As the latest round of Serie A fixtures come to a close, AC Milan vs Sampdoria turned out to be the perfect way to round off this week’s Italian action. Sampdoria were unbeaten in four games while Milan had lost their last two, with Gennaro Gattuso’s position coming under increasing scrutiny.
In fact, the home side sat in the lower half of the table before the start of the match, with Marco Giampaolo’s side way up in the top five. The match turned out to be a thriller, as Milan edged the game 3-2 and alleviate some of the pressure on Gattuso with three vital points. Here, we analyse the key moments of what surely must be Serie A’s game of the weekend.
Cutrone – Higuain cause chaos
Gattuso did little to hide his intentions in this match with his formation. A 4-4-2 for the first time this season, with Patrick Cutrone and Gonzalo Higuain partnering up top was a statement of intent, AC Milan were here to attack. Sampdoria had every right to be confident in their defence, having conceded just four goals in their opening nine games, their best record in 61 years.
For the first goal, Davide Calabria started a counter-attack from a Samp corner, unleashing Suso down the right-wing. From there, the strike duo caused havoc in the opposition box. Cutrone peeled off to the back post, taking right-back Bartosz Bereszynski with him. Below, we so Lorenzo Tonelli realising Higuain’s late run into the box and gets dragged towards the Argentine, leaving a huge gap almost the length of the six-yard box.
Bereszynski then doesn’t know whether to stay with Cutrone or cover the space left by Tonelli. In the end, he does neither, allowing Cutrone to peel off and leaving him with a simple header to make it 1-0.
Sampdoria clinical on the counter
Regardless of how potent a strike partnership AC Milan have on their hands, their obvious Achilles heel this season has been the incredibly leaky defence. For a side aiming for the top-four not to have kept a clean sheet all season is staggering, a stat which compounds their woes is that Milan have conceded at least a goal in 15 consecutive league games for the first time since 1946. In this example, their frailties are clear to see.
Following an attack breaking down, in which every player but the back four were in the box, Sampdoria counter. Fabio Quagliarella’s sublime touch takes Mateo Musacchio out of the game, and the ball breaks to former Milan youth player, Ricardo Saponara. As we can see, it quickly turns into a 3v4 situation. Not a single Milan player, who took part in the attack made it back to support the defence who were left incredibly exposed.
Saponara cuts inside, beating Davide Calabria far too easily, and slots by Gianluigi Donnarumma to even up the match. Sampdoria were impressive on the break, especially considering their 35-year-old forward, but it wasn’t the last time the superb duo of Quagliarella and Saponara would link up.
The example below shows a Milan side incapable of learning their lesson, as you could throw a net over the four players who get drawn to the ball. The pressing mentality hasn’t translated to the back four who sit deep, allowing yet another huge gap to appear between defence and midfield. The defence should either be five to ten yards further up to make a more compact team shape, or more notably, Kessie and Biglia have to be more disciplined as part of a two-man centre midfield.
Saponara picks up the ball between what should be two banks of four, and with acres of space to run into, he picks his head up and spots the run of Quagliarella.
An inevitable defensive shambles ensues, with Calabria, who had a poor game, caught napping as Mussachio plays the veteran striker onside. Take nothing away from Quagliarella, his deft volleyed finish past Donnarumma was a thing of beauty, but it was made far too easy for him.
Individual brilliance saves Milan blues
At 2-1 down, AC Milan had to rely on the quality of their front men to pull a result out of the bag. In the 36th minute, a slick one-two near the edge of the box between Milan’s strikers ended up with Higuain lashing a left-footed strike to even the scoring once more at 2-2. A goal fest should have been expected, a frantic first half meant Milan had scored at least two in their last six home games.
In the second half, Sampdoria were less comfortable on the ball despite averaging more possession over the match (55% to 45%) and were perhaps rattled after letting a lead slip at the San Siro. With Gattuso’s no-doubt stern words at half-time riling his players up, Milan started the second half well.
In the second half, Milan were more compact, not exactly an achievement given the first half performance.
It was a far less action-packed half, but produced perhaps the pick of the bunch with Suso’s 61st minute strike. Picking up the ball on the right-wing, his signature move of cutting inside and unleashing a long-range strike proved the match-winner. A lack of celebration was symbolic of a mixed display.
Credit to Gattuso for the gutsy decision to switch it up and play Cutrone and Higuain up front. In the end, the pros outweighed the cons as the Rossoneri attack made up for a defensive shambles. Sampdoria were unlucky to come away with nothing, as their rock-solid defence had an off-day, with Saponara and Quagliarella providing moments of brilliance on the counter. Positives to take for the away side, but AC Milan’s defence needs radical improvement if they are to stop shipping so many goals.