The 34th round of Serie A faced two teams that are currently each other’s biggest rivals. Torino FC and AC Milan met in the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in a key duel to secure the last place that leads to Champions League football next season. With Juventus already the champion, the attention in Serie A is now focused on the spots that qualify teams for the European Cups. This was a definitive match for the future of both teams for the 2019/2020 season.
The following tactical analysis will show how Torino was able to beat Milan who played very conservatively in a very frictional match where both coaches prioritized tactics before anything else. In the end, Il Toro was able to implement their idea of play and overcome a very poor Rossoneri side.
The home team, Torino, used their usual three players as centre-backs. In front of the backline were four midfielders, with two interiors and two wingers. Saša Lukić played as an attacking midfielder and had the function of being the team’s creative one. The strikers were Andrea Belotti and Alex Berenguer. In other words, Walter Mazzarri used a 3-4-1-2 system.
With this system, the coach’s intention was to have one more line than Milan to generate numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch. The middle of the pitch, however, was the key in this match. Torino varied their formation during several passages of the match and also played with a 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 system. Both systems were used in different contexts. The 3-5-2 was used when Torino did not have the ball, as Lukić was located in the middle of the midfielders line. The 3-4-3 was used as the attacking function because the idea was always to attack with several players to worry Milan’s backline.
On the other hand, Milan initially went out to play with a 4-3-3 as their system. This way of accommodating the players has been the most used by the coach, Genaro Gatusso, throughout the season. However, for this match, he made several changes in the initial formation. Mateo Musacchio, the centre-back, played in place of Colombian Cristian Zapata. Musacchio was paired up with Alessio Romagnoli and Lucas Paquetá played as an interior midfielder in the position where Hakan Çalhanoğlu usually plays. Çalhanoğlu played as a left-winger in this match. Patrick Cutrone played as a striker and Suso played as a right-winger.
The idea of these changes in Milan was to give more management to the match in the middle of the pitch. With the entrance of the Brazilian Paquetá playing near Çalhanoğlu, Milan had a good tandem between these two players. Thus Tiémoué Bakayoko would have more possibilities to pass the ball when he was trying to give progression to the team from deep. When Milan didn’t have the ball the system changed to 4-4-2. That is to say, two lines of four players to close the routes for Torino.
Pressure on all players
The main characteristic of this Torino directed by Walter Mazzarri is the intensity with which they put pressure on the team from the front. This match was no exception. Torino pressed the whole match and Milan could not get out of that chokehold. Torino’s first idea was to press the first line, or rather, to press Milan’s centre-backs and force Gianluigi Donarumma to play long balls.
Belotti and Berenguer were in charge of bearing down on Romagnoli and Mussachio during the whole match. Both centre-backs always had a Torino player by their side to prevent them from playing. That intensity speaks of a very good physical condition from Torino players. It’s not easy to apply pressure like that throughout the match.
In addition to pressuring the centre-backs, the Torino players pressed all the Milan players across the whole pitch. Every player in Torino knew exactly who to chase. This shows that Walter Mazarri’s research during the week before the match paid off.
Not only was Torino responsible for pressing Milan’s back-line, but also pressing in all sectors of the pitch. Milan could never jump lines playing the ball on the ground. The only way was by kicking long balls at the three players furthest away. This is why Paquetá and Çalhanoğlu could never get together in the match. The tandem between them never existed because of the good pressure from Torino.
Torino reduce spaces
Another of the characteristics from this Torino was to force Milan to always play in their spaces inside the pitch. In other words, Torino had the idea of playing in certain sectors of the pitch and Milan fell into the trap. That lead to Torino almost always having a numerical superiority against their opponents.
At times, all the players were seen piled up leaving several sectors of the pitch very free. This was no coincidence. Torino did a job of reducing spaces for Milan to feel enclosed. This worked so that Milan did not have width and the full-backs could never meet the wingers.
For that reason when Torino didn’t have the ball, they formed a compact shape on purpose because the players knew that the ball was going to fall in that specific sector of the pitch. In this way, the external lanes were totally free, but unusable because the game was happening in different areas. The width of the court could not be exploited by Milan.
The transition from defence to attack
The pressure exerted by Torino and the reduction of spaces had a purpose: to recover the ball quickly. After recovering the ball came the transition from defence to attack. That is to say, to quickly pass the half of the court with several players.
Thanks to the fast transitions Torino attacked Milan with many players. Cristian Ansaldi and Lorenzo De Silvestri constantly accompanied the play and that meant there was width in the attack of Torino. This also meant that Milan’s back-line always had a Torino player on top of it.
Milan fail to execute their plan
The first thing Milan tried to do in the match was to start the build-up with their back-line, but could not do so because of the pressure from Torino. Due to this, the midfielders were the ones who had to go deep to receive a pass from Donarumma to try to come out from the bottom with the ball at their feet. Bakayoko, as the only defensive midfielder, was sacrificed the most. In addition, Paquetá and Franck Kessié also constantly approached the centre-backs. Milan had to play very close to Donarumma and this made the distance between the lines very big.
The idea was to use Bakayoko, Paquetá, and Kessié to make a triangle in the middle of the pitch. Paquetá and Kessié were the interior midfielders to connect with the strikers. Bakayoko behind and Paquéta and Kessié ahead of the French player.
Stifling Torino’s game
Milan tried to stop Torino the only real way they could: by committing fouls. The team led by Gatusso was frustrated inside the pitch to find no space. That resulted in losing the ball very quickly and to try to recover it, the players ended up committing many fouls.
Milan has an average of 10.91 fouls per game in the total of the whole season in all the competitions they had played. That is, Serie A, Europa League, and Copa Italia. In this match, Milan committed 22 fouls, twice their total average. In addition, their total average of yellow cards for the entire season is two, but in this game, six players saw the yellow card. Also, there was a red card. Very strong play on the part of those led by Gatusso.
The fight to occupy the last place in the table that gives out a Champions League spot next season is better than ever. Evidently, Torino’s triumph in this match makes things even closer.
With this victory, Torino ranks sixth in Serie A with 56 points and occupies the last place in the Europa League standings. It is the first time in the season that Torino managed to climb all the way up to a position that leads to European football. Their four remaining matches are against Juventus, Sassuolo, Empoli, and Lazio.
The most difficult matches for them will definitely be against Juventus and Lazio. Against Juventus, it will be the famous Derby di Torino or Derby della Mole, as it is also known. The match against Lazio will be between teams that also fight for the same objective and against an opponent that is only one point from them.
In that regard, Milan should be more concerned, as they fell from the positions that give a place into the European cups. With this defeat, Gatusso’s team is currently in the seventh position with 56 points but with a worse head-to-head ratio. The four remaining matches for Milan are against Bologna, Fiorentina, Frosinone, and SPAL. In theory, it is an easy calendar, because they are teams that are not fighting for anything. The problem for Milan is the inconsistency in their performances throughout of the season. Their main objective is to qualify for the Champions League, but if they continue playing like this, it could be very difficult to salvage the season.