At Stadio Olimpico in Rome, second-placed Lazio had to win against AC Milan to keep the pace of Serie A leaders Juventus, who were standing seven points above the biancocelesti before kick-off. The rossoneri, in turn, wanted to continue their streak of positive results since the restart (2W 1D) to secure the seventh position in the table, which guarantees access to the qualifying stage of the UEFA Europa League.
This tactical analysis breaks down the tactics of the match between Lazio and Milan. With the use of match footage and data, this analysis unpacks what happened at Stadio Olimpico in Milan’s 3-0 win over Lazio.
While trying to remain undefeated at home in this Serie A season (10W 1D), Lazio could not count on suspended strikers Ciro Immobile, the league’s top-scorer with 29 goals, and Felipe Caicedo, who has eight goals in this 2019/20 Serie A campaign. Manager Simone Inzaghi had to redesign his typical 3-5-2, pushing Luis Alberto on front and pairing him with Lazio’s next best-scorer, Joaquin Correa, who has netted seven goals so far. The role of the holding midfielder was taken up by Lucas Leiva, who had not featured in a Serie A game since February due to injury. He was accompanied by right-sided midfielder and captain Marco Parolo and left-sided midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić. The wings featured Manuel Lazzari on the right and Jony on the left. Thomas Strakosha was in goal, with Patric, Francesco Acerbi and Ștefan Radu forming the back three.
The only big absentee in Milan’s 4-2-3-1 was Samu Castillejo, out with a shoulder injury. In front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, manager Stefano Pioli confirmed the backline of four that featured in the past games: from right to left, Andrea Conti, Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjær and Theo Hernández, who already tallied an impressive five goals as a left full-back this season. Franck Kessié and Ismaël Bennacer were the two midfielders sitting behind Giacomo Bonaventura, January signee Alexis Saelemaekers and Hakan Çalhanoğlu. Zlatan Ibrahimović returned in the starting lineup as a lone striker, forcing Milan’s top-scorer Ante Rebić (eight goals in 17 games) to be sidelined.
Lazio: offensive and defensive struggles
Feeling the pressure from Juventus’s win earlier in the day, Lazio needed a strong start. However, given the absence of Immobile and his natural replacement, Caicedo, Lazio’s offensive plays turned out to lack unpredictability, physical strength and the desire to attack the space in the box during crossing opportunities. The picture below shows an example of one of Lazio’s offensive plays in which neither of the two strikers, Luis Alberto and Correa, occupy the box.
In this game, Luis Alberto, naturally an attacking midfielder who had to adapt to the role of the striker, tended to show underneath instead of providing depth higher up the pitch. His goal was to receive the ball at his feet in the pocket of space between Milan’s defenders and midfielders and then turn and run at the opponent’s defensive line, where his phenomenal passing abilities could make a difference. (He currently leads Serie A in assists with 14.)
Whether this helped Lazio in possession, it also made the play more predictable for the Milan defenders, as they rarely had to worry about the ball being hit over their head. As we can see from the picture below, Luis Alberto would drop deep to receive the pass and was often found on the same line as midfielders Parolo and Milinković-Savić. This behaviour caused Lazio to not be as direct and lethal as they usually have been this season when in possession.
Whether we could expect Lazio to struggle offensively with adapting to the absence of their two top-scorers, the poor defensive performance by the biancocelesti came as a surprise in this game. Although before kick-off they had the second-best defence in the league with only 28 goals conceded, Lazio displayed flawed defensive organization on Saturday.
This pattern is visible in the 19.1 passive per defensive actions conceded by Lazio against Milan, which means that Milan completed an average of 19.1 passes during their build-ups before Lazio were able to win the ball back. This number is significantly higher than Milan’s 9.1 PPDA in this game and the league’s average of 10.1 PPDA per game, and it suggests that the Lazio players were disorganized in their pressing approach.
The picture below shows Lazio pushing high on Milan’s players when they were building out from the back. Technically, Lazio were able to match Milan by going man for man in their pressing. In fact, however, the biancocelesti were often one step late during their pressing moments, and this caused their pressing to often be broken by Milan’s passes.
At the beginning of the second half, Lazio showed a more proactive approach and were able to bring more offensive threats to Milan’s goal. This especially happened in transitional moments, when Lazio were able to isolate their front two strikers with Milan’s two centre-backs, as shown in the picture below. On one of these occasions, Lazzari scored the temporary 2-1 goal, which was later disallowed by VAR due to offside.
Milan: clinical and lucky
Despite attempting fewer shots than Lazio, Milan was more accurate. Out of seven shots, the rossoneri had five on goal, which accounts for 71 percent of the strikes being aimed on target. By contrast, Lazio were only able to hit the target with 22 percent of their total shots (2/9). One of these Milan shots by Çalhanoğlu was deflected and fooled Lazio’s goalkeeper Strakosha, giving Milan the 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute. Eleven minutes later, Ibrahimović converted a penalty kick despite Strakosha being able to get his hand on the ball.
Defensively, Milan sat in a compact block, which lowered after gaining the 1-0 lead. While trying to play out of the back, Milan kept a risk-averse approach. This is visible in the high number of clearances by the rossoneri, 19 specifically, much higher than Lazio’s lone clearance in 90 minutes.
When under strong pressure, Milan used Ibrahimović as the target man that could win offensive aerial duels. When this happened, Ibrahimović, Bonaventura and one of Milan’s wingers (either Saelemaekers or Çalhanoğlu) formed three-versus-three situations with Lazio’s back three, as it occurred in the situation shown below.
Situations of numerical advantage in the offensive third occurred also due to Lazio’s aforementioned defensive disorganization. Right before Rebic’s 3-0 goal in the 59th minute, Milan’s left-back Hernandez drove the ball forward with very favourable numbers, four versus three specifically (left picture), which forced Lazio’s defensive line to make risky decisions. At the end of that play, Rebic was able to score his ninth goal of the season and put the game to bed (right picture).
After Milan’s goal by Rebic, two offensive plays by Hernández almost brought the score to 4-0. The Milan left-back, however, was unable to finish accurately on goal. In the meantime, Inzaghi decided to give some rest to some of his key players, subbing out Milinković-Savić, Correa, Radu and Jony.
Lazio did little offensively while being disorganized and unfocused defensively. Inzaghi’s side appeared tired, a factor that may have cost the biancocelesti the scudetto, since they are now seven points behind Serie A leader Juventus. Milan, in turn, were sharp and clinical. They currently have a streak of four positive results and have made a statement about Europa League ambitions, as they now sit seventh in the table, two points below fifth-placed Roma and four points ahead of eighth-placed Hellas Verona.
Inzaghi’s team will try everything to give Juventus a hard run in the remaining eight games of the season. The head-to-head match will be played on July 20, which could reduce the gap between Juventus and Lazio to four points. Besides that, Lazio have to win all their games and hope for Juventus to slip, which is not impossible given that the bianconeri have to play Atalanta and Milan, two sides who are enjoying strong momentum in Serie A. For AC Milan, securing the Europe league spot will be beneficial with a view to attracting high-profile players for the 2020/2021 Serie A season.