Two sides who could be forgiven for hoping 2020 will provide a fresh start to an otherwise disappointing campaign were AC Milan and Sampdoria. Milan sat 11th coming into matchday 18 and which is well below expectations, compounding their poor season is the rise of Inter who sit top of Serie A. They will be hoping for any improvement after being dispatched in convincing fashion 5-0 at Atalanta. Sampdoria has been on a torrid run recently, three defeats in their past four Serie A games with the win coming away at Genoa.
This tactical analysis delves into this critical Serie A tie at the San Siro which saw both sides take a share of the spoils.
Stefano Pioli swung the axe on Tuesday with four changes made from the team destroyed by Atalanta. Both full-backs in Ricardo Rodriguez and Andrea Conti were left out in favour of Theo Hernandez and Davide Calabria. Franck Kessié and Rafael Leão were also dropped in favour of Rade Krunić and the return of Krzysztof Piatek. The return of Zlatan Ibrahimović was well publicised; he was on the bench. Pioli switched the formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3.
Claudio Ranieri also made four changes after his sides 2-1 defeat to Juventus. Bartosz Bereszynski and Julian Chabot came into the team for the injured Alex Ferrari while Fabia Depaoli was dropped. Ronaldo Vieira moved into central midfield which saw Karol Linetty move to left midfield. Jakub Jankto moved to the bench. The other changes came up top; Gaston Ramirez switched to the right of midfield with Fabio Quagliarella and Manolo Gabbiadini leading the line.
The inability to score from set-piece opportunities has plagued Milan over the past couple of seasons. Milan only managed six in Serie A all of last season, and after 18 matches, Pioli’s side has only scored twice. If you combine the current total scored and last season’s converted, it’s less than Milan managed in the entire 2017/18 season (11). Why has Milan struggled immensely at scoring from set-pieces? Is it the delivery, tactics or failure to convert those chances?
Milan had seven corners in this encounter and Pioli utilised two set-piece tactics. The initial situation has multiple Milan players at the edge of the area, which enables one of two scenarios. One, Hakan Çalhanoğlu can play the ball short to Suso where he crosses towards the edge of the six-yard box. However, this play doesn’t require much movement, which plays into the hands of the Sampdoria defence.
The second of those set-piece tactics see the Milan players pack the six-yard box. With the weight of numbers, this can make it difficult for the keeper to make a play on the ball. Çalhanoğlu plays the ball to the near post. With this set-up, Milan almost takes the lead. It’s evident that “movement” inside the area to create space against the man-to-man defence is lacking; as a result, it’s no wonder why Milan have had difficulties scoring at set-pieces.
Sampdoria’s defensive structures
Since Ranieri took the reigns at Sampdoria in mid-October, I Blucerchiati struggled at the bottom of the standings. While going forward has been a real issue for Sampdoria this season, it’s been defensively where the club has struggled. Before Ranieri’s appointment, Sampdoria was bottom of the table and had conceded 16 goals in just seven Serie A fixtures. However, under Ranieri, the defence has improved with only 11 goals against in their last 11. This part of the analysis looks at Sampdoria’s defensive structures.
Our first example came in the first half when Sampdoria ran the 4-4-2 formation with some variants. Central midfielder Vieira is allowed to press alongside the strikers who remain structured up top. This see’s Morten Thorsby remain in the midfield pivot until Milan crosses halfway, then Vieira tucks back into the midfield four. Ranieri allows at least one central midfielder to press in their opponent’s defensive half. If Sampdoria win possession this gives them an extra number with the strikers.
Later in the game, Ranieri switched to a 4-5-1 after subbing Quagliarella for midfielder Albin Ekdal. The Swedish midfielder plays as the number six while Vieira and Thorsby remain as the eights. Even with the one striker in Gabbiadini up top, Vieira is still able to press but on fewer occasions as Sampdoria looked to hold onto the draw.
