Aggressive. Suffocating. Impressive. These are just a few of the adjectives one could use to describe AC Milan’s victory on Sunday over 10-man Crotone.
Though much of the credit for the victory can be attributable to Federico Ceccherini’s third minute expulsion, it has to be said that the Rossoneri controlled nearly every facet of the game from beginning to end. The red card aside, here is my assessment of the three tactical keys to Milan’s victory on Sunday.
An Aggressive and High Defensive Line
One of the primary keys to Milan’s victory on Sunday was the implementation of a very high and aggressive defensive line. Montella’s team lined up in their traditional 4-3-3 formation, but demonstrated a tactical fluidity that was as vexing to Crotone players as it was beguiling to Milan fans.
While in possession, Milan could regularly be seen playing with only two real defenders, as the defensive of pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Mateo Musacchio were left to distribute from deep out of the back. At the same time, wingbacks Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez were free to press high up the wing, often sitting right alongside their respective midfield partners before sprinting down the wing to join in the attack.
This positioning along the wings was critical for two reasons; (1) it created numerical superiority in the midfield and (2) facilitated easy possession and passing opportunities.
Dominance in Possession and Ball Movement
It’s difficult to score when you don’t have possession of the ball. With five and sometimes six players roaming throughout the midfield, Milan suffocated their opponents and dominated with 80% of the ball possession for the game.
In terms of total passes, Milan dwarfed their opponents to the tune of 721 total passes to 175. Couple that statistic with 90% overall passing accuracy for the Rossoneri, and it’s easy to see why Crotone struggled to leave their mark on the match – they couldn’t touch the ball.
None of this should come as any surprise to those who have followed Vincenzo Montella’s coaching career, as the manager’s most telling calling hard is his teams’ ability to dominate in possession. What makes this Montella-run team so effective is that it appears poised to have the attacking talent to turn all of that possession into actual goals.
Attacking Open Spaces
Throughout the pre-season, and now proceeding into the regular season, Milan’s 19 year old striker Patrick Cutrone has demonstrated a keen ability for finding and exploiting open spaces behind opposing defenses. In conjunction with Andre Silva, Milan’s strikers continuously found ways to get behind the Crotone back line. Much of this success can be attributed to the trickiness of Milan’s right wing maestro, Suso. After having danced his way through three Crotone defenders, the Spanish winger wrapped his weaker right foot around a pinpoint cross that met Cutrone’s head just before rippling the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
In addition to Suso, Milan fans will be singing the praises of new signee Hakan Calhanoglu. The young Turkish midfielder was instrumental in the build of up of several of Milan’s goals, and showed the prototypical grinta that has personified hard-working Milan midfielders for decades.
The Best is Yet to Come
It’s difficult to place too much praise upon Montella’s squad. The early red card certainly had a huge impact upon the game and unequivocally made it easier for Milan to impose their will upon the opposition. However, this has not been an unfamiliar scene with respect to Milan’s summer. With four competitive games under their belt, Milan remain undefeated with twelve goals scored and zero conceded. With the Serie A season only a week old, Milan have still much to prove. Fortunately for Montella and his team, they may finally assembled all of the pieces that will bring Milan back amongst the elite in Europe.