With just five games left to play for many Serie A sides this season following the resumption of play, both teams have shown contrasting form since returning. AC Milan are unbeaten in 8 games (including their cup draw against Juventus, which they lost on away goals from the first leg), whilst Parma have lost four of their last five Serie A games.
Parma looked to use this game to upset the odds and return to form, whilst AC Milan looked to continue their good form since the resumption and climb up the table, challenging Roma and Napoli in the race for a place in the Europa League group stages, with Champions League football almost certainly out of question now.
In this tactical analysis, I will be observing the tactics of Stefano Pioli and Roberto D’Aversa in their recent Serie A game, with AC Milan eventually coming from behind to win 3-1 following some fantastic individual performances. This analysis will look at both teams on and off the ball and what worked and did not work for both sides.
AC Milan (4-2-3-1): Gianluigi Donnarumma: Theo Hernandez, Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjær, Andrea Conti: Franck Kessié, Lucas Biglia: Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Giacomo Bonaventura, Rafael Leão, Zlatan Ibrahimović
With Mateo Musacchio continuing to be out injured, Kjaer continues at centre back alongside the captain, Romagnoli. Saelemaekers was suspended for this game and it was expected Paquetá would replace him at right wing, so it would be a surprise to see Leão start at right wing for this game, if it weren’t for a late injury to Paquetá. Milan went into this game as favourites but were aware of Parma’s strong attacking play.
Parma (4-3-3): Luigi Sepe: Matteo Darmian, Simone Iacoponi, Bruno Alves, Riccardo Gagliolo: Jasmin Kurtić, Gastón Brugman, Alberto Grassi: Gervinho, Andreas Cornelius, Dejan Kulusevski
Whilst Cornelius was carrying an injury before this game, he managed to start up front, with Juraj Kucka being a potential replacement as a false nine, although Roberto Inglese was also an option. Whilst Parma are going through a largely inconsistent period of play, managing a mid-table finish is decent for this side. They looked to use their effective attacking play which has given them decent and surprising results this season.
Both sides struggled to find attacking quality
Throughout the game, both sides struggled to find the attacking impetus and quick thinking in their attacking play to inspire goalscoring opportunities. AC Milan have looked to use effective possession football to put pressure on teams under Pioli and the tactics he uses, using a short passing play system, often started through possession being won back by their defensive midfielders, often Kessié and Bennacer. They would have aimed to use this passing play to play the ball into the Parma half, enjoying controlling the game when in the opposition half throughout the Serie A season.
One area in which is instantly a potential issue for Parma in this game is the fact they are not aggressive off the ball, and this could be a weakness when AC Milan continue to play the ball in their half and with short, and potentially frustrating, passing play. However, Parma are comfortable in their own half more often than not, making it a difficult game for Milan. Whilst Milan found themselves in the opposition half through quick passing play, they often struggled to find that finishing touch and finish, as shown in the figures below.
A sharp and well-placed long pass to Ibrahimović as shown in the first figure, provided Ibrahimović with the opportunity to play in Çalhanoğlu, who was making a strong attacking run towards Ibrahimović and was provided with space due to a gap created in the defence by Ibrahimović when collecting the long-range pass. The second figure shows Ibrahimović using his quick and decisive attacking quality to play Çalhanoğlu in. However, this opportunity lead to nothing.
Parma, on the other hand, struggled to create effective goalscoring opportunities, being unable to find Cornelius (often found through long balls due to his stature and heading ability) and the other forward players often in the game. A key reason for this was a lack of vision from the passing players but also a lack of concentration from the attacking players and awareness of the positions they needed to take to find a goalscoring opportunity.
This is shown in the figure below, with a Parma player attempting to play to the ball over the Milan players and into a significant gap on the left side of the pitch. However, the Parma players, including Kulusevski, were too slow to respond to this, again leading to nothing. They have also looked to attack consistently down the right, with Kulusevski being their star player this season, earning him his move to Juventus in January, returning on loan to Parma for the rest of the season.
Defensive error leads to Parma taking the lead
A key issue that continues for Milan is the individual mistakes and defensive errors made by their side. This was showcased very clearly when Parma took the lead in this game just before half time, with a tidy finish by Kurtić, as shown in the figures below.
In the first figure, we see a Parma player break into the opposition box, and they spot the run made by Kurtić. Romagnoli, however, does not recognise this run, instead concentrating too much on the ball, and his lack of awareness led to a tidy, yet simple finish for Kurtić. These lapses in concentration and lack of awareness are what can lose you games in some cases, and Romagnoli will be glad that his side were able to find goalscoring opportunities to bring them back into the game, in particular his own opportunity to do so.
Parma’s weakness in defending set-pieces shows
Parma have struggled to defend set-pieces throughout this season, and Milan were able to effectively capitalise on this in this game. Romagnoli, whose earlier lapse of concentration caused his side to fall behind, was in a great position to put his side into the lead, following a brilliant individual effort to equalize from Kessié, finding the net with an excellent long-range effort, a characteristic often showcased by the players picked in this Milan side, with specialists such as Ibrahimović and Çalhanoğlu key to this.
As shown in the figures above, whilst Parma had many players back and players who were effectively marking the Milan players, they were unable to prevent Romagnoli from finishing well with a well-taken header. This redemption allowed Milan to push on to consolidate their lead, and they finished off the scoring with a well-taken finish from Çalhanoğlu.
Whilst Parma are often good at defending their lead in games this season, they were unable to prevent AC Milan, who succeeded through impressive attacking play from Çalhanoğlu and Ibrahimović, to name a few. AC Milan seemed to dominate the game in terms of chances. However, for a while they did not find that cutting edge and extra bit of quality to find the back of the net, which continued even after going a goal down, with Parma capitalising on a defensive error.
However, this continued attacking intensity, perhaps increased by going a goal down against the run of play, pushing them towards a comfortable victory. Milan will look to use this victory to push forward with their attempts to secure European football, whilst Parma will hope the improve their recent form and secure some points before this delayed season ends.