Milan need to sort out their defensive issues

In the first half of last season, Milan were shambolic in defense, conceding ridiculous goals at the wrong place at the wrong time and struggled to make the difference at the other end of the field. Despite winning against AS Roma, there are a few pressing concerns in defense this season.

There were some mitigating factors in the previous year. The infusion of new players and the formation of a new defensive set up. Leonardo Bonucci’s arrival prompted the then manager Vincenzo Montella to opt for a three back because of the defender’s familiarity with that system. Effectively laying the platform for one man.Ricardo Rodríguez, Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli had to adapt to this new organization and in most instances they wilted. Among some of the embarrassing displays were the two zero defeat to Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris and the 4-1 debacle at the hands of Lazio at the Stadio Olympico.

But Milan did improve in the second half of the season after Gennaro Gattuso was installed as the head coach. Gattuso steadied the ship and change the structure of the team to a back four. The Rossoneri conceded 15 goals in 19 games before the end of May 2018. After such improve, you would expect that the Diavolo would demonstrate some level of resilience and reliability at the back, but it hasn’t been the case so far.

The season is just two games old, but there are worrying defensive weaknesses that must be addressed. Milan continue to bleed in defense after shipping in four goals in their first two matches. What is more frustrating is the systemic errors committed by players. The reckless concession of possession in Milan’s half and the inability of players to deal with shots from distance. In the two games against Napoli and AS Roma, we saw how Gattuso’s men struggled against their opponent during set pieces.

A bit of narration.

In the 2-1 win over Roma, the manner in which Milan reacted to Javier Pastore’s conner kick is very telling. Pastore sent the cross into the mixer, hoping to find the height of either Dzeko or Fazio, Gianluigi Donnarumma comes out to parry the ball out, it fall to Stephan El Shaarawy close to the edge of the 18yard box, the little Pharaoh sends in a pass which deflects off the foot of Daniele De Rossi, marked by Mateo Musacchio, the ball gets to Davide Calabria with his arms around Patrik Schick, the young Italian kicks the ball with his weaker foot to Federico Fazio, and the Argentine hits in the rebound to put Roma on level pegging.

Now let’s cast our mind back to the 3-2 defeat at the San Paolo against Napoli. The home side equalized the second goal from a corner kick. Jose Callejon hits the ball in from the left side flag, Tiémoué Bakayoko heads the ball out of the box, which fall to Piotr Zieliński, the Napoli midfielder shoots right from the edge of the 18yard and the ball finds its way into the back of the net.

Dissecting the problem.

Milan are failing to pick up these players who patrol outside the 18yard box. And they are mostly players with the ability to provide an incisive pass to create goal scoring opportunities. In the two instances narrated above, there was no sense of closing down both El shaawary and Zielinski when they received the ball.

The positioning of the defenders when a cross is sent in the box. Given Patrick Schick’s height and strength, it’s quite perplexing to see Calabria trying to put a brake on the Czech International. This should have been the job of Kessie or Bonaventura. Calabria invested his strength in his arm around the Roma forward, weakening his position to attack the ball as precisely as he should.

It must also be noted that Steven Nzonzi’s VAR disallowed goal also resulted from a corner kick.

Milan have a relatively youthful defense with a 19year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma in the post so the lack of experience almost always bites them. It will take time and patience for them to grow strong and mature together.  Gattuso still needs to sort out the best center back partnership for Alesio Romagnoli. Mateo Musacchio is not the most popular in defense whiles Caldara is yet to start a game this season, but could be crucial in redefining the Rossoneri’s defensive identity. He may be the lynchpin in the defense.

Conceding four goals in two games is not the best way to kick start a campaign, It gives opponents confidence when anytime they are on the offensive and set jitters among the defenders. Milan must get the basic rules of defending right.

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