Beautiful weather greeted fans at the Stadio Ennio Tardini to see two of Serie A’s least in-form teams compete on Saturday. Indeed collectively, both sides have only racked up one win between them in each of their last five games. Parma, in particular, have been in virtual freefall recently. As they last found the net on 3 April, this game seemed destined to see them break their goal-less streak. AC Milan, on the other hand, have not been much better. Whilst they defeated Lazio last week at the San Siro, Gennaro Gattuso’s side are under pressure from a Claudio Ranieri-enthused Roma, in a battle for the final Champions League spot. For both sides, a result here would have given their end of season push a significant boost.
In this tactical analysis, we shall see how both side’s efforts at limiting their opponent’s attacking options were their paramount concerns. Despite this, neither side was ruthless or efficient enough at carrying this out. Ultimately, each side worked around their opponent’s rigid tactical set-up through the strength of their attackers. We’ll see that after all, a 1-1 draw felt like a rather fair compromise.
Line-ups and formation
The home side went for a surprising change in their chosen formation, opting for a more conservative 4-4-2. This marked a stark difference to Roberto D’Aversa’s usual 4-3-3. In attack, however, this formation occasionally took on a diamond shape in the midfield, with Juraj Kucka pushing into a more advanced position to bolster the attack. Gervinho also returned to buttress Parma’s struggling forward line. The former Arsenal striker, who has scored 10 goals this season, had missed three prior games due to injury.
Gattuso showed no fear at the prospect of facing Parma, unashamedly sticking to his favoured, wide, 4-3-3. Whoscored.com indicates that he’s now used this formation 25 times this season. Likewise, there were no huge or surprising changes to the Rossoneri starting XI in the more advanced areas of the pitch, although there were some at the back. The most significant swap in the side saw Gianluigi Donnarumma return to the goalmouth. The young goalkeeper took the place of the veteran Pepe Reina after recovering from an injury sustained in the 1-1 draw with Udinese.
Keeping them out
As the scoreline suggests, both sides had near faultless methods and strategies of keeping each other from topping up their scoring accounts. However, as this tactical analysis will suggest, each had very different concerns.
I Crociati fans greatly anticipated Gervinho’s return, but they were not the only ones. Gattuso clearly saw the Ivorian as Parma’s biggest threat and as such, his Milanese side did their best to swamp Parma’s key attacker whenever he had the ball.
Gervinho lost possession of the ball on an overwhelming six occasions. Milan also limited him to only one shot on goal, according to whoscored.com. Furthermore, this futile effort was off-target and was only won following a corner. Milan dominated him in open-play, according to the statistics.
In the below examples, taken throughout the game, we can see how Milan sought to surround him whenever he gained possession. In each of these graphics, we can see that passing options are cut off and his vision is restricted. More so, the ball was turned over successfully in each situation.
However, Parma were no less effective at limiting their opponents. Milan can generate chances, although, with a comparatively low ‘goals for’ record in the league this season, Parma hedged their bets and decided to simply blockade their goal.
Milan had seven of their 15 shots blocked, with three of these being from within the penalty area. Therefore, we can safely say that Parma adopted a genuine strategy of getting men behind the ball, marking zonally and defending extremely narrowly. In the below examples, we can see the defensive positions which they took up. Often clear lines were discernible between their defence and midfield, and their wide men moved inside. Unfortunately, however, this would leave space wide for Milan to exploit.
A tactical analysis shows how vulnerabilities became plainly apparent in these defensive strategies. The Rossoneri, for instance, could manipulate the huge open spaces available on each flank. For Milan, a key figure in dramatically switching play was Ricardo Rodríguez, their left-wing back. Rodríguez made 12 long passes and 11 of these were to his right side. The biggest beneficiary of this was their right-winger, Suso.
Suso made seven of Milan’s total 19 crosses, 15 of which came from the right-hand side of the pitch. The overlapping wing-back, Andrea Conti, likewise contributed with three of these crosses. Unsurprisingly, Suso would be the one to unlock the Parma backline and provide the assist for Samu Castillejo to break the deadlock. Parma’s triangular defensive wedge chose compactness over closing Suso down, simply giving him time and space. He jinked past the defender and lofted a cross for the unmarked Castillejo.
Likewise, Milan marshalled Gervinho very well, although he was not totally silenced. Compared with the average number of touches which the Parma starting XI had, Gervinho still had a significant share of the ball. On average, the Parma team had 39.45 touches across the game. Gervinho had 45, yet only seven of these were inside the penalty area. Gervinho, therefore, found other areas of the pitch to operate in.
In the lead up to Bruno Alves’ terrific freekick equaliser, Gervinho took up a central role in winning the free-kick. Looking at the below graphics, we can see that a long ball from the back was latched onto by the Ivorian, who was playing between the lines. After laying-off Mattia Sprocati, his run through the gap led to the Milanese retreat which invited Sprocati to move inside. Fabio Borini then fouled Sprocati as he moved along the edge of the penalty area.
On a statistical basis, you could say that Krzysztof Piątek was suitably arrested by the Parma backline. Conversely, however, the forward still looked sharp and his low-profile appearance in this game should not be construed as ineffective. As we shall see in a tactical analysis of his performance, the forward could so nearly have made the difference.
Across the 90 minutes, Piątek was on paper, the game’s least involved player. He had just 26 touches, only had one dribble, made only 11 passes and lost possession four times. Judging by the stats on this game alone, his presence was superfluous.
Yet, to make these assessments is to misunderstand the role which Piątek plays at Milan. In this game, the Pole managed three shots on goal, higher than his Milan average of 2.7 per 90 minutes. Whilst he did only record 11 passes, similarly, he has only recorded 14.9 per 90 minutes since his January transfer from Genoa.
Milan would have been 2-0 up and most likely, out of sight had the Polish forward not been caught slightly offside in the second half. Here, Piątek’s movement and timing were decent and his lay-off for Patrick Cutrone was easy but still perfectly weighted.
In the below graphics, we can see how Piątek movement on the defender’s back foot caused problems early on. Again, we see a Rodríguez long pass into space. Despite directing the ball some distance away from Piątek, the Pole has already spied the option to run into the channel. He angles his run between the centre backs and gets to the ball first. Piątek is now left with little option but to pass to a teammate and spin-off back into the centre, however. Yet, His ability to chase through balls was a very good outlet for Milan.
For a 1-1 draw, this was a fascinating game to watch. Each side worked hard to nullify the other’s attacking threats, yet absurdly, neither was ultimately successful in keeping a clean sheet. Parma’s noble attempt at simply limiting Milan from breaking through their bodies of men, couldn’t stretch for the entire game. As opposed to blocking shots hitting the target, they should have perhaps aimed to limit the options which generated these chances. With this in mind, it seems inevitable that Suso would finally break them down.
On the other hand, Milan’s own defensive ideas were also limited. Gervinho, who was obviously Gattuso’s biggest fear on the day, proved too wily. The forward merely adapted and sat deeper. In these areas, he could still operate and cause problems for Milan. In contrast, Milan’s Krzysztof Piątek played in a role diametrically opposed to his Ivorian counterpart. Piątek played on the shoulder of the last man and his movement was chronically underrated in this game. Who’d have thought that in trying to cancel each other out defensively, these two teams would only empower their attackers?