After two disappointing defeats against Lazio and Torino, AC Milan were still out of the top-four spot. They must win their final two games this season for a Champions League ticket for the next season. In the 37th matchday, they faced the relegated Frosinone. Milan had no choice but to win.
Playing against a relegated team didn’t mean Milan would win the three points without any obstacles. Even Manchester United could suffer a 0-2 lost against Cardiff in their last home game. Milan also took some time to break the deadlock. The last clash between these two teams in this season was a 0-0 draw. Therefore, Milan could never underestimate their opponent. Both teams got 15 attempts in this game but this figure did not represent the whole story. Indeed, Milan controlled the game and won it comfortably. This tactical analysis will explain why Frosinone were not good enough to test Milan.
Milan started the game in a 4-3-3 formation. It was the last home game for Ignazio Abate and the Italian started. The energetic Franck Kessié and Tiemoué Bakayoko started and formed the midfield trio with Hakan Calhanoglu. Despite six consecutive games without a goal, Krzysztof Piątek still started instead of Patrick Cutrone. Suso also started the game as a right winger.
Frosinone played a 3-5-2 formation on paper. Paolo Sammarco and Raffele Maiello and Francesco Zampano formed the midfield trio. Their second top goal scorer Andrea Pinamonti was left on the bench. Instead, Camillo Ciano and Marcello Trotta started together in the upfront. However, the formation was more like a 3-5-2 since the wingbacks usually stayed with the back three.
AC Milan blocked the central area
Despite desperately needing a win, Milan did not push their defensive line high to press Frosinone players. They did not intend to win the ball high up on the pitch. In fact, they used a midblock to prevent opposition’s build up. When defending, Milan players often stayed in a 4-5-1 shape with Suso and Fabio Borini dropped to the midfield. The main idea of this approach was to prevent Frosinone penetrating the central areas. They forced Frosinone either go to the sides or pass over the midfield line. The benefit was to make their pass predictable to deal with. In this match, Frosinone tended to choose the latter option. They tried to send the ball in the air to start an attack. However, statistics showed Milan dominated in the air. Milan won 68% of the aerial duels in this game. Frosinone’s attack did not do harm except that penalty kick missed.
In the below image, Kessié, Bakayoko, and Calhanoglu stayed tight in the centre to protect the central areas. Sammarco was carrying the ball and the Milan players retreated. He tried to exploit the space behind the back four of Milan with an off the ground pass. However, the pass was not good enough to find Luca Paganini and Gianluigi Donnarumma collected the ball. In fact, despite exploiting space behind the Milan back four, the spaces between the lines could be exploited as well. The gap between the lines was large but the Frosinone players did not risk to play the ball inside that area. Frosinone kept giving away the ball like this in the first half and Milan was comfortable.
In the second half, Gattuso urged his players to press and force their oppositions to commit errors. In this image, Kessié, Calhanoglu and the Milan front three trapped the Frosinone midfielder. All of them were expecting a pass to the centre by Edoardo Goldaniga. Borini put pressure on him and Goldaniga misplaced the pass. Kessié intercepted it and it resulted in a Milan attack. This case showed the trap set by Milan. If Frosinone risked passing the ball into the centre in their own half, Milan could win the ball and start the counter. So never put the ball into the trap in a rush.
Frosinone’s ineffective block
The 5-3-2 formation of Frosinone had some problems. This allowed Milan to build up comfortably. The build-up phase of Milan involved the four defenders and Bakayoko. With only two strikers for Frosinone staying in front of the Milan backline, Milan enjoyed absolute numerical superiority. Another point to note is the position of Kessié. The Ivorian did not drop deep to support his teammates in their build-up phase to avoid an opposition follow him. If Kessié dropped, the midfield could be full of players an reduce the area for his teammates to play the ball.
This image showed the above situation. Ciano and Trotta were in a 2v5 situation against the Milan players. Without their midfielders’ back up, Milan could move the ball easily without any pressure. Here Ricardo Rodríguez received the ball. He had so much space and time to make his decision since no one pressed him. The situation was like a rondo and hardly could Ciano and Trotta intercept the ball.
