AC Milan won against Chievo at the Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi on Saturday. Lucas Biglia’s opener, a free-kick, was cancelled out by Hetemaj before Krzystof Piatek, who scored in their last game vs Empoli, scored in the second half. It was their 22nd win out of 24 Serie A games against ChievoVerona and Milan have not lost a league match against Chievo since December 2005 (2-1 at the Bentegodi). Here are the main tactical points from the game.
Unsurprisingly, AC Milan lined up with a 4-3-3 formation. Hakan Calhanoglu who recently flew to Germany to witness the birth of his child, was on the bench as Samuel Castillejo and Suso were deployed respectively as left and right wingers, Piatek led the line. Andrea Conti started as right-back with Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan, on the opposite flank. The centre-half pairing was formed by Andrea Romagnoli and Mussachio. In the midfield, Lucas Biglia played as the holding midfielder, Franck Kessié and Lucas Paqueta played in the half-space.
Domenico di Carlo made three changes to the Chievo side that lost 3-0 away to Torino last week. Out went Scheletto, Rigoni – both injured – and Djordjevic; in came Depaoli, Hetemaj and Stepinski. Chievo Verona lined-up in 4-3-1-2 with Emanuele Giacherini behind the front duo.
Playing out from the back
AC Milan showed the intention to play out from the back. The basic premise is to drag the opponent and exploiting the space left behind them. The space further up the pitch allows the team to transfer the ball to the most dangerous players in advantageous positions. However, the good intention is not always enough. Lucas Biglia, Mussachio and Romagnoli are not the richest technically and Donnarumma is not the best at playing with his feet.
The Chievo front duo pressed them high, the first option was to play in the central region but Kessié, who is not the quickest on the turn, was not overly effective. This is the reason why, the Rossoneri struggled sometimes in the build-up. The addition of Calhanoglu resolved this problem in the second half.
Biglia scored his 12 of his last 15 goals from set-pieces (seven from penalties, three free-kicks, two from corners). Sorrentino, who stopped a penalty from Cristiano Ronaldo earlier in the campaign, spent the match at yelling at the referee and his defence were reactionless to this clinical shot. There was a certain element of Kaka about the effort on goal.
Where does Castillejo actually play?
During the first half, we often remarked that Samu Castillejo cut inside, and Paqueta took the channel while Franck Kessié moved higher up the pitch. These moves left Lucas Biglia alone in the midfield, fortunately, Chievo Verona didn’t capitalise, they were too weak in transmission and their key player Emanuele Giaccherini was so nervous, he missed a few easy opportunities to control, and passes.
Unlike his compatriot Suso, Castillejo acted as his own entity at times as he appeared all over the pitch. Is this a freedom of movement wanted by Gattuso? We do not know but it is certain that versus a better-armed team, AC Milan will pay the consequences. In the image below we can easily notice the difference between the Spanish wingers.
Milan finished the first half with a low-block and started the second half with a lack of energy. At this moment, Calhanoglu was brought on at the expense of Lucas Paqueta in the 54th minute. The Brazilian was not good (only 67% passing accuracy) and he didn’t offer the verticality that Milan needed him to.
No surprise the second Milan goal came from Calhanoglu’s creativity. Donnarumma played out from the back to his full-back and then they found Calhanoglu who was the base of the triangle, Biglia was on the left and Kessié on the right.
Krzysztof Piatek scored his 19th goal like a true striker. Domenico di Carlo’s side protested in vain as the goal was correctly validated by the VAR. The Polish striker is actually level with Sampdoria striker Quagrillarela and Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for top goalscorer in Italy.
AC Milan have found a serenity since the winter. From the beginning of December, Milan have conceded the fewest goals within the top five European leagues, whilst only Barcelona and Liverpool (nine each) have kept more clean sheets than the Rossoneri (eight) in the same period.
In the second half they went back to their low-block. Even when they counter-attack, the full-backs stayed alongside the centre-half, and Biglia didn’t get involved in the final third. Gianluigi Donnarumma had only one save to make after the second goal. That confirms that Gattuso has finally found the key to stop this weakness because during the first 13 games of Serie A this season, Milan faced, on average 12.5 shots per game (17 goals conceded), while over the last 13 matches, the average number of shots faced has been 12.1 (only five goals conceded).
Chievo have not found the net in their last four league games – their worst such run in Serie A was five games between 2005 and 2012. They’ve also led for the fewest number of minutes at home in Serie A this season (85 minutes).
In Serie A in 2018/19, Sorrentino conceded more goals during the last 15 minutes of matches than anybody else (14). That’s what happened with Piatek and Milan could score again in the dying stages of the game, but they were not precise enough.
The home side are rock-bottom and look doomed to relegation after spending the last 11 years in the top flight. Chievo are 12 points from safety.
Despite their lowly position in the Serie A league table, Chievo have shown glimmers of brilliance at times this season, however, their wastefulness in the final third looks set to cost them their place in Italy’s top flight.
Milan sit third in Serie A after 27 matches, a position they’ve not experienced in the second half of a campaign since 2012-13. Looking forward, the next weekend, a crucial derby that will go a long way towards deciding whether the Rossoneri or the Nerazzurri will be playing in the Champions League next season.
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