Milan’s pressing game
Milan has struggled to muster anything going forward, a measly 16 goals with an attack boasting Piątek, Ante Rebic, who can’t even get a game, and the talented Leão. It’s a real concern for Pioli; however, they have been able to create chances and win possession back. One feature of their defence to attack came through the form of pressing in Sampdoria’s defensive third. We look into how Milan pressed Sampdoria to win back possession in dangerous areas
At the early stages in the first half, we see Milan’s pressing at play in an attempt to win possession back. As Sampdoria looked to play down the wings, Milan, with the use of the attacking three and a number eight, would look to squeeze the player in possession along the touchline. Here, the Sampdoria player has a couple of options. Playing the ball to Thorsby who can only boot the ball clear or the ball carrier does that himself. Either way, the ball is cleared, but possession returns to Milan.
The latter situation looks to articulate how this comes about and the process the Milan players take to ensure a change in possession. As the keeper plays to his teammate on the near side, Milan tries and keep Sampdoria tied towards the touchline in the hope of winning possession back. This can create a numerical advantage for Milan as well as cutting down the passing lanes.
As the play continues, Omar Colley is in a spot of bother. The phrase “play to where you face” is quite common. As you can see, Colley has no option to distribute the ball without playing his teammate under considerable pressure. The squeeze in this scenario is perfect as Colley makes an errant pass and Milan go on the attack. When Milan was engaged defensively in their attacking third, they did cause Sampdoria all sorts of issues. It was positive from Pioli’s perspective even if they failed to capitalise when they did win possession in those areas.
Sampdoria goalkeeper Emil Audero produced an outstanding performance at the San Siro and was vital in the side picking up a much-needed point. The Indonesian born Italian has made the number one spot his own over the past couple of seasons and has proven his worth in a difficult campaign. What stood out in this performance was Audero’s shot-stopping ability, let’s look at the tangibles from footwork to positioning.
The initial phase takes on his first save of the game as Suso tested the gloves. Initially, Audero’s positioning is very positive between the apex of the six-yard and the goal-line. You can see he is down low in his stance, almost expecting the shot from Suso to be low and driven. While it could see a more powerful shot in the top corner to beat Audero, it’s important to note that this stance will provide additional bounce going from low to high.
Our second situation showcases the impressive reactionary skills of Audero, who produces a strong save from the shot of Çalhanoğlu. A mighty effort from range can be arduous at the best of times. But when your vision is hindered with traffic at the front of the net. Keeping your eye on the ball as a keeper is ultra important in this situation. Unlike the first scenario, Audero remains on his line. The reasoning behind this will be if Çalhanoğlu’s shot is deflected; it gives Audero a better opportunity to make a read and react.
The final situation showcases the keen near-post awareness of Audero as this time he denies Leão. Aided by the Sampdoria defence pushing the Milan striker wide, Audero makes the concerted effort to cover and be in front of his near post. Some keepers in this situation may come off their lines and make themselves big to tighten the goal scoring action. While this can be an effective tactic to use as a goalkeeper, it does open you up to being beaten in several different ways. By staying on his line, Audero ensures that Leão has to shoot and while being able to cover himself if a cross box pass is made.
A number of the shots mightn’t have been hit with power nor tested Audero in terms of placement. It’s a testament to the positioning of the keeper to either cut down angles or ensure the potential effort on goal will be challenging to take. Audero proved this on many occasions, the fundamentals of sound goalkeeping were on full display, and his reward was a well earned clean sheet.
Milan’s poor attacking form was on full display on Tuesday night, 18 chances on goal but the result remains the same. It’s now three games without a goal for I Rossoneri who drop to 12th following results around the league.
The first half was impressive from the hosts and had control of the contest. However, Milan made countless mistakes in the second half and was fortunate that they didn’t concede. This game and the last are almost the perfect microcosms of Milan’s season.
Sampdoria are entrenched in the relegation battle, so a point is more than a welcome sign for Claudio Ranieri’s side. However, if Gabbiadini had converted one of his glorious chances, we’d be sitting here praising the gritty performance from Ranieri’s side. Sampdoria was one of two teams to pick up points from the bottom five on matchday 18. I Blucerchiati remain two points above the relegation zone as a tense 2020 begins.
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