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There’s actually a surprising amount of optimism on Milan Twitter at the moment, some may call it delusion, but I think that’s harsh. When the Rossoneri hired Vincenzo Montella to replace Siniša Mihajlović, it was assumed the Italian would be backed by big money signings, funded by Milan’s new investment.

However, Montella was left to acquire the scraps of the transfer market. Although, it’s not like Milan didn’t spend any money, they did, €25 million, mainly funded by the sale of El Shaarawy to Roma. €25 million won’t get you very far in this market, but spending it on the likes of Gustavo Gomez, Gianluca Lapadula and a 31 year old Jose Sosa is arguably not the right way to spend it.

I know what you’re thinking ‘Hey! Idiot! Idiots like you said this at the start of the season but we’re sitting pretty in fifth and can leapfrog Napoli in third if we win our game in our hand!’

This is all true. And honestly, Montella has done an incredible job to get Milan to this point. He acknowledged that this is a limited Milan side and went for a more defensive identity rather than the possession based game he played at Fiorentina.

The harsh truth is Milan have greatly overachieved this season.

(It’s worth noting that Milan have played one less game, as well Juventus)

Expected goals can be explained as this: Each shot taken by a player has a probability of going in. This probability is expressed in numerical form as a number between 0 (no chance of a goal being scored) and 1 (a goal is certain). The probability of a shot being scored from a location is its expected goals.

This happens a number of times during a match, and at the end a number if produced, the expected goals of a match. If your team is lucky, you exceed your expected goals tally, if you’re unlucky, you probably underperform.

This happens over the course of the season, some perform as expected, some over, some under. Keep tallying these up and you get a season view that is a predictive model as to where a team should finish when the season is over. A great piece explaining this can be found here.

Expected goals are essentially an analytical tool for predicting performances over the course of a season. It’s interesting to use it at the half-way point of a season to look at who may be in for a second half surge as they regress to the mean, or who may be about to drop off. And it looks as though Milan are about to drop off.

No team in Italy is overperforming offensively quite like AC Milan this season. By the expected goals metric they should have scored 18 goals, they’ve scored 27.

At face value, Milan’s attack looks in the category of the Lazio – Udinese range (32 – 24 goals). In reality, it’s probably in the midtable range of Genoa. Yikes. Carlos Bacca, Milan’s supposed star striker, hasn’t scored since October 2nd, which was match day seven. Seven. M’baye Niang hasn’t scored since 16th October, match day nine.

Milan’s attackers that are performing? They’re, er, overperforming.

Suso has been dragging this corpse of a Milan attack in recent weeks, but his goals will eventually slow down. While we’re on the subject of Suso, he’s over performing in a creative sense. By expected goals, he should have been expected to assist 3 goals, in reality he’s assisted six. In the first half of the season has been Milan’s hero, in the second half, it’ll be incredibly difficult for him to replicate those heroics.

Gianluca Lapadula’s story is a great one but he’s also overperforming by an incredible margin, albeit it’s a small sample size.

Milan have largely been bailed out by their great defensive organisation, it’s not quite up there with Juventus’ as you might expect, but it’s definitely as good as Napoli’s, Roma’s, and all the other contenders for a Champions League spot.

Still, there’s a correlation between goal difference and where you finish in the table. A -1 goal difference? That’s definitely not Champions League, nor Europa League. That’s midtable.

Okay Milan have overperformed, is there anything they can do about it?

The first answer is pretty obvious, change what they’ve been doing.

This may seem crazy considering how well Milan have done, but look at the numbers, it could be a rough second half for Milan. Changing the way they build-up and create chances (perhaps less wing play and crosses). Perhaps a change of formation, this is arguably a section for another day.

The second thing Milan could do is sign new players. IFD’s Matt Santangelo looked at five possible wingers Milan could sign this January to keep the CL dream alive. 

The Chinese takeover deal of Milan likely won’t be completed in time for Milan to be active in the market, barring a miracle. Milan’s only hope is dry loans, with take minutes away from players who need those minutes to develop, or to sell so they can buy. Carlos Bacca to China anyone?

Are you implying Milan are screwed?

Not screwed, per say. Some teams do overperform and avoid the dreaded regression to the mean over 38 games, it’s entirely possible Milan do that, just not probable.

Milan do have something to build on at least, a solid defensive game. The only issue could be scoring goals. But if they pull off a Juventus-like gameplan where they only need to score one goal to win a game…who knows.

The issue is most of Milan’s games have been decided by close margins, they’ve only won by two goals or more on two occasions. At home against Lazio and away to Empoli. This doesn’t bode well for a team that needs to be convincing people.

Milan – Champions League pretender

If you’d like to send me abuse regarding this article, by all means @Bilbertosilva


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