After busy summers both Milan sides are looking for big improvements on last seasons league finishes, with AC Milan finishing 6th and Inter a place behind in 7th both sides finished 20+ points away from Champions League football.
AC Milan went out and spent a massive £160m practically bringing in a whole new team, while Inter still spent around £70m the biggest change was bringing in manager Luciano Spalletti from Roma.
Despite the big changes taking place both clubs were able to get off to a great start with convincing 3-0 wins.
Inter’s High Pressing and Wide Attacks
In the below graph you can see Inter occupying a similar space as counter-pressing clubs like Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig last season. This seems a style they’re looking to continue after hiring Spalletti with his Roma side from last season also occupying a similar space in the graph.
With the style of the new and old managers being similar, it means the players didn’t have much adapting to do over the summer, which was evident in the opening game against Fiorentina.
Inter’s pressing wasn’t the most aggressive high-press, it’s not as though they created several chances through turnovers high up the pitch, but it did make it difficult Fiorentina to build out from the back. It also meant Inter weren’t left widely exposed should Fiorentina manage to break the press and move into the middle third.
Once Fiorentina were into the attacking half Inter were happy to sit back a bit and have ex-Fiorentina players Borja Valero and Matias Vecino sit in front of the defence, restricting the space in front of the box.
It meant the only real threat from Fiorentina came from out wide, which Inter were comfortable at dealing with. Both centre-backs have much more aerial prowess than Fiorentina’s new signing Giovanni Simeone. The only real chance for Fiorentina came when the forward was able to peel off from Miranda and have a header from the corner of the 6-yard-box.
The clip below shows a passage of play in which Fiorentina attack, it shows them beating the press, but not being able to capitalise (though Inter aren’t too exposed despite having several players in the opposition half) before trying to work an opportunity in the final third.
If you watch Valero and Vecino they do a great job of restricting space and passing options in the centre of the pitch, making Fiorentina move it from side to side before eventually sending a hopeful ball towards Simeone.
This isn’t to say wide attacks are a bad thing, Inter’s 2 open play goals came from crosses and throughout the game they looked threatening down the flanks, but it didn’t work for Fiorentina.
With the movement of Marcelo Brozovic and Antonio Candreva Inter could make overloads on a side of the pitch where they could work to the byline before cutting across goal or make it so a switch was open to the other side of the pitch as Fiorentina drifted over to deal with the overload.
Failing this Icardi and Perisic can be great presences inside the box, so should Inter cross it earlier they still have dangerous players to aim for, rather than the hopeful crossing of Fiorentina.
The clip below shows an attack where Inter move the ball out wide and come close to creating a dangerous opportunity. Brozovic drifts towards the left of the pitch – taking Carlos Sanchez with him – giving Candreva space in the middle, who Valero can easily find and break the midfield line, this leads to Fiorentina left-back Maximiliano Olivera being dragged inside giving Danilo D’Ambrosio huge space to overlap in.
Inter setting up as more of a counter-attacking side suits them. They can be solid in defence, while the directness of Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic coupled with the movement and technique of Valero, Candreva and Brozovic can help them find gaps in most defences.
Inter had good xG numbers last season, a few tweaks with the new manager and a couple of additions should see them improve this season, though it’s too early to make any bold predictions.
Given all the changes at Fiorentina and early Inter goals this didn’t prove to be a huge test for the new manager, it’ll be interesting to see how they get on next week as Spalletti heads back to Rome.
Milan’s Possession Game
On the graph in the above section you can see Crotone are in the bottom right quadrant, implying they’re not very active off the ball in the opponent’s half and are more likely to defend in a low-block and soak up pressure.
With this in mind you’d expect a team such as Milan to control possession, even more so given Crotone were down to 10 man after 5 minutes. This means that while Milan looked impressive it’s not the type of game where fans should find themselves getting carried away.
Despite all this, 80.3% is pretty huge. Milan controlled the ball well with their 2 new centre-backs attemping over 100 passes each.
