Monza 0, Milan 1: The Ugly Art of Defending

Milan won the Berlusconi Lombardy Derby by defeating Monza 1-0 on Saturday evening. To be fair, Berlusconi did not attend the match, he was probably worried his players would hold him to his promise of 'a bus full of whores' if they had won. Which they didn't, obviously. Or maybe he knew that his cheap knockoff Milan side would lose to a Milan side built on the principles of youth, morals, and a fraction of the cash he used to splash to win elections trophies when he owned the club. Or maybe, like many Milan fans, he could not bear to watch Milan's new, more defensive tactics, also known as the ugly art of defending.

Defend as a team, win as a team

First credit of this clean sheet goes to Tatarusanu, who was forced into making two saves in the first two minutes of play. I don't know if he had some good espresso, if the earlier playing time suited his age better, or if those two early saves just got his heart rate going, but he was actually barking orders at his players and even sometimes venturing outside of his box a little in this match. I almost did not recognize him. And he did have five solid saves for the entire match. Bravo.

Milan forced Di Gregorio into action at the other end when Leão took his first shot in the fourth minute, and then Thiaw headed down a corner to Origi, who tried to backheel it past the keeper just a minute later. Credit to Di Gregorio, as well, as he made seven saves in this one. There was cause for concern in the tenth minute when Theo Hernández pulled up, holding his left calf, and required treatment. But he was able to play on, and hopefully is not actually injured. 

Pioli needs to share his prematch espresso with him or something

Leão really seemed to want to score in this one, and made that known in the 19th minute, when he actually hit the outside of the post. Next, he would try a powerful shot from distance, which Di Gregorio blocked, only to have Brahim Díaz attempt to force the rebound, but he was also stopped. Even Tomori, who was just back from injury, got in on the action, taking a nice shot in the 29th minute, but that was saved as well.

In the 31st, however, seemingly out of nowhere, Messias launched a missile straight into the goal, and although Di Gregorio got a hand to it, the shot was too powerful for him to stop. 1-0 Milan. A few minutes later, Pablo Mari threw Origi to ground, but no whistle. I guess if you survive a supermarket stabbing, the ref gives you one free one? On the same play, but well after that foul, while Origi was still down, Krunić fouled Pessina and was booked for his foul. That adds him to our list of five other players who are in jeopardy of being suspended, so one overzealous referee could really impact a future match for us. 

Our savior in this match

The second half saw Petagna take a shot after a turnover in midfield courtesy of our goalscorer, then Theo Hernández, with Leão in support, came speeding in with Di Gregorio out of his goal and a clear shot (or the opportunity to pass,) but his shot was painfully just wide. 

Pioli subbed like for like with De Ketelaere, Saelemakers, and Giroud coming on in the 64th minute. Theo was impeded by former Inter player Sensi in the box and then was clutching his right thigh, but seemed okay afterward. Leão had another shot saved in the 68th, then Thiaw was shown a yellow card for a foul on Mota in the 69th. 

Three matches with Thiaw as a starter. Three clean sheets. Coincidence?

Monza had their best chance of the match in the 73rd minute when Ciurria's shot hit the post, ricocheted off of Tatarusanu's back and almost went in, but somehow miraculously bounced out, leaving Tatarusanu as surprised as everyone else. So lucky. 

Pioli brought Rebić on for a tired Leão in the 79th, and then a shock appearance of Bakayoko in the 83rd, who had to trade in his colorful hats and actually work for ten minutes for his salary. He replaced Krunić, who reportedly has a possible muscle injury. Because it was too good to be true that we only had four players out this match for the first time in the league since the Derby September 3rd of last year.

Making him work for his salary

The 85th saw another missed opportunity... or two. Tonali took a shot that Di Gregorio failed to clear. Saelemaekers got to the rebound just before the pouncing keeper to tee it up for an open De Ketelaere, whose shot was blocked by Pessina. Because of course it was. Ever since his first goal was disallowed on his Serie A debut, the young Belgian just cannot get on the scoresheet. Luckily, unlike the media, his teammates are incredibly supportive of him.

Speaking of supportive, this was the third clean sheet in a row with Pioli's new defensive tactics. A lot of fans are complaining because they miss the exciting, attacking style of play. Do they also miss the 19 goals we conceded in all competitions since January? Because even a highly caffeinated/motivated Tatarusanu is still not enough to make up for Maignan and the other recurring absences that led to such a defensive meltdown. 

More celebrations for the fans, even with an ugly win

Pioli wisely shored up the defense with this new 3-4-3 system, and the stats alone show it is working. Not only the clean sheets, but the set pieces. After conceding so many of those goals on set pieces, Milan have successfully defended eight corners each in both the Torino and Tottenham matches, and a whopping 10 corners in this match alone. Pioli took our weakness and made it our strength. It isn't pretty at all, and Milan have resorted to playing outright ugly at times, such as the 18 fouls they were whistled for in this match. But it is working.

I am sure that if when Maignan finally comes back, Milan will return to their more attractive style of play. And likely the 4-2-3-1 system that got them this far. Pioli mentioned this week that he is happy they have adopted this new system so well, because it gives them more tactical options and makes them less predictable for opponents. It may make them less entertaining, but it also makes them more successful. So, after the five weeks of hell we endured as fans, I am happy to embrace the ugly art of defending.

This post inspired by the music of The Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 24
Milan vs. Atalanta
Sunday, February 26, 2023 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

Monza 0, Milan 1: The Ugly Art of Defending Monza 0, Milan 1: The Ugly Art of Defending Reviewed by Elaine on 11:49 PM Rating: 5
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