AC Milan were one-upped by San Siro co-tenants and Serie A leaders Inter Milan in the first Derbi di Milano of the season by two goals on Saturday, as Milan slipped to 11th on the table while Inter maintains their 100% start to the campaign as well as their position as league leaders.
Second-half goals from Marcelo Brozovic and Romelu Lukaku secured the win for Inter who deserved their victory and Marco Giampaolo’s side can count themselves lucky to have only conceded two goals versus a brilliant Inter side who could have made the result even worse in the final stages, as Matteo Politano struck the woodwork with a wonderful effort after being set up by Lukaku and Antonio Candreva hit the post.
Both coaches were playing in their first derby of the season. For Inter coach Antonio Conte, the derby victory was a sign that his approach is beginning to work while Milan coach Giampaolo had fielded a team that looked inexperienced.
Milan haven’t had the start they expected to the season, and after the tough derby loss against Inter, the pressure is on Giampaolo to turn things around. However, in the first four games, there haven’t been many positive signs to build on. Here are five things you may have missed while seething at the performance of I Rossoneri during the match.
#1 Milan have only scored ONE goal from open play this season.
Last season, Milan had one of their players in the top four highest goalscorers in the Serie A. This season, they have only scored two goals and only was scored one goal from open play in this season – the goal against Brescia on opening day scored by Hakan Calhanoglu.
In other words, there is a lot to think about for Giampaolo, who is in desperate need of improvement as two games will be played this upcoming week. Even though it’s early, the feeling is that Milan need all six points to bounce back.
The Italian tactician arrived with the expectation that he would change the style of play and brand of football played by the Rossoneri, and there were some positive signs in pre-season. But, after two wins and two defeats in his first four Serie A games in charge coupled with the disturbing fact that the attack is almost dead, the patience of fans at the club is beginning to be tested.
#2 Giampaolo’s rookie mistakes
Giampaolo did not start the right players for this match.
Lucas Biglia and Calhanoglu are names the fans like to see on the team sheet, but they were not just the right fit for this match. They were poor for Milan for very long stretches of the game. Biglia lost the ball all too often, couldn’t help recycle attacks, and – for the role of holding midfielder to which he was assigned – did badly in providing the cover which his defenders needed.
Calhanoglu is a substitute level player at this juncture. Since his signing in 2017/18 by Milan from Bayer Leverkusen, he has not been his best. He has shone in some matches, but overall he has not been the Hakan Calhanoglu that the world was introduced to at Leverkusen. He is chaotic in terms of build-up ability; only effective if play doesn’t slow down and Milan have to take defensive shape. He cannot pick up the ball and start attacks but is a good resource to have when going forward. Calhanoglu could be a fine trequarista, instead, Suso keeps being played in that position and the natural left-winger, though versatile, finds himself drifting wide often when he needs to make movements off the ball, leading to the middle being porous and disorganised.
Giampaolo’s system needs a dominant holding midfielder who can pass and link up well enough with his trequartista. Biglia is just not that midfielder. And Giampaolo needs to start playing his new signings more, especially Ismael Bennacer, who fits well into that role in which he used Biglia on Saturday.
#3 The light IN the tunnel
Giampaolo cannot fail if he knows what he’s doing. His bench is solid; his new signings are also good enough to pose a genuine title threat, and we saw signs of this in the substitutions he made.
Theo Hernandez was fantastic in his debut and created a chance all by himself which hit the woodwork. His offensive runs were full of danger, and if given an opportunity, he could make the left-back role his own and bring a whole new dimension which Ricardo Rodriguez can’t offer Milan right about now. He offers more urgency and intensity off the ball to win back possession higher up the pitch while he provides a dangerous attacking threat down the left flank with energy and technical quality. It’s now a case of gaining match fitness and it’s difficult to see how the 21-year-old doesn’t cement his place in the starting 11.
However, Giampaolo never wants both fullbacks to go up the field, and typically the right-back is the one that tracks forward, so this may prove a problem for Hernandez who excels in defending from the front.
Lucas Paqueta replaced Calhanoglu and did well in the middle of the park for Milan, eventually being crucial to most of their offensive forays into the Inter penalty area, earning a 6.6 rating in just 36 minutes as opposed to the 6.5 which Calhanoglu got from his underwhelming performance (via SofaScore). Had he started, there is no telling how good he could have been because slowly, he became less crucial to the team’s build-up due to the team becoming frustrated.
#4 Inter still don’t have a good partner for Lukaku
This did not matter much in the game but it’s something Milan fans can hope Conte doesn’t fix in his Inter squad anytime soon so that their biggest rivals do not get the bragging rights over them this season.
Lukaku’s link-up play has improved under Conte and he did a lot of the dirty work which modern strikers are required to do. However, playing with Lautaro Martinez made him focus more on the dirty work than being the actual out-and-out striker which Conte needs him to be, and it was not until Lautaro was substituted for Matteo Politano that Lukaku began playing in his role.
The problems this could cost Conte later in the season are potential banter material for Milan fans in social media squabbles, forums, and discussions.
#5 Rafael Leao is Really Good
Rafael Leao has certainly staked his claim for a more prominent role in the coming weeks. After making a promising impression against Inter including some impressive runs and excellent display of skills, he has proven to be a spark that the club can fan into a flame as the season goes on.
What he was able to do against Danilo D’Ambrosio was very impressive, and he created a strong chance. His run on the chance that Suso selfishly took was smart because he keeps himself wide and then narrows late on in his movement. Leao made sure he stayed wide, ensuring that D’Ambrosio made a marking selection and inadvertently took the Inter Man out of the game. Leao also found himself in acres of space, even though he was not put to use often.
However and most importantly, he’ll need to add a consistent end product to stay in the side, but his pace, directness, and movement give Milan another dynamic and crucial option.
Giampaolo could find himself facing the sack if the performance of Milan in the next three games doesn’t improve, per Calciomercato, especially in the attacking department. There is not much only because Giampaolo has been stubborn and naive in his team selections thus far. The boys are gearing to go and if the manager isn’t willing to do the needful, there’s a problem.