Gameweek 20 of Serie A saw Udinese visit the San Siro to play against AC Milan. Prior to the match, AC Milan were in 10th place with 25 points. At this point, we can call this season a write-off for the Rossoneri, with top 4 looking like a pipedream. However, with the introduction of Zlatan Ibrahimović who will hopefully provide some attacking impetus in the short-term, AC Milan will need to take advantage of his declining ability to make a legitimate push for a top 6 finish. Their opponents, Udinese were in 12th place, a middle-of-the-road achievement for a club looking to make progress on their previous 12th place finish last term, with 24 points.
There is plenty of time left in the season yet, and both managers will have to take it game by game, before thinking about the end of the season goals. The reverse fixture that occurred in the first gameweek, saw Udinese take all three points in a 1-0 victory. This defeat was under the tutelage of Marco Giampaolo at Milan and would be looking to avenge the result under a new coach, Stefano Pioli. Considering the stature of the club, this would be seen as unacceptable.
This tactical analysis will look at the tactics of both sides, using the analysis to look at how Udinese managed to get ahead, and how Milan were able to get back into the match, to come out as eventual victors.
Lineups [via Wyscout].
AC Milan, following the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović, have set up in a 4-4-2 formation. A back four of Andrea Conti, Simon Kjær, Alessio Romagnoli, Theo Hernández were set up in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Acting in a double pivot was Franck Kessié and Ismaël Bennacer, with Samu Castillejo and Giacomo Bonaventura to each side of them. Up top was a pairing of Rafael Leão and Zlatan Ibrahimović, with the only noticeable absentee being Hakan Çalhanoğlu.
The away side set up in a 5-3-2 shape that they have been using regularly this season. Despite working under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea as an assistant coach, Luca Gotti takes little inspiration from his Italian counterpart in how his side plays football. Against AC Milan, Juan Musso was situated in net, with a back five of Jens Stryger Larsen, Rodrigo Becão, William Troost-Ekong, Bram Nuytinck, and Ken Sema situated in front of him. The middle three consisted of Rodrigo de Paul, Rolando Mandragora, and Seko Fofana. The strike partnership was a combination of Stefano Okaka and Kevin Lasagna, the most common partnership upfront for le Zebrette.
The Bonaventura experiment
As mentioned above, AC Milan have been playing in a 4-4-2 formation since Zlatan’s arrival, however, against Udinese, at times, it looked to be a 4-2-3-1, with Bonaventura pushing up and more centrally, and Leão operating the left-wing space.
Milan’s formation during the 14’-46’ period of the match. Note Bonaventura’s (#5) position. He is moving far more centrally, which is his preferred position, where he has been most effective.
It seems that when AC Milan were in possession of the ball, they looked to counter-act Udinese’s deep block by pushing more men forward. They were likely looking to utilise Bonaventura’s strong dribbling abilities, in order to progress the ball into the final third. This was an experiment chosen by Pioli, as it is clear to see that he not thus far found a way for his team to score goals on a consistent basis.
See Bonaventura’s (#5) position. He looked to operate the space behind Udinese’s midfield, to get into space and create opportunities for himself and others.
This experiment really lacked the killer final ball, evident by their 0.8 xG in the first half of this match, which is not bad, but not great either. The positive of the way they set up in was that it essentially worked in nullifying the threat of Udinese’s attacks, as seen by their 0.14 xG in the first half. The second half is when the game really opened up for both sides, but largely for Pioli’s side.
Udinese’s attacks by flanks, and their danger levels. They had the most amount of attacks down the left (16) and failed to reach an xG higher than 0.2 in these 16 attacks [via Wyscout].
To their credit, Udinese were one for trying, as they were relentless with the proportion of crosses into the box during the full ninety. Rodrigo De Paul was at the forefront of these efforts, providing 7 cross attempts more than anyone else in the Udinese side. However, only 1 of these attempts was successful, indicative of Gotti’s attacking side as a whole during this match. For the majority of the match, Milan were happy to defend these crosses in the box, as their defenders were dominant in the air. Simon Kjær and Alessio Romagnoli won 4 and 3 aerials duels respectively, and they both had a busy day in the office, dealing with the physical presence of Stefano Okaka, and the agility of Kevin Lasagna.
Crosses against AC Milan. Most resulted in a defensive action for AC Milan, rather than an offensive action for Udinese [via Wyscout].
A cross by Rodrigo De Paul (#10). The path of the ball ends up straight into Romagnoli, who dealt well with these scenarios for the majority of the match.
In the future, Udinese ought to force their attacks through the middle of the pitch, with players like Seko Fofana looking lively in this game, if not still a little raw in some aspects of his game. This is where they create the highest quality of chances in this game, exploiting the lack of pace shown by Simon Kjær especially. Asking De Paul to providing more attacking thrust down the middle would also be a smart use of his key dribbling abilities and shooting range.
Rebić to the rescue
Rebić’s performance was one to admire against le Zebrette, especially since he only came onto the field in the 46th minute. Usually, when a player comes off the bench, it will take a period of adjustment to get up to the match speed and intensity, but not Rebić. He immediately forced the play into his own control.
A cross by Conti, into the path of the late run made by Rebić, to score his first goal within two minutes of being on the pitch. This is how he managed to inject some energy into a passive Milan side.
During the game, he had 2 shots on target, both of which found the back of the net. He scored two minutes after entering the pitch, making it mentally very demanding for Udinese to get back into the game after being largely outplayed in the first half. His dribbling was excellent, he played a big part in pushing his team up the field and creating opportunities for himself and others, completing 5 of his 6 attempted take-ons. He also made 2 key passes, a decent number considering that was not his role, whilst also providing a combined 3 tackles and interceptions to apply pressure.
It was an exciting match to watch from both sides of the pitch, and there were elements that both managers will be disappointed in, particularly their defensive frailties. The affair was rife with defensive errors, and both teams suffered from periods of inconsistency throughout the ninety. Having said that, AC Milan were deserved victors, with xG favouring them 3.14 to 1.15 for Udinese.
AC Milan will be happy to win this game, now making it two consecutive victories on the bounce. Pioli will hope to take this momentum into the next match, in order to build a sequence of results to propel them into a top six place. Offensively, this was a good performance by Milan, with Zlatan consistently looking like a threat, which is a huge boost to a team who have seriously struggled to finish their chances this term, with Theo Hernández as their top scorer with 6 league goals. Relatively, Pioli has had a very similar record to what Giampaolo did at the start of the season, but he is starting to give minutes to some of his best young talents, such as Rafael Leão and Ismaël Bennacer.
Udinese were pushing for a way back into this game for the majority of the second half, before that 93rd minute winning goal by Rebić. However, not even a draw would have been fully deserved for Gotti’s side. They did not provide chances of a high enough quality throughout the match for their attackers to get on the end of. Plenty of Udinese’s key players were not at their best in this game, such as De Paul or Fofana, with their efforts leaving minimal impact on the pitch. Gotti needs to keep faith in some of his key assets, with players such as Mandragora showing great potential.