Milan 1-2 Juventus: Allegri’s side dominate early on, but weakness in wide areas costs them again
Milan had more chances, but Juventus were more clinical and took three points away from the San Siro.
Milan kept the same team that beat Napoli 2-1 in the previous Serie A round, in a fairly traditional 4-3-1-2 shape. Robinho started as a trequartista but drifted to the left. Luca Antonini was back at left-back, and got forward well early on.
Gigi Delneri went for a modification of his favoured 4-4-2 system. Claudio Marchisio was tucked in on the right, with Jorge Martinez higher up the pitch on the left. Neither Alessandro Del Piero nor Fabio Quagliarella stayed upfront all the time, both drifted into deeper positions. Nicola Leggrottaglie was a late change, coming in for the injured Giorgio Chiellini.
Milan started the brighter, and pinned Juve back in the opening minutes. They were using their numerical advantage in the centre of midfield well, and Juve were having problems getting to grips with them; Alberto Aquilani was slow at closing down, whilst Felipe Melo seemed unsure of what his role was.
Juventus’ problems here essentially started with Andrea Pirlo going free. Here, he had the ability to dictate the play from the centre of the pitch, and when he was closed down by Aquilani or Melo, this left one of Milan’s other midfielders (or Robinho) free in a more dangerous position.
Their tendency to be dragged up the pitch created too much space between the lines, and Milan’s forward three all worked this space to good effect – Zlatan Ibrahimovic came closest to scoring when his curling effort from 25 yards out hit the angle of crossbar and post.
The away side started to compete when Delneri instructed one of the forwards, generally Fabio Quagliarella, to drop back when not in possession, and pick up Pirlo. With him occupied, Aquilani and Melo could focus on cancelling out Milan’s other midfielders – Aquilani was generally on Rino Gattuso, Melo dropped deeper and kept an eye on Robinho, whilst Marchisio tracked Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Elsewhere, Alessandro del Piero was moving to the left when Juventus lost the ball, making Daniele Bonera – a reluctant full-back at the best of times – unable to come forward and join the attack. On the other side, the lack of a Juventus striker on that flank, plus Marchisio tucking in, meant that Antonini got forward more often.
Milan vulnerable from crosses
Full-backs turned out to be crucial – but it was a Juventus full-back that made the difference, and created the opening goal. Paolo de Ceglie was left free on Juventus’ left with no pressure whatsoever, and his cross met Quagliarella, who headed home excellently.
This is turning into a familiar pattern for Milan, constantly conceding goals and having difficulties with balls played in from wide areas. Regardless of whether they are 4-3-1-2 or 4-3-3, the forwards don’t track back and the full-backs are exposed once the carrileros either side of midfield are drawn into the centre of the pitch. Just as Cesena showed with a shock victory and Real Madrid demonstrated by pushing Marcelo and Alvaro Arbeloa forward, Milan are vulnerable to attacking full-backs. Even Parma and Napoli caused danger in this respect despite losing, and it will increasingly be a deliberate tactic for opponents to get the ball into crossing positions when the full-backs move forward.
With this goal the game changed significantly – Milan were stunned at going behind despite making the early running, and Juventus had fewer problems between the lines, as the midfield sat deeper.
Allegri switched to a 4-3-3 system at the start of the second half, moving Robinho to the left and Pato to the right. This smacked somewhat of desperation, and a decision to change things for the sake of it in the easiest way possible – Milan had dominated the game with the 4-3-1-2, only lacking finishing quality and perhaps a bit of luck.
The new shape did little to get Milan back into the game – whereas in the first half Robinho acted as the link between the midfield and the attack, Milan found it more difficult to make the connection after the break, and Juventus sat deeper, forming eight men in two solid banks between the Milan midfield and Marco Storari.
Milan’s problem when they are chasing a game is that they’re forced higher up the pitch, and the resulting high defensive line doesn’t suit their back four. They were exposed for a comical second goal, where substitute Momo Sissoko contrived to miss a one-on-one, before fortunately finding that Del Piero was behind him, and laying the ball back for Del Piero to smash in a landmark goal.
Juventus defended very well at 2-0 up, especially considering they were forced to bring on two players out of position due to injury problems – first Simone Pepe at left-back and then Sissoko on the right of midfield. As Adam Digby, writer of this excellent Juventus blog points out, the shape of Juventus was fantastic without the ball yesterday, resulting in this average position diagram which is a coach’s dream.
Juventus were even well-stocked at the back when they conceded – Robinho and Antonini somehow managed to create a crossing opportunity against four Juventus players, and Ibrahimovic towered above Pepe to head home. That goal was conceded due to individual mistakes rather than poor tactics, and overall Delneri’s defensive strategy worked excellently.
Milan rallied late and substitute Ignzaio Abate flashed a brilliant ball across the six-yard box in the final moments, but this merely outlined that Milan missed an attacking right-back from the start. Massimo Oddo, hero in the win over Napoli, was sorely missed.
It’s difficult to analyse a game tactically when the winners scored both their goals against the run of play. Milan were by far the better side in the opening period of the game but Juventus adjusted well, shutting down Pirlo and then getting their full-backs forward, creating the first goal.
The game showed us little we didn’t know before in terms of shape – Milan are vulnerable in wide areas, Juventus defend well with two banks of four. The overall lesson, however, was that finishing chances will always be crucial inconverting overall dominance into an actual victory – Milan had 17 shots, 7 on target, and 1 goal, whilst Juventus had just 9 shots, but 6 on target and 2 goals.