Marco Giampaolo’s Milan secured a vital win at Genoa to start what they hope will be a run of better results than the first six games had yielded. In a tough Serie A game, goals from Theo Hernandez and Franck Kessié turned the game around and gave Milan a 2-1 win. This tactical analysis will look at the tactics used by both sides, focussing on Milan’s build-up play, Genoa’s pressing, and Milan’s largely impressive defending.
Aurelio Andreazzoli fielded a Genoa side that looked very much like the ones they have done in the opening matches. The only surprise was the inclusion of the Croatian wing-back Marko Pajač on the left wing.
Giampaolo, however, changed from his normal 4-3-1-2 into a 4-3-3 in which Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura started either side of Krzysztof Piątek in the attack. At the back, Léo Duarte started alongside Alessio Romagnoli at centre-back.
Tactical analysis: Milan’s defending
Under Giampaolo, Milan deploy a positional defence where space and the position of the ball are prioritised above marking opponents. They defended very well against Genoa and largely kept the home side’s possession in areas where Milan were happy for them to have the ball. Giampaolo always wants his team to cut off central access for the opposition and we saw signs against Genoa that he is making this team his own.
In the image below, we can see Milan’s defensive setup. They defended and attacked in a 4-3-3 rather than their normal 4-3-1-2 Giampaolo prefers, yet his principles remained. Milan defended narrowly, which forced Genoa to the wings and allowed Milan to dominate centrally. Additionally, Milan’s defensive shape was usually very compact and difficult to play through.
In the next image below, we can clearly see how narrow and compact Milan’s defensive shape was. The distances between the lines were good, largely due to the Milan defenders’ excellent maintaining of the defensive line. They weren’t afraid to step up and comprise the space Genoa could have potentially exploited between the lines, and therefore allowed Milan to keep a perfect defensive line and an overall excellent defensive shape.
It is still early in Giampaolo’s reign at Milan, but one thing that already stands out in Milan’s play is the positioning of the back-four. By his own account, Giampaolo sees this as paramount to the success of his team. Therefore, he reportedly makes this aspect the priority of his early sessions at a new club. At Milan, this has been implemented very well.
As mentioned, Giampaolo uses a positional defensive approach and the best place to start looking for this is how his back-four acts out of possession. They always push up to keep as high a line as possible and the distances between the four defenders are excellent. A crucial aspect of their positioning is how they set up their feet. They should always be prepared to move in any direction, which is extremely important when keeping a high line in order to be able to deal with balls in behind the defensive line.
In the image below, we can clearly witness Giampaolo’s work with the defenders. All four of them are facing sideways, prepared to move in any direction. They also maintain a perfect defensive line and are quite high to minimise the space between the lines.
Genoa’s pressing and the attacking role of Ghiglione
Genoa have been a great team to watch so far this term, even though they haven’t been getting the results their performances have sometimes warranted. One major part of their philosophy under Andreazzoli is their extremely aggressive man-orientated pressing. They didn’t change against Milan, other than tweaking their defensive setup to a 5-2-1-2 to better deal with Milan’s deep-lying midfielder Lucas Biglia.
As we can see in the image below, each Genoa player has a direct responsibility to mark a Milan player to stop the visitors from successfully building from the back. This pressing approach is aggressive, energetic, and extremely difficult to play against. Therefore, it was no surprise to see Milan struggle in the early stages of the first half.
Below is another example of Genoa’s aggressive man-orientated pressing in Milan’s half. Milan were often forced to go long or play risky passes to their full-backs in the early stages as Genoa really troubled them, and they prevented Milan from finding any passing rhythm.
As we’ll explore later, Milan did eventually manage to find some interesting solutions to this press, especially after the substitute Davide Biraschi was sent off for the home side. Instead, I will now look at how Genoa often managed to bypass Milan’s press.
With Genoa using a back-three and Milan setting up with three in their attack, both sides were evenly matched when Genoa looked to build from the back. Their respective setups allowed Milan to have natural access to Genoa’s three central defenders. However, due to the positional nature of Milan’s defence, Genoa found a lot of space on their right. The right wing-back Paolo Ghiglione was often unmarked as Milan’s left-back Hernandez kept his position in line with the other defenders. With Bonaventura pressing Genoa’s right-sided centre-back Cristian Romero, Ghiglione was free.
We can see this in the image below as the ball is played into Ghiglione, who has plenty of space. Bonaventura (yellow) has been bypassed and so has Milan’s press leaving Genoa to progress the ball.
Below is another situation as Romero plays it into Ghiglione when Bonaventura steps up to press the centre-back. This was an easy way for Genoa to progress the ball when Milan had closed off the centre, but they should have made more of it. Now, Milan were vindicated since they had allowed that space, but if Genoa would have used it better, Milan might have seen themselves punished for granting Genoa so much space in the wide areas.
Milan’s build-up play
As mentioned earlier, Milan struggled with Genoa’s aggressive pressing, yet also managed to find some smart solutions to the press. These solutions were very “Giampaolo” and suggests that his influence in possession is also growing.
Giampaolo wants his team to provoke pressure from the opponent and, when it comes, quickly play through it with short-passing combinations. Milan tried and succeeded to provoke pressure against Genoa, with the scene highlighted below being one of the best examples. Firstly, José Reina plays the ball into Hakan Çalhanoğlu, provoking Lasse Schöne to press.
As Çalhanoğlu plays the ball back to Reina, Schöne continues the press. This means Çalhanoğlu is now unmarked behind Genoa’s first wave of pressure. Reina calmly passes the ball to Romagnoli.
In the third and final image, Romagnoli breaks the press by passing into Çalhanoğlu, who can turn and progress the ball for Milan.
Another common method Milan used is Giampaolo’s classic third-man combination. This is a trademark move of Giampaolo’s teams and it was very successful against Genoa. The image below highlights one occasion when it was used. Here, Genoa are down to ten men and Romagnoli uses Çalhanoğlu to free Biglia in midfield.
In the situation below, Romagnoli again plays a straight pass into Çalhanoğlu who lays it off for Kessié. The Ivorian is facing forward and can continue the attack.
In the final example, Davide Calabria plays the ball into Rafael Leão who instantly lays it off to Kessié. The pass from the Portuguese was misplaced on this occasion but the intent of what Milan tried to do was clear.
This Milan is still not a Giampaolo team in possession, but there are aspects of what they are doing that suggests that there is progress. The third-man combinations and Milan’s attempts to provoke, and beat, pressure are such aspects.
Milan will be delighted with the win since another defeat would have made the pressure on Giampaolo almost untenable. This performance suggests that Milan are still a work in progress, but at least they are moving in the right direction. With more games and training sessions together with Giampaolo, Milan will be a much better team. As for Genoa, their analysis will show that they played somewhat well but that they failed to get something from the game, again. Despite a bright start, they are now at the foot of the table but, if their board has learned anything from Andreazzoli’s season at Empoli last year, they should stick with their coach.
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