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Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Can Atalanta challenge Milan in their title-defending season? – tactical analysis

None of the big Serie A teams disappointed in the first round of the 2022/23 campaign, including the defending champions AC Milan who won 4-2 against Udinese, despite having a difficult start. Stefano Pioli’s side looked convincing in possession, but a couple of defensive mistakes in the first half put the pressure on them and increased Udinese’s hopes that they could  get something from the game.

The manager didn’t introduce any of the new additions to the starting eleven but did rely on three of the players in the last 15 minutes of the game. Divock Origi, Tommaso Pobega and Charles De Ketelaere all got the chance to contribute to the win and while they didn’t have much time to make an impact, they looked comfortable in Milan’s current set-up.

Their upcoming opponents Atalanta have had a positive start to the season as well. The team earned a 2-0 win over Sampdoria. Despite the clean sheet suggesting that they have performed well defensively, they had some difficulties and the display out of possession was not convincing enough for a team with European football ambitions.

On the other side, their new signing in attack, Ademola Lookman, met the expectations and scored a goal on his debut after being introduced as a substitution for Luis Muriel. Gian Piero Gasperini looked keen to rely on a younger squad and gave a chance to a couple of the loanees that returned to the club, the 20-year-old Caleb Okoli and the 23-year-old Nadir Zortea.

Atalanta hosts AC Milan in the second round with hopes to expose their weaknesses and steal the three points. However, Milan were on the winning side in their last three meetings, with an impressive aggregate score of 7:2, which boosts their confidence for Sunday.

In this tactical analysis, we explain how both teams could expose each other and what tactics should be considered for them to earn a victory.

Expected change in their starting XI’s 

Pioli is expected to rely on rotations in the squad, which is likely to result in including De Ketelaere in the starting lineup against La Dea. Despite Brahim Díaz’s strong performance in the first game, the team needed more edge in the attacking positions, which the Belgian can bring through his progressive runs and ability to hold on to the ball. The youngster scored 18 goals and assisted 10 more in all competitions for Club Brugge last season, demonstrating his composure and ability to dribble past his opponents to deliver the ball to the advanced areas.

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
De Ketelaere’s composure allowed him to deliver the ball to the box despite the pressure.
Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
He then had a few options to finish the attack and showcased his strong decision-making by exploiting the free space on the left.

De Ketelaere could also have a higher impact in front of the goal, as he exploits quality areas in the box more often which results in a higher success rate of his shots. The threat that Díaz provides has more to do with his ability to shoot from a distance, which is indeed helpful, but against Atalanta, Pioli might need a player who can be clinical in the penalty area.

With Franck Kessié’s departure to Barcelona and Sandro Tonali’s absence due to injury, the manager needs to find a new working solution in midfield and while Rade Krunić continues with his unconvincing displays, it is less likely that he will be replaced by Pobega in the starting eleven. The manager might use the new addition in case the Rossoneri need someone to dominate in the air as Atalanta often gain an advantage through their aerial presence in midfield.

With Atalanta, it is also unlikely to see big changes in the starting squad. With some players being sidelined due to injuries Gasperini has more limited options in certain positions. The change that we might see, though, is Lookman being given a starting spot. Muriel wasn’t very effective in their first game, which might open the position for the Nigerian. While Muriel provides a higher threat in front of the goal, Lookman has a better ability to set his teammates up and support their actions. La Dea might need a player who can open spaces for the others against Milan, and the new addition could certainly do so, supporting Duván Zapata’s smart positioning.

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
Lookman’s ability to provide through balls could be very beneficial for Atalanta.

Gasperini is expected to rely on his most experienced players defensively. Their favoured back-three formation combined with their attacking style of play require high awareness off the ball and a strong and tested partnership in defence.

Atalanta should be more convincing in attack

Atalanta under Gasperini has been known for their attacking style of play and smooth movement over the years. However, the team had a significant drop in their efficiency in front of the goal last season as a result of the changes in the starting eleven and the departure of some key players. The same tendency was noticed in their display against Sampdoria.

The team had difficulties reaching the final third and the attackers often got isolated up front. The team lacked creativity centrally and relied on exposing the opposition through the flanks with the left wing-back Joakim Maehle being the main figure in possession. The team stay away from their usual short pass combinations more often, which affects their attacking performance and makes them more predictable.

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
Atalanta have the tendency to spread out to the left side and try to expose the opposition there, especially when the central passing lanes are blocked.

It is expected that they will try to exploit the left flanks against Milan as well due to the absence of Tonali, who was a huge defensive support in these areas and in efforts to force Davide Calabria into mistakes as he has proven to be the weak link for the Rossoneri in terms of defensive interventions.

Maehle is relied on to progress the ball and distribute it further which, combined with Zapata’s smart movement and ability to exploit spaces, might be key for the team in attack. However, they need to find a way to involve the other attacking players as well. Mario Pašalić couldn’t have his usual impact on the game due to often being isolated centrally. Atalanta need to find a way to use his off-the-ball movement and passing abilities to be able to disposition Milan’s centre-backs Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori, who have built a strong partnership centrally.

Milan’s counter-attacking actions will be key 

While Milan have the quality to expose the opposition from open play, their key weapon could be their counter-attacking proficiency. Their pace and smart movement can cause a lot of trouble to Atalanta’s back-three, especially having in mind their highly positioned defensive line.

The team averaged 2.93 counter-attacks per 90 last season, which resulted in them being the most efficient team on a counterattack, scoring nine goals. It is very likely that they can expose La Dea on a counter as well, as the team have struggled with defending speedy attacks where the advanced wing-backs need to quickly return to their position.

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
After being dropped back to help defensively, Leão decided to press high and try to recover the ball as the ball carrier didn’t have any support around.
Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
He managed to recover possession and started a counter-attacking movement along with Giroud who moved off the ball to be able to receive in front of the goal.

The players need to pay attention to any structural disconnection in Atalanta’s lines and use players like Theo Hernández, Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leão to expose them, as they can easily pick up the ball once their teammates recover it and move into the advanced areas.

Atalanta were the Serie A team that conceded the most goals on the counter (10) last term. The involvement of many players in the opposition half and the usually high positioning of the team as a unit often give their opponents the chance to expose them with long balls and pacey attackers.

The team need to be careful with second balls after attacking set-pieces as Milan will make sure to win those and immediately start their attacking movement. La Dea frequently commit defenders in the box during set-pieces as their aerial presence is key in front of the goal. However, this increases the risk of being exposed on a counter and conceding a goal.

Serie A 2022/23 preview: Atalanta vs Milan - tactical analysis tactics
Milan easily exploited Atalanta on a counter in their previous meeting. With Leao’s movement and the team successfully identifying the huge space between the lines, they were able to dismiss the defence with a long ball over the top.

Conclusion

As our analysis showed, both teams will have opportunities to take the lead and it will be a matter of concentration and smart movement to avoid any mistakes and gaps. With the new additions still needing some time to adjust, both managers are expected to rely on their regular starters, but it could be exactly the newcomers that bring something different to the plate and win them the game.