Date: 23rd September 2021 at 12:36pm
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After taking a look at the AC Milan starting XI against , some may have raised an eyebrow after Stefano Pioli’s decision to rest the likes of Fikayo Tomori, Theo Hernandez and Franck Kessie all at the same time.

Yet, the coach’s choice to rotate a pivotal part of his squad wasn’t simply related to his players’ fitness or current form – although it may have been the case for Kessie – instead, it seemed more of an attempt to involve and test all his players he has available, as Pioli is aware that a deep squad could make a difference over a long gruelling campaign.

Trusting the backups

By deciding to hand Matteo Gabbia, Fode Ballo Toure and Pierre Kalulu their first starts of the season, especially in a night in which were already deprived of Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Rossoneri c0ach tried to empower such players and help them feel trusted.

However, Ante Rebic, Rafael Leao and seemed spark in the opening 45 minutes against a modest side that failed to pose any threat, as they simply tried to keep their back line as organised as they could.

While defensive solidity was far from being a concern for the Rossoneri, it was clear that they were struggling more than expected against a team who had conceded in every game since their return. This could be the reason why, just before the hour-mark, Pioli decided to bring on Theo Hernandez and Alexis Saelemaekers, as well as Tomori. 

In fact, it wasn’t long before the substitutes made their presence felt, as the Frenchman produced a spectacular volleyed assist which allowed to easily put ahead, before pouncing on a superb Saelemaekers pass and adding a second in the final minutes with a powerful left-footed effort.

Solidity and character

At the end of the day, the Rossoneri secured a 2-0 win that sent them level on points with rivals Inter, as the Diavolo remain one of the only three sides that still have to lose a game in the current campaign.

This is why, despite a stuttering first half, there are a lot of positives to take from a match that marked Milan’s third clean sheet in five games, with only two goals being conceded in the process.

The Stefano Pioli’s outfit are showcasing excellent defensive solidity, as well as the attitude and confidence that almost led to a turnaround at Juventus in spite of many key players missing.

However, the clash also suggests that Pioli will always have to rely on the team’s backbone, which he patiently crafted during last season, in order to avoid slip-ups even against the easiest opponents. If they can fix it, bringing the squad players closer to the level of their starting XI, will give everything they need to make a credible Scudetto challenge until the very end.