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AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

AC Milan 2022/23: Why AC Milan’s form has nose-dived post-World Cup – scout report

AC Milan suffered yet another big blow to their season last night against Lazio as they were beaten 4-0 in the capital to make it five games without a win. Milan are in free fall and the crisis is getting deeper and deeper.

For Stefano Pioli’s team, it was a January to forget. First came the elimination from the Coppa Italia, then the defeat in the Supercoppa against Inter and now Napoli are 12 points ahead in Serie A.

The collapse that the Diavolo are having is as vertical as it is inexplicable, and it forces Paolo Maldini, Ricky Massara and above all Stefano Pioli to quickly understand what is no longer working, otherwise, the season risks taking a very dangerous turn.

In this tactical analysis, we will take a look at the weaknesses in AC Milan’s game. Additionally in this analysis in form of a scout report, we will figure out why it’s not only because of Stefano Pioli’s tactics.

Squad Depth

Milan signed quite a few youngsters last summer that were meant to show their potential and help the team grow. Well, that plan has failed miserably as none of the signings have been of any use to Pioli with the marquee signing that cost the club north of €30m – Charles De Ketelaere – still yet to prove himself or even contribute at all.

After the match against Lazio, Mike Maignan, Fikayo Tomori, Theo Hernández, Fodé Ballo-Touré, Davide Calabria and Alessandro Florenzi are injured and can’t help the team in defence through the next matches.

The defence that was centred around the Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu pairing has become the weak point of this team. The two centre-backs must rediscover their focus but above all their calmness, which has been lacking since Mike Maignan got injured.

Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer are up and down, likely because they don’t have adequate substitutes that can make them breathe.

Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud were brilliant for France at the World Cup, but the fatigue is now obvious, especially for the striker. At 36 years of age, Giroud should not be playing every game, especially since he played pretty much every game at the World Cup for France. It’s beyond obvious that the Frenchman needs a rest, but Divock Origi doesn’t seem to be up for the task whilst Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still recovering from injury. Hernandez doesn’t seem as tired as we saw some good runs from him and he wasn’t particularly at fault on the goals, but he has been missing that killer instinct lately and it doesn’t help that Rafael Leao has also had a dip in his form after the World Cup.

Rafael Leao has made progress but when Milan go behind, he must know how to take the team on his shoulders as he has shown he can do in the past.

And the management have to take responsibility here because Pioli did an unlikely job by winning the Scudetto with a young and raw team. And to replace a key player such as Franck Kessie, who left for free, the youngsters were clearly never going to be up to the task for this season. With the management not reacting in the transfer market yet, it seems it will be a tough couple of months for Pioli’s coaching team.

Weak Attack

There are so many negatives to draw from the last few matches, but let’s discuss the attack first. Excluding a couple of good individual moments by Leao that led to nothing in particular, Milan’s attack was just slow and lacked ideas.

As already mentioned, Giroud just seems tired. But, Junior Messias didn’t do much better on the right either. Brahim Diaz was also missing excluding a couple of nice turns that in typical fashion for him led to nothing, as his decision-making in the final third let him down.

There weren’t any solutions off the bench either and Pioli will need to get into the head of his players and bring back the fluidity if he doesn’t want the situation to get worse. In the last six matches (all in 2023), AC Milan only managed to score 6 goals in these 6 matches. The average xG per shot has been 0.09.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Out of their last 9 matches, they only won one match against Salernitana. In these 9 matches, they scored 8 goals. This means, that they only score 0.89 goals per 90.

The Backline

AC Milan do not only score less goals, but they also additionally concede too many goals this season. In the last 9 matches, they conceded 22 goals. This means that they concede 2.44 goals per 90. That is way too much for a team competing for the title. Their defence is AC Milan’s biggest problem this season.

Tomori had a drop in form in the second half of 2022 but has gone from bad to worse in 2023 as Milan’s defence has been letting in easy goals every game of the year. The Englishman, in particular, was just not up for it against Inter and was horrific on the third goal where he just allowed Lautaro to do whatever he wished. Kalulu came off the bench this time around and didn’t commit any crucial mistakes, but he couldn’t help the team either. But more importantly, he too has had a dip in form and it might be time for the duo to sit on the bench for a bit.

