Clean sheets could be the key to AC Milan and their Serie A revival if they are to push for Europe this season, despite the hype surrounding attacker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Rossoneri have lost only one of their last seven, after their 2-0 away victory against Cagliari in what was the first match of Round 19 in Serie A.
Since the arrival of coach Stefano Pioli at the end of October 2019, Milan have kept the highest number of clean sheets (five), with four of them coming in the last seven games. Only the 5-0 hammering against Atalanta bucked the trend of winning or drawing in this period.
The return of Ibrahimovic led Pioli to make changes to his formation by switching to a 4-4-2. A move that paid off with the big Swede netting on his first start since his return to Italy, which just happened to be his first Serie A goal since May 6, 2012.
Throughout the game in Sardinia though, Milan rarely looked like conceding against a side that, up until recently, were scoring for fun through Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone in particular. The Casteddu forwards, however, were entirely nullified by Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio at the heart of the Rossoneri backline.
Pioli’s side now sit 10th in Serie A, just four points behind Cagliari in the hunt for a European spot. This victory may be down to the boost that Ibrahimovic has provided, or due to the coach and his defensive tactics.
Cagliari are historically favourable opponents for Milan, who have only lost to the Casteddu once in the last 32 meeting between the side’s, and Cagliari themselves will hope for a turnaround in fortunes after they suffered their fourth consecutive loss in Serie A.
Maran’s magic no longer working
Rolando Maran’s Cagliari team last won a Serie game on the December 2, 2019, when they defeated Sampdoria 4-3 thanks to a stoppage time winner from substitute Alberto Cerri and are evidently struggling to reproduce the free-flowing football that saw them start the season so well.
Maran’s side played what would be considered their strongest XI against Milan, with a midfield diamond headed by Radja Nainggolan. Marko Rog and Nahitan Nandez played left and right, respectively, with Luca Cigarini filling in just in front of the defence.
A formation that saw them go on a 13-game unbeaten run in Serie A, earlier in the season. It seems though, as if Cagliari have been figured out and are struggling to get the ball from midfield to attack because their opponents have stopped Nainggolan from having the freedom he had at the end of last year.
The Casteddu captain is not influencing games as much as he was, and his fellow midfielders also seem more rigid in their positioning, as oppose to the fluid way they played during their long unbeaten streak.
Nandez and Rog aren’t straying far from their positions, and opponents are pushing Cagliari further back into their own half, leaving the likes of Simeone isolated, with Nainggolan cutting a frustrated figure in the loss to Milan.
Casteddu long for Pavoletti’s return
It almost seems like Casteddu are crying out for the return of Leonardo Pavoletti, who is due to be back mid-March, after a knee ligament injury sustained on the first day of the season.
The big forward in one of the best in Europe when it comes to winning aerial duels and he would provide an alternative to Joao Pedro and Simeone, both of whom love to play off the shoulder of the last defender.
Cagliari have already scored the most goals from crosses this season, and with many Luca Pellegrini delivering balls to no one against Milan. Pavoletti would benefit from this style of play, considering that he bagged 10 headed goals in the last campaign.