Borussia Dortmund 0, AC Milan 0: Can't Buy A Goal

Milan come home from Germany empty-handed after a tense 0-0 draw with Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Granted, they have two clean sheets in their two matches thus far in the Group Stage, but they also have been unable to score against either Newcastle or now Dortmund. By virtue of not conceding, Milan are in third place in the group, with two points, but this is the Group of Death. Teams need to score and win to advance. Despite investing €134 million this summer, primarily in attacking players, it seems that Milan can't buy a goal.

Theo double checking that there are no goals in the back of that net...

Much was made of Dortmund's infamous Yellow Wall ahead of this match, and their fans certainly provided a nonstop din that created the tense atmosphere for 90 minutes. For the first time in recent memory, I saw the traveling Milan fans, but could not hear them over the German fans. I wondered briefly if Pioli made too much of the atmosphere in advance, putting Milan on the defensive even before kick off. But actually, to his credit, I felt like our players managed the intense environment quite well. 

Dortmund were sound defensively, but so were Milan, and Tomori and Thiaw were epic.

One could argue that the actual Yellow Wall was Dortmund's defense, who held Milan to 14 shots, of which only two were on target. Statistically, Dortmund had more possession and one more shot on target, but Milan looked more dangerous with the possession they had. Milan's defense was also impressive, both Thiaw and Tomori in particular had great performances. Overall, it was a very even match that could have gone either way at any moment.

The first half was filled with chances created and blocked or sent wide from both sides. The biggest events were the three yellow cards Marciniak dished out within six minutes. Two cards were for Dortmund, and one for Milan, shown to Reijnders. The ref called a very tight game, which kept the match from getting out of hand. That should not surprise, as he was the referee in charge of the Champions League final this year. Unlike our previous clown show referees in Europe the past two seasons, he kept a low profile, made the right calls, and kept the game moving, which was refreshing.

Rafa Leão continues to impress, even when the goals don't come.

Probably Dortmund's best chance of the half was in the 27th minute, when Malen sent it across the goal and it went just wide. Lucky, too, as Maignan was not getting to that ball. Brandt also tried an overhead bicycle kick from a good position, but it went over as well. Giroud missed a chance in the 38th in front of goal after Rafa Leão sent a cross in. Leão was everywhere, creating chances or taking the occasional shot himself, and Dortmund struggled to keep up with him. That is probably why he was awarded his second consecutive Player of the Match award by UEFA (although I think he would have preferred the three points.)

In the second half, Pulisic took the first shot on goal in the 51st minute, shortly after Giroud's effort had been cleared, but the former Dortmund man's shot was straight into the hands of Kobel. Both keepers were solid, but were not inordinately tested, thanks to the defensive play of both teams. In the 58th minute, Pioli made his first sub, bringing on Adli for Pobega. 

We have all been waiting for Adli, but Pioli's decision not to start him was probably wise.

Many were surprised that Adli did not start, but as mentioned in the preview, Pioli was unlikely to give him his debut as a starter in a match like this, especially in such an intense, pressured atmosphere from the fans. His decision may also have been based on the different characteristics of the two players against this specific opponent. While Adli was able to come on and make a difference with fresh legs, the 60 to 30 minute ratio of playing minutes was likely spot on from Pioli in this instance. That said, I would still expect Adli to start against Genoa on Saturday.

Pioli's next subs came in the 69th minute, when Okafor, Florenzi, and Chukwueze replaced Giroud, Calabria, and Pulisic respectively. Chukwueze had a couple of shots, one that went wide and another that was rebounded out that Reijnders sent just wide. Musah was shown a yellow card in the 88th minute for fouling Schlotterbeck, who ironically had been shown the first card of the match. Musah did have a solid performance, though, that warranted his starting spot.

Chukwueze made the efforts, but Dortmund's defense were impenetrable.

Dortmund were more threatening than Milan in the final 20 minutes, with their subs seeming to have more impact on the match. There was an incident in the 91st minute where Florenzi was down in the box, and VAR reviewed the play, but no penalty was given. The quick replay we were shown looked like not enough contact for a penalty, but it also may have been the case that any contact was made outside of the box. Either way, I think Marciniak and his team got the right call, unfortunately, and Milan were left fighting to the final whistle for a goal from the run of play. But that was not to be.

Milan were left to rue missed chances, but it is difficult to say that they played poorly, particularly given the environment. However, the fact that Milan have never drawn their first two matches in a Group Stage before and could not score to save their lives does raise a lot of questions. Last year, Milan struggled to score goals throughout the season, not only in Champions League. So, management did a complete overhaul of the squad and spent to buy a new attack. 

There is no doubt that Milan brought in some good players, but was their overhaul too much all at once?

Yet it is still the existing players who are consistently producing goals, and even they have not been able to score in Europe, with so many players changed. Looking at Tonali and Newcastle sitting at the top of our group is difficult. It is almost as if changing so many players all at once was not an ideal scenario or something. Certainly, a team like Newcastle, who have made a lot of changes in their squad as well, but made them over a few seasons, may be an example of how traditional football methods actually do work, and revolutionary ideas can be costly. Along with educating Cardinale about Milan's Champions League history, perhaps someone should have told him that money can't buy a goal.

This post inspired by the music of The Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 8
Genoa vs. Milan
Saturday, October 7, 2023 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

Borussia Dortmund 0, AC Milan 0: Can't Buy A Goal Borussia Dortmund 0, AC Milan 0: Can't Buy A Goal Reviewed by Elaine on 6:00 AM Rating: 5
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