The Coppa Italia Quarter-finals had a very interesting duel for tactical analysis. Torino and AC Milan met in a match that left very attractive elements from the tactics and strategy of both the managers. In The Round of 16, Torino defeated Genoa on penalties while AC Milan came from a 3-0 win against SPAL and continues to show interesting elements under Stefano Pioli. The match offered several important points not to overlook in the tactical analysis. This tactical analysis will show us how and why Milan was able to beat Torino and set up a semi-final clash against Juventus.
Stefano Pioli made 4 changes to the team that played against Brescia with Bonaventura replacing Çalhanoğlu, Krunic replacing Kessié, Piatek replacing Leâo, Rebič replacing Ibrahimović. Milan lined up in 4-4-2 formation with Piatek and Rebič as the two Center- forwards, Ismaël Bennacer as the holding midfielder and acted as a pivot during Milan’s build-up phase. Kjær and Romagnoli were chosen as the two centre-backs and Conti and Hernandez as the fullbacks.
On the other hand, Walter Mazzarri decided to make two changes to the team that played in the 7-0 defeat against Atalanta. Laxalt making way for Aina and Rincón replacing Meïté. Torino lined up in 3-4-2-1 formation and often shifted to 5-3-2 formation without possession. De Silvestri and Aina were chosen as the two wide midfielders and both of them were deployed to the attack and to fall back to help the three centre-backs while defending. Rincón was in-charge of Torino’s axis role and was the link between the backline and attacking midfielders. Verdi who started the game as the left forward was tasked to man-mark Bennacer during the build-up phase of Milan.
Milan’s wing plays and the numerical superiority
In this part of the analysis, we’re going to see how Milan tried to create their chances. Primarily, Milan would get the ball to their flanks before sending a cross into the box to make their goal-scoring attempts.
To access the flanks, both of Milan’s fullbacks would join the attack. On the left-flank, Bonaventura, Hernandez and Rebič who would drop deep to combine and form a 3v3 situation. This was done well at times, the idea was to create the space between the two Torino’s centre-backs and to send in-swing or out-swing crosses or even grounded balls without being anticipated.
De Silvestri, who was playing as the wide midfielder for Torino was tasked to track the Hernandez’s runs on the left flank when defending often found himself in dilemma whether to stay with Hernandez or to mark Bonaventura, because of this Hernandez was often able to exploit the half-spaces and delivered many crosses.
In addition, Milan’s numerical superiority was evident during many moments of the match. There were usually more Milan players than Torino ones in the midfield. Zlatan Ibrahimović, who came in as a substitute in the second half, often dropped deep to maintain the numbers in the midfield.
Milan’s pressing and the square
Milan lined up in an asymmetrical 4-4-2 formation. Milan’s idea was to surround Rincón and form a square or a rectangle around him who was playing as the holding midfielder and was the player responsible for receiving the first ball from the centre-backs. The centre-forwards, Piatek and Rebič and midfielders mainly Samuel Castillejo and Krunic were in charge of forming the square. The purpose of this square was to cut off the passing lanes and to force the Torino’s centre-backs to go either long or pass the ball to the wider areas.
One part of Pioli’s tactics in Milan has been to play with a marked axis. In the past matches, it has been either Lucas Biglia or Franck Kessié, but in this match, he chose Ismaël Bennacer. Regardless of the player, the function is the same: to be the link between the backline and the midfielders. For that, the player must have a lot of mobility to always generate lines of passes. Ismaël Bennacer, In this match, had 105 touches and completed 80 passes with 84% pass accuracy.
In addition to the above, Milan continued to exert the pressure like they have been doing for several matches. The idea was to mark one of the possible receivers of a pass mainly Rincón, who was in-charge of Torino’s axis role and was the link between the backline and attacking midfielders and that forced the opposition to switch from playing with short passes to long passes instead, in order to jump the lines.
Torino’s back five
Although Torino started the game in a 3-4-2-1 formation but was mostly seen in the match was a 5-3-2 system. During the defensive phase, both of the Wide midfielders, De Silvestri and Aina, would drop deep in the defence to form a line of back-5.
During the buildup phase of Milan, Torino was pressing with 2 forwards and Verdi was tasked to mark Bennacer so as to cut off the passing lanes and forced Milan to go either long or to pass the ball in the wide areas. De Silvestri who was playing as the wide midfielder was tasked to mark Hernandez, this also forced Milan to play long balls to the more central area where they had the numerical advantage.
One of Torino’s main mistakes was to fall into Milan’s pressure trap, as mentioned earlier, Rincón was in-charge of Torino’s axis role and was the link between the backline and the attacking midfielders. The square Milan formed around him so as to cut off the central passing lanes but this also at times created space on the wider areas for De Silvestri.
Torino’s Wide Midfielders
As mentioned earlier, Torino’s wide midfielders played as full-backs and wingers. In this case, it was evident when both were deployed to attack. The front-3 would get narrow to open up the spaces on the flanks. The idea was that when Torino had the possession of the ball, both would go several meters forward and join the attacking line. For both Conti and Hernandez, it was difficult to mark them and stop them from delivering crosses into the box.
While defending Milan had a formation of 4-4-2, On Torino’s attack, Verdi often played in between the lines with both the wide midfielders joining the attack. This way Torino created goal-scoring chances including Torino’s second goal.
The 4-4-2 has been a strong switch for Milan. Another strong performance. However, defensive solidity has been sacrificed. In this match, Bennacer had a pass accuracy of 84% and completed 80 passes. Milan is attempting to play two attacking full-backs nowadays most of the teams are, Hernandez is an exciting left-back but Conti has yet to make an impression.
On the other hand, it has been a difficult season for Torino. They lack the solidity of last season under the command of Mazzarri. This defeat also meant that they are out of the tournament but still a lot to play for in the league.