AC Milan hosted Cagliari after watching a few of the teams around them win over the weekend, leapfrog them and leave Milan out of the Champions League spots. Milan would, therefore, need a win to stay in the race and to stay abreast of the likes of Lazio and AS Roma.
Milan responded to the pressure with a quality 3-0 win that could have quite easily been four or five to nil after Milan put in one of their most dominant performances of the new year. The additions of Lucas Paquetà and Krzysztof Piatek in the January transfer window were the difference, as both of them scored, with Paquetà even scoring his first goal for Milan.
AC Milan’s plan
Gennaro Gattuso decided to send out his standard 4-3-3 line up with Suso, Hakan Calhanoglu and Krzysztof Piatek in front. Davide Calabria again started on the right flank with Andrea Conti still playing catch up with form. Milan’s midfield was the key to winning this match as they managed to steal the ball nine times through the course of the game.
Alessio Romagnoli was also used in a somewhat different role as he tried nine long balls with five of them being successful. Most of them were meant to help Piatek get in the goalscoring chances, but Cagliari’s defenders managed to neutralise that threat. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Lucas Paqueta were working perfectly to stop all threats coming from Cagliari midfield by winning 19 duels.
Cagliari came to survive
The team lead by Rolando Maran arrived at San Siro with only one thing in their mind – not losing the match. It was obvious from the very beginning of the match with the old fashioned 4-4-2 setup and centre backs catapulting long balls on Joao Pedro and Leonardo Pavoletti. Sardinians had most of the attacks derailed over to the right side where Darijo Srna was in charge.
He overlapped with great efficiency and managed to pass correctly for 96% of the time. The main problem of this plan was the midfield of the home team which managed to block passing lanes in the middle and Cagliari were forced to attack over the flanks. There they had 17 crosses tried and only three of them got to where they supposed to go. This totally nullified Sardians and made them ready to get beaten on San Siro.
Paqueta reading the game
Lucas Paqueta proved once again that his input will be vital in Milan winning the matches in the future. Gattuso has yet to find an ideal role for him but his individual quality is surfacing match by match. The Brazilian wasn’t able to connect the lines of Gattuso’s team but that is also expected to happen in the future.
Above, you can see two Cagliari’s defenders totally unaware of Paqueta behind their backs allowing him to position himself after Calabria’s cross into the box. A horrendous error by Cagliari and a minute of inspiration by Calabria and Paqueta was enough to resolve the match.
Problems with Piatek fitting in Milan
“Paqueta and Piatek? They are two important players. However, it’s too early to judge the Brazilian. We’ll have to let him play and settle down. Piatek, on the other hand, I’ve seen him score from the start of the season, he’s impressive. Hopefully, he won’t stop scoring,” said Dejan Savicevic, a true San Siro legend, not so long ago.
And he was totally right – hopefully, Piatek won’t stop scoring.
Milan are not a well-balanced team when it comes to fluidity in passing or opening halfspaces and that is becoming a real problem for Gattuso’s side. It’s not a bad idea to play long balls to Piatek, but it’s not normal to do that when you have Suso and Calhanoglu on two sides. Both of them are more then capable of creating the goalscoring opportunities for Piatek if given support from the midfield.
The situation that you can see above is something that really shouldn’t be happening due to all the commodities of Milan’s squad mentioned in the last paragraph. Also, as soon as Suso comes that low that he has to play long balls on target man, Milan has a big problem.
Above you can see him isolated from Milan’s midfield and that was the case for most of the match. Gattuso probably hopes for Paqueta to be the man that can connect the lines and allow Milan to start playing free-flowing attacking football but that will take some time. And until then, Bakayoko will be the one suffering, as he has to take more responsibilities in creating Rosonerri’s game making his work in defence a lot heavier.
The race for the top four in Serie A is beginning to heat up, and with Atalanta, Roma and Lazio all winning, Milan knew that they needed nothing less than three points from this one to put them back in the driving seat.
They not only won the game, but they did so in convincing style. January signings Paqueta and Piatek appear to have breathed new life into I Rossoneri, adding an extra dynamic that was previously missing in the earlier stages of the season.
Gennaro Gattuso’s men are hitting a good run of form at just the right time and, with so many sides struggling for consistency this season, it may only take a few more wins for them to cement their spot in the Champions League places.
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