Kjaer is not the answer. The Dane was in the starting eleven in an attempt by Pioli to bring some stability into the defence, but Kjaer was at fault for the initial goal and, excluding a crucial block on Lautaro, did little to help his team react in any meaningful way. It’s also important to note that the centre-back has been injured for a long period of time and starting him came with a risk even before the game had started. Unfortunately for Pioli, the gamble did not work out.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

So, it might be time to see a bit more from Matteo Gabbia, who had an excellent run of games prior to the World Cup and there is no obvious reason not to play him more at this point in time. His defensive statistics are very good in comparison to other centre-backs in Serie A and especially in comparison to Simon Kjaer’s data in the current season.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Playing into an early trap

Most teams specialise in counterattacks if playing against AC Milan. This means they hurt Milan on the break in transition after winning the ball back thanks to a compact and organised defensive shape.

Milan, on the other hand, are likely to be awarded the lion’s share of the possession and would of course look to progress the play to their danger men while having the midfield double pivot retain territorial superiority.

The Rossoneri find themselves in trouble and often they play straight into a trap. It took less than 10 minutes for Inter’s contain-and-counter plan to bear fruit, with three passes cutting Pioli’s side wide open.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

As seen below, the run of Lautaro Martinez drags Milan’s line slightly deeper while Edin Dzeko drops into the space. The ball infield to the Bosnian comes from Matteo Darmian, who Theo Hernandez has an eye on rather than the run of Nicolo Barella, who is played onside by Simon Kjaer in the end.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The result is that Milan’s last line is quickly breached, and then the spare man on the far side is Frederico Dimarco who is not being tracked by anyone with Davide Calabria tucking inside to watch the run of Lautaro. An easy tap-in results.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

It is a fact that Milan this season have not been as compact. They do not attack as a cohesive unit like they used to, nor do they defend with the same compactness and understanding. Now, they are also walking into obvious traps.

Individual errors

Too often, Milan concede goals after individual errors. What must be pinpointed is how many Milan players are failing to really engage in anything in the defensive effort.

Kjaer has an eye on Lautaro, who throughout the match alternated with Dzeko in terms of dropping in for link-up play. Calabria this time is watching Dimarco, but just off the screenshot, Dzeko makes a run into the very obvious channel that has been created.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

No stress though, because Dzeko isn’t a very agile forward and he is not in a particularly threatening position, right? Plus, Tomori has the run of Lautaro covered, with Kjaer and Theo on their way back to cut out any pull-back, so everything is looking non-threatening.

For whatever reason, Tonali thinks that the best course of action is to show Dzeko inside onto his right foot, thus freeing him up for a shot from about nine yards. The Bosnian is the kind of marksman that doesn’t need a second invitation, yet all could have been avoided if he had been shown to the byline.

He may still have put in a ball that Inter scored from, but at least by ushering him to the byline on his weaker left foot, Tonali would have removed any culpability for what followed.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Defensive Recklessnesses

A free-kick is sent almost aimlessly over the top from Inter who are by this point just looking to see the game out with a two-goal lead. Lautaro is pinning Tomori, but as the ball approached the pair they engage with the Argentine backing in and the Englishman goalside, exactly where you would want to be as a centre-back given the ball is in front of you.

AC Milan 2022/23: Title-destroying defensive problems - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Tomori steps up towards the ball and eventually releases Lautaro after impeding his run slightly with a hold. Lautaro gambles on the ball making it through, and rather bafflingly the former Chelsea man does not step out to clear the ball on the bounce nor does he try to stay with his man. But, he does neither. Inter’s striker runs through on goal and finishes past Ciprian Tatarusanu to fittingly and symbolically wrap up a disaster.


Milan seem to have dissolved compared to the side that took to the field before the World Cup and they have not been the same since. The certainties that characterised Pioli’s team seem to have disappeared, with no real style of play on show, no harmony between the players and above all, a lack of confidence.

This feels more than just a tough stretch where things aren’t going the way of Milan. There are so many dysfunctional parts to the team that a serious inquest is needed because the game was barely even a contest and it seemed to suggest a complete lack of big-game experience rather than growth.

At this moment it’s better not to think about the Scudetto because the truth is that the Rossoneri would do well to even finish in the Champions League places with just one point separating second through to fifth. Last year’s Milan has vanished as per the paper, with zero ideas, zero team spirit and many wrong choices on display.

In the past, this group has always shown that they know how to react to difficulties, which they are no longer able to do.