In the opening fixture for the 2020/21 Serie A season, AC Milan hosted Bologna. The first-date of Serie A had a very interesting duel for tactical analysis. When these two sides last faced each other in July, Milan dominated the game throughout, winning convincingly 5-1.
This match also did not differ much from the previous; AC Milan led the match from the start and scored a comfortable two-goal victory for the brilliant Swedish Ibrahimovic the 38-year-old at the start of the Serie A this season.
This tactical analysis breaks down the tactics of the match between Milan and Bologna. With the use of match footage and data, this analysis unpacks what happened in Milan’s 2-1 win over Bologna.
AC Milan started the match with 4-2-3-1: Gianluigi Donnarumma: Davide Calabria, Simon Kjær, Matteo Gabbia, Theo Hernandez, Ismaël Bennacer, Franck Kessié, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Samu Castillejo, Ante Rebić: Zlatan Ibrahimović.
David Calabria appeared as a right-back after Andrea Conte was dismissed with a knee injury. Simon Kjær and Matteo Gabbia is the centre-backs to further harmony between the brilliant defence duo, and the brilliant Frenchman Theo Hernandez as left-back, with Franck Kessié and Ismaël Bennacer recently impressing and playing well alongside each other, and the attack was led by Swedish superstar Ibrahimovic.
Bologna (4-2-3-1): Lukasz Skorupski: Ł. Skorupski, L. De Silvestri, Danilo, T. Tomiyasu, M. Dijks, J. Schouten, N. Domínguez, R. Orsolini, R. Soriano, Musa Barrow, R. Palacio.
With Takehiro Tomiyasu out due to a hamstring injury, we saw L. De Silvestri as right-back, the 22-year-old Japanese, T. Tomiyasu, appeared next to Danilo as the centre-backs and the attack was led by the 38-year-old, veteran Argentine player R. Palacio.
AC Milan building up
AC Milan relied on a 4-2-3-1 system throughout the match from start to the end, with Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié playing as a midfield duo against defensive duo Simon Kjær and Matteo Gabbia. Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié exchange their descent into the defensive zones of Milan in the stages of building up.
AC Milan relied in building up on the descent of Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié to the defensive areas of Milan until the players in the centre of the Bologna stadium were pulled with them, leaving an area in the middle of the field in which Hakan Çalhanoğlu would move when passing the ball towards the pressure-free full-back, or Ibrahimovic moves to areas without pressure until he receives the ball.
Ibrahimović often drops deep to win the ball, in order to bring his teammates into the attacking phase and slow down play to allow Milan to control their options. Below you can see a pass map of AC Milan players; it shows the tendency of the Milan players to pass a lot towards the right and left sides towards both full-backs.
Here, for example, what we mentioned about Ibrahimovic moving away from the pressing structures on the right side, then receiving the ball and passing it quickly to Samu Castillejo, and then moving deep into the field until he receives the ball again in more dangerous areas in front of Bologna’s goal, but this ball passed a little further from the goal.
AC Milan’s defensive structure and transitions
AC Milan’s defensive structure when not on the ball typically starts within the opposition’s final third. They are looking to press hard and logically in areas frequented by their opponents in order to get the ball back as quickly as possible, where the pressure from the opponent’s advanced areas is prevented from completing the attack, and the transition begins from defence to attack, this often done through quick, intelligent and energetic players such as Ante Rebić and Hakan Çalhanoğlu.
Below an example of the pressure process on the Bologna player who advanced with the ball and then passed the ball to Hakan Çalhanoğlu, who played it to Ibrahimovic on the opportunity to achieve the third goal.
Here is another example of the pressure of Milan players from the advanced areas in the opponent’s field, Here, A. Saelemaekers, who replaced Samu Castillejo from advanced regions, pressed and passed the ball to Ibrahimovic who shot the ball away from the goal after dribbling the goalkeeper.
AC Milan’s attacking structure
AC Milan depends on the good spread and high number of Milan players in the advanced areas of the opponent’s court to create spaces on the left side in which Ante Rebić moves freely away from the pressing structures. As Milan relied on the left side in this match, and Ante Rebić was the key to playing with his moves on the left side, as xG report shows for this match.
Below is the xG report for the match, which shows the tendencies of Milan players to play from the left side, where Milan players created 17 chances to score at a rate of 42%, while the second percentage, which is 38%, is for the chances realised from the depth that Ibrahimovic created.
Here, for example, for this offensive situation, which was repeated a lot over the 90 minutes, where Franck Kessié passed the ball to Hakan Çalhanoğlu on the left side, and Hakan Çalhanoğlu ( formerly of Bundesliga side Bayern Leverkusen) had two options to pass either, Ante Rebić, moving from the left side. Or for Zlatan Ibrahimović, who already passed the ball to him in more dangerous areas of the Bologna goal.
In the footage of the first goal that came from the same moves for the Milan players, where the ball was at the brilliant left-back Theo Hernandez (formaly of La Liga side Real Madrid) he also had two options, either passing to Ante Rebić, the advanced from the left side, or playing the air ball for the Swedish star Ibrahimovic, which is what really happened, as the Swedish star (the 38-year-old) took advantage of his 195cm height to score the first goal from a wonderful header to the left of Bologna goalkeeper Lukasz Skorupski.
Bologna’s defence structure and transitions
Defensively, Bologna’s typically structure themselves in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They also depend on late pressure on Milan players and luring them with the ball into the defensive areas, then pressing as one piece, but this pressure was weak in most cases so that Milan players could get out of these pressure structures easily.
Here is a clear example of the gentle pressure of the Bologna players on the Milan players. Where the Milan players managed to get the ball out towards the spaces behind the Bologna players and Samu Castillejo managed to escape from the pressure structures and received the ball in the space behind the Bologna players.
Bologna players did not complete many attacks, but they were able to escape from the midfield players of the Milan team and exploit the transitions very well from the depth of the field as shown in the report of the match xG, where the Bologna players made 18 achieved chances to score from the depth of the field by 66% as shown below in xG report.
Here is an example of what we have mentioned. Where Musa Barrow was able to get the ball from the midfielders of Milan and pass it quickly forward to pose a great danger to the Milan goal, but it ended on the side of the goal.
The Milan players played a great game, both technically and tactically, by this, the team was able to win by scoring the first three points of the team’s season in Serie A 2020/21.
The Milan team was complete on time as they were able to possess the ball most of the match and create many opportunities to score from the sides or from the depth of the field through the shining of the 38-year-old Swedish star Ibrahimovic, who scored the two goals of the match.
On the other hand, the Bologna players were not on time, as they wasted many of the few opportunities they had, and the match ended with two goals in favour of AC Milan.