AC Milan: Vast improvement on defense, now for the offense
AC Milan lost 1-0 to Juventus in Serie A but this was, without a doubt, the Rossoneri's greatest game with regards to their defensive efficiency.
Stefano Pioli's men traveled to Turin heavily-burdened. In fact, this has so far been the worst start to a season in 78 years for AC Milan. They had managed to lose seven times in their first 11 matches, prior to the Turin derby. Moreover, AC Milan has only kept three clean sheets as their defense was often tormented by the opponent's attack, whether that was Lecce or Inter Milan.
Stefano Pioli was appointed after Marco Giampaolo was sacked. The former Inter boss has a difficult mission in front of him as AC Milan has faced enormous problems both in defense and offense. Whereas the offensive slump can be attributed to mediocre performances of individuals, like Hakan Calhanoglu, Kryzsztof Piatek and Suso, the defensive one was a wider team issue. Thus, this has rightfully emerged as the top priority for the newly-appointed Stefano Pioli.
Indeed, before AC Milan's visit to the Allianz Stadium, the team experience immense problems in the defensive phase. Riccardo Rogriduez's crisis both in defense and offense combined with the error-prone and offensively-minded Andrea Conti resulted in Milan's inability to cope with attacks from the flanks. Lucas Biglia and Frank Kessie continued to disappoint in regards to their defensive duties. The Ivorian, particularly, seemed lost in space and his omission from the latest starting 11s was more than reasonable. In the heart of the defence, Matteo Musacchio continued to perform mediocrely while Alessio Romagnoli's quality was never enough.
Not that everything is fine now but AC Milan's defense has hugely improved under Pioli. The introduction of Ismael Bennacer was the main reason for this. The Algerian has undoubtedly been the MVP for the Rossoneri in the last couple of games. Armed with compact and ferocious defensive skills, Bennacer's role has been pivotal for Pioli. He offers more than sufficient cover for the offensive-minded Milan's full-backs while he can retain possession by emerging victorious from the vast majority of his duels. An unstoppable runner that if improves his passing accuracy and creativity, can be considered amongst the greatest in his position.
Against Juventus, Bennacer was, along with Paqueta, the most important player for the Rossoneri limiting Federico Bernardeschi while providing excellent assistance to the man-marking of Ronaldo and Higuain. He made a few misplaced passes but whenever Hernandez and Conti needed him, he was always there to offer assistance and cover. Together with Lucas Paqueta and Rade Krunic, they created a formidable midfield by doing excellent defensive work. Andrea Conti had also a great game defensively, one of the very few with the AC Milan shirt so far.
Milan's trio dominated the midfield in the first half but they lost some momentum towards the end of the game. Yet, Juventus got the victory not by making a superb team performance but thanks to one man's extraordinary quality. Paolo Dybala's goal was indeed the only, up to that point, organized and well-paved offensive chance created by Sarri's men. The great of the Argentinian combined with a rare defensive error by Alessio Romagnoli resulted in Juventus leading the game.
The development of the game would have been different had AC Milan managed to transform their chances into goal. In fact, both against Lazio and Juventus, the Rossoneri had great goalscoring opportunities but they missed the target. AC Milan has scored only 11 goals so far in the season while making 13.9 shots per game. Suso and Calhanoglu disappointed in the first couple of games while Piatek seemed isolated in the front. The Polish striker has three goals so far and against Juventus, he failed to score in great opportunities for Milan.
Of course, Piatek is not the only issue with AC Milan's offense but the Rossoneri might had taken something more from their last two matches if he had been more cynical at the goal. Hakan Calhanoglu continues underperforming while Suso was lost in the tactical system employed by Marco Giampaolo. The Spaniard has been heavily criticised for his performances and he must now prove that Giampaolo was the cause. Lastly, Lucas Paqueta had an outstanding defensive performance against Juventus but he struggled and lacked decisiveness in the final third.
Milan ought to continue to improve both defensively and offensively. Against Juventus, Pioli's men appeared compact in defensive situations but they failed to convert great chances to goals. The next opponent for the Rossoneri, after the international break, is Napoli, a team with immense quality but also the ability to cause plenty of problems. It is the perfect chance for AC Milan not only to improve even more at the back against a quality offense but also penetrate successfully such an inconsistent and unstable defense as Napoli's. It will also be interesting to see how the Rossoneri will line-up given the fact that Ismael Bennacer and Hakan Calhanoglu are suspended.