Zlatan is out for six months, but Milan will not weaken

Zlatan is out for six months, but Milan will not weaken

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14 Jun 2022
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The situation

On May 22, Milan regained the league title, and three days later announced the loss of their only superstar: 40-year-old Zlatan underwent surgery and was out until January. Pioli was left with one profile center forward – 35-year-old Giroud. Most likely temporary. But even if the planned purchase fails, Milan will not weaken. It’s no secret that Zlatan’s presence is no longer as important to the club as it was in previous seasons. Although the Swede was available more often than a year ago (23 matches this season after 19 last), he usually came off the bench and did not play even a third of the possible number of minutes. Statistics confirm that Pioli deliberately abandoned the leader: the striker started 52% of the games played in the reserve. With all the undoubted advantages (and in many respects because of them too), the aged and plunging Ibra has become a serious gaming anchor. He is incapable of intensive movement, not ready for active pressure and high-speed football, but remains a valuable tactical option: even at the age of 40, he scares Lukaku with physical strength and claims the status of the most powerful (and at the same time technical) nine on the planet. Loading it from your half is the same as putting the ball in a bank cell. These unique characteristics have become a comfort zone for Pioli. Stefano’s positional possession has always been extremely superficial and closed into one pattern: rebuilding into three defenders, throwing on a post and fixing in the zone. Ibra maximized the return on the primitive style. As long as he was in shape, there was no point in complicating the game. But when the giant was out for the whole summer and half of the fall, the coach had to adapt. The changes were most pronounced at the start of the season. Milan dealt with Atalanta and Lazio, forced Juventus to fight back in front of their spectators and smeared Atlético in equal compositions. Pioli has never shown such dominant football. His system worked surprisingly well with a dynamic nine at the forefront. Rebić influenced the improvement of both phases: 1. he pressed qualitatively; 2. constantly threatened with runs behind the backs and forced the defenders to go lower, increasing the space between the lines – and instead of candles from their own half, Milan neatly went out through a short pass to Brain.

The details

The final rejection of Ibra as a center of gravity strengthened the team in all phases. Milan played more difficult, more reliable and more aggressive. There are several new tricks in the possession:

  1. New options for going on the attack. In addition to passes to the center forward and exits through Theo, attempts were added to progressive transition along the floors (usually with Rebic in the center of attack) and long passes behind the backs under Leau’s runs. The number of shots dropped by almost half: from 10.9 on Zlatan to 5.9 on Giroud;
  2. Constant positional permutations. Pioli also structured the work with the ball in a shallow way, but complicated the possession through active interaction. Theo and Calabria often found themselves in the center of the field, the last line was sometimes reduced to two people, the three midfielders constantly changed positions and adapted the form for a specific moment – either lined up in two defensive midfielders with one ten, then in one insurer with two players under the attackers. A static reference point and play through casts ruled out such movement.
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