit, and then the Uruguay international seized on Tomori’s stray pass to fire home the equaliser.
Either side could have netted a winner based on the chance but it went to the LaLiga side, with Vinicius Jr. getting the better of Simon Kjaer to beat him to Luka Modric’s long ball and slot home to make it 3-2 with six minutes left.
Despite the result and the throwing away of a two-goal lead there were some positives from the performance and plenty to dissect. So what did we learn?
1. The kids are alright
Just after the half-hour mark, Milan had taken a 2-0 lead with two 18-year-old players on the field, namely Jan-Carlo Simic at centre-back and Romero on the right wing, the latter of whom came on for the injured Junior Messias.
Simic was actually picked out in the build-up to the game as one of the ones to watch and he got the nod because Matteo Gabbia is heading for Villarreal, while Malick Thiaw, Simon Kjaer and Pierre Kalulu were only fit enough to play 25 minutes having just come back.
For his age, the former Stuttgart man looked quite mature and composed, even after Real Madrid netted a quick double. In fact, it was he who looked like the established starter compared to Tomori, who was comparably quite shaky.
With Gabbia heading out and reports that his replacement could come from Valencia, the Serbian youth international sent a message to the management that he maybe could do a job if called upon during a time of need.
As our ratings from the game highlighted, he didn’t pass the ball immediately when in possession meaning he remained calm and that was nice to see. He also had a couple of good interventions too.
Romero meanwhile was a real lively presence on the right side. He stole the headlines with his fantastic goal to double Milan’s lead, though it must be said that he always looked to get involved and his team-mates trusted him a lot in the second half.
Given the level of their performance and how early it is in preseason – plus of course the quality of the opponent – it was great to see two teenagers hold their own.
💪 @fikayotomori_’s header
😱 Romero’s golazo
📼 The highlights from our first game of the USA tour against Real Madrid👇
— SempreMilan (@SempreMilanCom) July 24, 2023
2. Sloppiness proves costly
Sadly, the good work of the first half in terms of taking chances and holding a solid defensive shape was totally undone by three moments of madness in the second half that a team like Real were always going to punish.
The first goal came from a Valverde shot that Sportiello will likely have been playing through his mind over and over again after the game. Unlike normal, there wasn’t much power or placement on his shot, and yet it just went straight through him.
It was a shame to see because he had been very solid up until that point, coming off his line well to sweep, communicating with the defenders in front of him and even making a smart save to deny Vinicius.
Kick-off happened, and not long after it was 2-2. Ultimately it was a lazy pass from Tomori that gifted possession to Valverde, who this time left no doubt about the outcome with a lighting low shot into the bottom left corner Sportiello had no chance with.
What was worrying though is that it continued a couple of negative themes from last season, the first being Tomori’s lapses in awareness and concentration which put his team in danger. Still, hopefully he is getting mistakes out of his system early.
The second is that Rade Krunic sometimes shows that he is not a natural deeper-lying midfielder. In that situation he saw a pass coming towards him and did nothing, letting Valverde seize the ball and run through. He froze when he needed to be authoritative, but again it is not his ideal role.
The other difficult thing to watch was how easily Vinicius got away from a 34-year-old Simon Kjaer to score the third. The Brazilian would beat most defenders one vs. one, but that was a mismatch that should have been avoided even if Modric’s ball was delightful.
3. Energy and intensity
To try and keep things glass-half-full after what is essentially the first real test of preseason, it is important to sandwich the negative point with another positive.
Essentially it was a game played in phases. In the first half both sides had only a few players on the Rose Bowl field that would and should start their first game of the season, with Milan looking a bit sharper and taking two chances.
Where the game was lost was in the period between 45 and 65 minutes. Los Blancos brought on some of their heavy artillery, with the likes of Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo, Modric, Tchouameni, Alaba and Rudiger coming on.
It was in that passage that Real got themselves level and generally dominated the game. They had fresh legs on – some of the world’s best players among them – while Pioli’s troops looked tired and thus the mistakes came.
With just over 20 minutes left, Pioli made 10 changes as Maignan, Theo Hernandez, Kjaer, Thiaw, Saelemaekers, Reijnders, Adli, De Ketelaere, Leao and Giroud came onto the field, which is essentially all the internationals.
The signs were very positive and Milan could have won it one another day. Giroud almost got Milan back into the lead with his first involvement of the game after Rafael Leao’s inch-perfect cross and a header that drew a save from Lunin.
Leao also nearly created a goal with one of his usual devastating darts down the left. He beat his man to the byline and set up Tijjani Reijnders whose shot was blocked, and Romero fired wide from the rebound when he should have done better.
The final chance of the game came from a free-kick around 25 yards out that Giroud took, and he was not far away from nestling it into the top right corner with Lunin well beaten.
Adli did well in advancing the ball quickly and efficiently and Theo went on a couple of darts forward as well. While they might be nowhere near 100% in condition, Pioli’s loyalists looked up to speed instantly which is a good sign ahead of Friday’s game against Juventus.