Inter 1, Milan 0: Density

Milan lost the Derby della Madonnina, 1-0 to cross-city rivals Inter. But that was really not the news of the night for Milan fans. The surprise was Pioli's bizarre tactics, which he said were to create "density" to protect the defense. Milan definitely conceded far fewer goals, so that seemed to work. But his plan to also create an effective attack by using two strikers absolutely failed. While he seems to be restoring the team's mentality, and to his credit, in his prematch press conference, he said that "There are no shortcuts for effort," the tactics he used were mindboggling. Worse still, he said afterward that he plans to use them again for the next several games. It seems that it is not just his defense alone that has density.

Are Pioli's tactics an act of defiance, denial, or sheer density?

Let's start with the best moment of the night. The Curva Sud unveiled a banner which said, "The Champions of Italy salute the Champions of Arabia." Absolutely brilliant. Took the sting out of the loss for sure, because while Inter celebrated their win as if they had just won a Scudetto, the truth is, they had one lucky header from a corner. Milan were missing Ibrahimović, Florenzi, Maignan, Tomori, Bennacer, and Dest. If Milan in form, we could have easily defeated them again

Pioli's 3-5-2 and his decision to bench Leão confused many. I understand why he did not start Leão in his 3-5-2. I even understand the defensive purposes behind the 3-5-2, and clearly, it was effective defensively. But what I do not understand is why he ever plans to use it again. Milan only had four shots all night, with zero shots on target. Zero. That is by far the worst offensive effort I can remember, perhaps even in the very brief Giampaolo era. We will never win another match with this mindset or these tactics.

"The Champions of Italy salute the Champions of Arabia"

Inter controlled the match for the entirety of the 3-5-2 experiment, with the only stats being two yellow cards, one for Kalulu and one for Gabbia, both for fouling Lautaro Martínez. This forced Tatarusanu to come up big, which gratefully, Derby Tatarusanu showed up instead of the guy who has been conceding goals like water for us. He really had some massive saves, and was absolutely our Man of the Match.

Lautaro Martínez's lightning header from a Calhanoglu corner was the only goal of the match that stood, in the 34th minute, 1-0 Inter. There was a lot of diving and grabbing of faces from Inter players, whether or not Milan players touched them. It was as if they were made of paper. It shouldn't surprise, really, that the team with the Paper Scudetto also has paper players. For example, Džeko went down in the box in the 14th with the slightest contact from Gabbia, and screamed and cried for a penalty, but luckily Massa saw correctly and called his bluff.

The closest to scoring that Milan got in this one.

Pioli introduced Brahim Díaz at the half, replacing Messias, who is not a mezzala. Let's be clear about that. Then less than ten minutes later, he atoned for his tactical errors and brought on Leão for Origi and Saelemaekers for Calabria, changing the shape back to a recognizable and respectable 4-2-3-1 formation once again. Almost immediately, Giroud had the first chance, a header that went well over. And although the chances were very literally few and far between, at least we were finally creating chances.

Leão was hot and spicy coming on, using his speed and physicality to make a difference, which unfortunately for Milan got him a yellow card when Barella's face got in the way of his hand. Thiaw replaced Gabbia in the 71st, just in time to bring the height and physicality to shut down Lukaku, who came on for Inter simultaneously. And that paid off, because Lukaku scored a goal in the 83rd, but he was manhandling Thiaw beforehand, so his goal was called back. That was confirmed by a VAR check, but Massa did a surprisingly good job of handling this match after previous controversies.

If Leão doesn't fit into your system, then maybe you have chosen the wrong system.

Giroud offered to tear Acerbi's face off in the most nonchalantly and friendly of ways in the 84th, but that earned him a yellow card, and Lautaro Martínez followed that up by body slamming Tatarusanu. He was clearly very frustrated that he had been denied by such an inferior keeper. Rebić replaced a visibly spent Kjaer to try to bring more fire power to the final minutes, but he really only earned a yellow card for teaching Barella another lesson.

Lautaro Martínez would score one more goal in the 89th that was immediately whistled for offside. Semi-Automatic Offside Technology (SAOT) confirmed that he was very marginally offside, and the goal was disallowed. But it was not needed in the end, as his first goal was enough to give his team all three points. Congratulations to the Champions of Arabia.

The players worked hard, Pioli needs to let them work smarter.

The loss hurt, although perhaps I am just becoming numb to these horrible results. But I think the postmatch interview with Pioli is what terrifies me. Milan played like a frightened rabbit hiding in its burrow with the 3-5-2, it did not even resemble Allegri's negative version of anti-football that makes everyone want to gouge their eyes out from boredom. With only 36% possession in total, even counting the 40 minutes played with the 4-2-3-1, I cannot conceive that anyone would ever imagine lining up that system ever again, even for a funeral procession. It seems to be an act of defiance, denial or sheer density.

This post inspired by the music of Garbage's "Empty"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 22
Milan vs. Torino
Friday, February 10, 2023 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

Inter 1, Milan 0: Density Inter 1, Milan 0: Density Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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