As we approach the end of the Serie A season, both teams are looking to end the season on a high after relatively solid campaigns for both sides. AC Milan are now unbeaten in 9 games as they look to extend this good form and solidify their place in the table and a place in next year’s Europa League. Bologna have impressed with their performances this season and sit comfortably in mid-table going into this game.
In this tactical analysis, I will be observing the tactics of Stefano Pioli and Siniša Mihajlović in this Serie A game, with AC Milan coming out clear winners in an emphatic 5-1 win, with key players such as Hakan Çalhanoğlu and former Arsenal player Ismaël Bennacer again showing fine form in an impressive team display. This analysis will look to analyse both teams with and without possession and what clearly worked so well for Milan, and not for Bologna.
AC Milan (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Donnarumma: Theo Hernandez, Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjær, Davide Calabria: Franck Kessié, Ismaël Bennacer: Ante Rebić, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Alexis Saelemaekers: Zlatan Ibrahimović
Saelemaekers returns to the side following suspension in the last game, replacing Rafael Leão. Bennacer returns to the side in place of Biglia, whilst Rebić comes into the side on the left, with Çalhanoğlu moving into his preferred No.10 position, with Bonaventura coming out of the side and taking a place on the bench. Milan went into the game wary of the comparable tactics displayed by Bologna. They would have looked to take an early advantage to overwhelm this Bologna side.
Bologna (4-2-3-1): Łukasz Skorupski: Mitchell Dijks, Stefano Denswil, Danilo, Takehiro Tomiyasu: Nicolás Domínguez, Andrea Poli: Riccardo Orsolini, Roberto Soriano, Nicola Sansone: Federico Santander
Whilst it was expected Tomiyasu would return at centre-back, he continues at right-back for the side. It was also expected Orsolini would be given a rest, with Andreas Skov Olsen coming in on the right. However, Orsolini started the game, with Olsen replacing him later on.
With Bologna known for playing intense, attacking football such as the style of football Milan have played under Pioli, they would have hoped to be competitive from the offset again this in-form Milan side to upset the odds. The quality of attacking displays was to be the key difference in this game.
Aggressive, attacking play from both sides
Both sides have become accustomed to aggressive, attacking play through the tactics of both Pioli and Mihajlović. Bologna are a highly aggressive attacking side, and any team playing against them has to try and match this aggressiveness to get anything out of their games. They are known for attacking down the wings through key, attacking players such as Orsolini (8 goals, 5 assists this season) and Sansone. These players are able to create chances and opportunities through their own individual skill.
Bologna like to play possession football and did so in this game, with 50% of the possession. They also focus their attacks down the right, similar to Parma, Milan’s opponents in their previous game, with Orsolini a focal point. They like to play with more width than Milan, using their creative wingers to roam around the wings and central areas to find a breakthrough.
AC Milan have looked to use effective possession football to put pressure on teams under Pioli, using a short, aggressive attacking passing play system, often started through possession being won back by their defensive midfielders, often Kessié and Bennacer. They aimed to use this passing play to counter the effective aggressive play from Bologna, hoping this aggressive and quick, incisive attacking play can be used effectively on the counter, where Bologna are at their weakest.
This quick incisive attacking play was the telling breakthrough for Milan, as shown in the figures below.
In these figures we see Rebić smartly keep the ball, waiting for the incisive run from Hernandez, who finds a gap on the left whilst Rebić distracts the Bologna defender. Hernandez then plays a good ball across the box towards Ibrahimović, but rather than go for goal, he uses his vision and skilful thinking to fake a shot, leaving the Bologna defenders to have to react fast to this. Saelemaekers was also quick to react to this however and found the net with a tidy finish.
This impressive attacking move would’ve given Milan a lot of confidence going into the rest of the game, and maybe left Bologna needing to regroup to avoid Milan breaking through like this again.
Lapse in concentration from both defences
One area in which both sides have struggled with this season is being too prone to defensive errors and drops in concentration when defending in the final third. This was evident from both sides in this game. With Milan 2-1 up going into the second half, Bennacer pressed towards the Bologna box, and the Bologna players were simply not reactive enough to this run. They were not putting on the pressure and aggression that they typically use to win the ball back, which they did so relatively effectively throughout this game, with a passing intensity (PPDA) of 10.2 in comparison to Milan’s 7.3. The figure below shows Bologna’s lapsing in concentration and clearly not having their head in the game as they came into the second half.
Bennacer made a quick, devastating run into Bologna’s final third, and Denswil can be singled out for criticism on this occasion. He wasn’t reacting to the run and instead deciding to fall back, when his fellow defenders would have likely expected him to press Bennacer and at least block the shot in some way. The amount of space for Bennacer to shoot is evident in the final figure.
Milan however, also lapsed in concentration in their defence just before half time, with Tomiyasu being given far too much space to press the Milan defence. This goal was a tidy and well-taken finish from Tomiyasu, but could have prevented had the Milan players not recognised the danger of the run made by Tomiyasu sooner. The figures below showcase this, with Rebić caught ball watching and other Milan players not recognising the need to press and avoid Bologna with the opportunity to get a shot on goal, which they found difficult for the large majority of this game.
Bologna are vulnerable to counter-attacks and find it difficult to get back and defend their goal due to their highly aggressive, attacking play. This is particularly noticeable down the wings, with their play being so focused in the area it leaves them vulnerable, with gaps in their defensive line off the ball. This was specifically notable with Milan’s final goal, as shown in the figures below.
Bologna struggled to get back and defend the counterattack. As shown in the first figure, far too many Bologna players are behind the ball, struggling to keep up with the continuing pace of Milan’s attacking play. This is then highly evident in the second figure, with Bologna again not reacting quickly enough to the accurate passing play of Milan and letting Milan get shots on goal far too often, with 21 shots and 13 on target in this game.
Even with Bologna pressing more intensely, Milan were clearly using their possession more effectively throughout the game, and with an xG of just below 3, in comparison to Bologna’s 0.86, the scoreline is not far off reflective of the final result.
Whilst Bologna looked to get into the game early on, pushing Milan into defensive mistakes, Milan counter pressed and attacked effectively throughout the game, reacting well to Bologna’s aggressive play and finding plenty of opportunities on goal. These opportunities were also more clinical and impressive than previous displays by Milan, with several players putting in impressive showings, particularly Rebić, Çalhanoğlu once again and Bennacer.
Bologna made far too many defensive errors and simply did not get into a good attacking rhythm even with plenty of possession. Milan will look to continue their fine form and solidify their Europa League going into the final few games of the season. Bologna will hope to win a couple of their last games and finish their season in good form following an inconsistent return to action for them.