Tactics: Substitutions the key in AC Milan – Palermo
The Rosanero took a two goal lead before the Rossoneri fought back to share the spoils.
This was a game which appeared to hinge upon a substitution from either side early in the second half. Gasperini opted for a defensive substitution whilst Allegri, with arguably no other choice, opted for an attacking substitution.
Despite concerns, Donati started at centre back yet a recurrence of an injury saw him leave the field of play after just five minutes.
Palermo lined up in the favoured 3-4-3 formation of coach Gasperini.
After a dreadful opening period which saw the hosts suffer four defeats and one draw in their opening 5 league games, form has improved marginally for Palermo with their first league win followed by three successive draws as the side adjusts to the demands of the system being utilised.
Milan continued with their recent experiment of three at the back which had yielded a Champions League defeat and a Serie A victory despite indifferent performances.
There was a surprise start for Flamini in midfield whilst Pato made only his second competitive start in eight months.
The Rossoneri sit in mid-table with the 1-0 win over Genoa at the weekend following on from back to back defeats from Inter and Lazio.
This game demonstrated the need for a clear understanding of the system which you are using. Palermo were comfortable with the 3-4-3 which Gasperini uses but Milan appeared unsure how to implement the 3-5-2 which Allegri was seeking. Part of the problem can be found in the operation of the defensive lines.
For Palermo, the responsiblities in the defensive phase were clear. Garcia and Munoz picked up the Milan duo of Pato and El Shaarawy with initially Donati and subsequently Bergen being the free man.
When El Shaarawy dropped deeper and to the left, it was the responsibility of Barreto or Morganella to pick him up but his first half movement was not sufficient to present Palermo with any real problems.
This contracts sharply with the Milan defensive line. Bonera was the free man between Mexes and Yepes but there was only one direct opponent in Miccoli. Ilicic and Brienza dropped off and found space between the defensive and midfield lines.
This presented Milan with a problem as Montolivo was deepest in midfield for his playmaking ability rather than his defensive skills.
Bonera often found himself up against Miccoli as Yepes was dragged forward by the positioning of Brienza and Mexes was caught out of position. The gap between the defence and midfield was too great which provided the space for Palermo to perform.
The hosts began the game playing with a higher tempo than Milan and moving the play forward quicker as well.
Palermo were able to combine better and quicker in the first half. From the front trio, Ilicic and Brienza dropped deeper than Miccoli and found ample space between Milan’s defensive and midfield line particularly Brienza on the right.
The positioning of Ilicic and especially Brienza was crucial in Palermo enjoying a more productive first half.
Occupying a pocket of space between the Milan defence and midfield, it was not clear which Milan player should pick him up. Nocerino would have to drop deep if he were to mark him whilst Yepes would need to push out of defence to meet him. This would’ve left a space which Miccoli cod have exploited.
The third option was for Constant to move infield and pick up Brienza but this would. The outcome was that he found space to drive forward and caused Milan problems from as early as the seventh minute when his 1-2 with Miccoli was only halted by Constant inside the penalty area.
Milan struggled to find any fluency to their play. They were laboured with Pato looking disinterested throughout and showing little appetite for the game although he was not aided by a Milan set up which was conservative and lacked conviction.
The opening goal arrived from the penalty spot. Miccoli chased a ball over the top with Bonera pursuing. Again, Mexes was caught higher upfield. An attempted cross struck the hand of Abate and Miccoli dispatched the resulting penalty.
Palermo with Brienza
The graphic belows highlights Palermo’s passes with Franco Brienza on the pitch. His presence in a relatively high position enable Palermo to move up the pitch quickly whilst also ensuring that Milan retained suitable defensive cover against him.
Brienza scored the second goal just a minute after half time. He received the ball left of centre around 25 yards out and no Milan player pressed him. Mexes stood off him allowing him the space to shoot low into the bottom corner.
Milan Take Control
The dynamic of the game altered early in the second half with three key elements.
1. Pato was removed in the 52nd minute being replaced by Bojan
2. Milan switched to a 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 system with El Shaarawy attacking from the left.
3. Perhaps most importantly, in the 56th minute Gasperini withdrew the game’s key player at that stage, Franco Brienza, replacing him with Georgi.
This was a clear Statement that Palermo intended holding on to what they had. The question was whether Milan, who had so far looked toothless in attack, could respond. The combination of these three factors would provide that answer.
What was also of importance was that Palermo dropped deeper. This encouraged the likes of Mexes to step forward with the ball increasing the pressure on the defence with Milan increasingly camped in the Palermo half.
The difference in Palermo’s passing before and after Brienza is considerable. The drop in passing was not because of Brienza but the shift in mentality that the substitution evoked.
By sitting so deep and attempting to see the game out, Palermo became increasingly direct when they tried to attack with longer passes being intercepted by Milan players rather than finding their intended target.
Combined with this, Montolivo abandoned his deeper lying position and began operating further forward as part of a midfield duo. His prompting were aided by the arrival of Bojan. The Spaniard offered far greater mobility and enthusiasm than Pato.
It seemed somewhat inevitable that Bojan would provide the assist for Montolivo for Milan’s first goal. Montolivo was now breaking towards the penalty area whilst Bojan was prepared to come short for possession, attempting to drag defenders out of position or work the channels.
The equalising goal could be partially blamed upon Ujkani who slapped away a cross into the Palermo penalty area. El Shaarawy converting the loose ball.
It’s now four draws in a row for Palermo but this really should have been three points for Gasperini’s men.
The movement of the front trio created problems for Milan and only an unnecessarily conservative substitution allowed Milan to seize the initiative and become more involved in the game.
Gasperini admitted afterwards that “in the second half we just stopped playing” with Miccoli confirming that “we were too passive, and we got pushed too deep inside our own area trying to defend”
Allegri stumbles on for the moment. Defeat would surely have seen the axe being wielded but the draw may only prolong the inevitable.
Allegri confirmed his side’s initial conservative outlet on the game “I didn’t want to run too many risks in the first half … we got a lot wrong in the first half”
Yet Milan finished in the ascendancy and it was Palermo who escaped with a point.
The switch from a back three to a more customary four certainly assisted Milan and Allegri will surely abandon the back three for the weekend’s fixture against Chievo.