Another point was that the formation did not have players to mark the Milan fullbacks. The paired strikers Trotta and Ciano stayed inside to protect the central areas and they tended not to press the fullbacks. Also, their wingbacks dropped to the defensive line too quickly. This left Rodríguez and Abate totally free. Therefore, Milan could build up comfortably and process to another phase.
The below image reflected. Calhanoglu dropped a little bit deeper to receive the ball. He intended to use his right foot to switch the ball to Abate. It was a predictable pass but none of the Frosinone tried to adjust their position or body shape to prevent it. The space around Abate allowed the Italian to played the ball easily. There was no one marking him. All too easy for Milan to build up.
AC Milan hit Frosinone on the right
Gattuso prepared to create a strong side. Milan overloaded their right in this game. 53.9% of Milan’s attack came from the right side. The below image illustrated a situation often happened in this game. Suso, Abate, Bakayoko and Kessié all tended to move to the right side or made forward runs. This attracted and moved a huge number of oppositions towards that side and left the box with space. Borini and Piątek could lurk inside the box and wait for a cross and they are not surrounded by defenders.
Furthermore, Abate had to make more thorough forward runs towards the flank. Suso is a left-footed player, so he needs time to adjust the ball to his preferred foot. Abate’s run could distract the opposition wingback and prevent Suso from being marked tightly. Thus, Suso could use his left foot to curl the ball inside the box or made a straight pass. If not, then Abate was an option to pass as well.
Here is an example on Abate’s run. Abate made a forward run and allowed Suso to receive the ball. Abate also drew the attention of the Frosinone defenders then created spaces behind them. Kessié and Bakayoko were readied to make forward runs. Kessié tried to exploit the space highlighted below. Since Suso had time to adjust the ball to his left foot, he could drift inside and made a pass to hit that space. Maiello did not aware the run of Kessié and the Ivorian received the ball in the box. Eventually, this resulted in a corner. This was how Milan started their attack.
The below image reflected the benefit of overloading the right side. Abate dashed forward and Suso had time to adjust his body shape for a larger passing angle. Milan used three players (Calhanoglu, Suso and Abate) to draw the attention of six Frosinone players. This left Piątek and Borini in a two v two situation in the box. All Milan needed was a precise ball to pick the targets in the box. This time Suso’s pass was slightly deeper and his teammates could not meet it. But, what this example illustrated was the advantage brought by this setup.
The change to make the goal
Since Milan did not score a goal before the break, Gattuso had to make changes early in the second half. In the first half, Milan was able to create chances or deliver the ball into the box. However, the problem was they were lack of accurate passes to find targets in the box. In order to make their crosses finding the targets successfully, Gattuso put one more player in the box. The Milan legend chose Cutrone to replace Bakayoko. With one more striker on the field, it messed up Frosinone’s defence. This move created the first goal.
In this attack, Suso was holding the ball on the right side. There were five Milan players in the box, including Abate, Kessié, Cutrone, Borini and Piątek. This gave pressure to Frosinone defenders. Although the right-footed cross from Suso did not create a goal-scoring opportunity. However, Cutrone forced Ariaudo to make a clearance uncomfortably. Therefore, soon the ball was picked by Borini in the box and he made an attempt. Eventually, Piątek got a touch in front of goal and scored a vital one. The move was a tactical move but the core idea of Milan’s attack was the same. Cutrone’s appearance just helped Milan to increase their numerical advantage in the box.
Fortunately, Abate’s farewell home game was not ruined by Frosinone. If Ciano scored that penalty, AC Milan could have been in trouble. Generally speaking, Gattuso’s game plan was good enough to seal all three points. Frosinone did not test enough. No pressure for Milan at all except that penalty scare. Piątek scored the 30th goal of this season, he is definitely the best talent in Italy. Anyway, congratulations to Abate who ended his AC Milan career with a win.
The top four race is not over yet. Milan will play against Spal in their last game of the season. They are in 5th place with 65 points, just one behind their rival Inter. Although the oppositions will be Sassuolo and Empoli for Atalanta and Inter, you know, nothing is impossible in football.
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