Having centre-backs so comfortable at bringing the ball out and using it effectively meant the midfielders could focus on finding space further up the pitch. This led to the 2 outside midfielders of the midfield 3 – Hakan Calhanoglu and Franck Kessie – being able to occupy the half spaces and create triangles/combinations out wide with the full-backs and more advanced wide players – Fabio Borini and Suso.
While this may only be possible due to the low-block of Crotone it’s impressive nonetheless. Having full-backs providing width and players such as Calhanoglu, Kessie and Suso trying to find pockets of space between the lines is important when playing against sides defending deep, the competence of Bonucci and Musacchio allowed them to focus on this.
Milan’s 2nd goal is pretty much a culmination of all these things. As you can see below:
Bonucci sends a long pass to Ricardo Rodriguez providing the width on the left-hand side.
He has support on that side from 4 or 5 players plus Kessie in the middle. Crotone manage to stop these from combining and force the ball back to Musacchio.
The defender is able to make a great penetrative pass to Suso who finds some space making a run on the blind side of the defender to pick the ball up on the edge of the area. He’s able to get to the byline and put the ball in a dangerous area which Patrick Cutrone turned into his first Serie A goal.
Milan have now made a great start to the season, in all competitions they’ve managed 4 wins from 4 with no goals to conceded. What should also be encouraging to the Milan fans is the age of many of the squad and acquisitions over the summer.
They already had some promising young talents while majority of players signed were 24 and younger, with players such as Bonucci, Musacchio, Biglia and Kalinic just sprinkling some experience throughout the side.
Whether it is a true Milan resurgence remains to be seen, but the foundations are definitely in place for Milan to make a big improvement on recent seasons.
Transfers Settling Straight In
After writing about bad decisions Barca have made in the transfer window over recent years it was nice to see so many transfers be a good fit in their opening league games with the two Milan clubs.
Inter had 3 new signings starting against Fiorentina – Borja Valero, Matias Vecino and Milan Skriniar – with 2 of these being signed from Fiorentina and Skriniar from Sampdoria. Both of these clubs are in a similar area to Inter and Spalletti’s Roma on the graph in the first section of this article, with Fiorentina the purple dot to the left of Milan.
Recent signing Joao Cancelo could also be an immediate fit with Valencia being the grey dot between Milan and Fiorentina on the map.
Dalbert is the only signing (from a club in the top 5 European Leagues) where their former club isn’t located in a similar area to Inter or Spalletti’s Roma on the graph, with Nice on the right side of the graph meaning they’re players are a lot less active off the ball in the opposition half.
While players can adapt and it’s not as though clubs shouldn’t sign anyone from a different area of the graph to them, signing someone from a similar style team helps to cut down some of the risk involved with the transfer not working out as well as meaning the player will probably take less time to adjust and be effective.
I mentioned Milan Skriniar as a player Inter should be looking at in my Window Shopping piece on them, given that he was young with a good xP Rating and from a side with a similar style to Inter, making it nice to see him slot into the team and form a partnership with Miranda so quickly.
AC Milan are in a completely different situation with Inter for transfers however, with Inter you look at the new signings and wonder whether they’ll fit into the side, with AC Milan it’s a case of whether this new side can play together.
This makes it hard to look at the players and the teams they’re from in the same way as I did for Inter as there’s not even a guarantee Vincenzo Montella will aim to play a similar style given a completely new set of players are at his disposal.
Milan do already look cohesive though, the confident start in all competitions should give them a big confidence boost going into the season, and given the fairly young age of many players they should be able to continue to grow throughout the season.
Both Milan sides look stronger this season. Despite the summer of overhaul at Milan and managerial change at Inter look as though there shouldn’t be a huge transitional period – while it’s too early to make proper judgement on the two sides you do imagine they’ll at least be closer to Champions League football than they were last season.
However, given that Juventus, Napoli, Roma, Inter, Milan, Lazio and Atalanta could all have eyes on Champions League qualification this year there will be a lot of disappointed fans in Italy this season.