Sassuolo 3, Milan 3: Margin of Error

While Sassuolo have been known to hurt Milan in the past, no one hurt Milan more than themselves in this match. Well, except for perhaps technology. VAR was supposedly instituted only to reverse "clear and obvious errors" by the head referee. At least until Semi-Automated Offside Technology (SAOT) was introduced. By using twelve different camera angles, ball sensors and AI technology, almost immediately, the VAR referees can have a visual that shows whether or not the player was offside. This match officially ended in a 3-3 draw with Sassuolo, but Chukwueze had not just one, but two goals called back for offside that together measured a total of 2 centimeters offside. The original margin of error for SAOT was 3 centimeters –  for each call. So, while Milan players made plenty of actual errors themselves that led to conceding three goals, we were robbed of a 5-3 victory and all three points literally by a margin of error.

Chukwueze was so devastating that he had two goals ruled offside for the width of that wrinkle on his sleeve.

Musah came out firing in the first minute, but it was Pinamonti who opened up the scoring in just the fourth minute. 1-0 Sassuolo. Toljan had a problem and had to be subbed off for Ruan Tressoldi, and just a minute later, Sassuolo scored again. Laurienté took the shot, Sportiello saved it, but the Sassuolo player scored on the rebound. 2-0 Sassuolo. For the second time in just three days, Milan were down early, and struggling to pull themselves together and find any kind of rhythm.

Somewhere between player availability, injury risk, tactics, and mentality, there must be a solution for this.

Chukwueze was firing wild shots, then Thiaw, in his 50th appearance for Milan,  had a point blank header that Consigli impressively saved. But in the 17th minute, Chukwueze headed it into the back of the net, only to have the goal waved off for offside. There was a VAR review, where they confirmed that the fabric of his shoulder seam was, in fact, maybe a centimeter offside. No goal. When it should have been 2-1, Chukwueze was left befuddled by the fact that at the point at which the VAR officials determined the ball was sent forward, a tiny patch of his sleeve on his shoulder was offside, when he actually had to run back to even get the ball. So there was absolutely no advantage whatsoever.

Chukwueze came back from this position before he touched the ball, too... how is this an advantage?

Furthermore, calls like these are absurd. How is a player, in motion, supposed to determine if, at the exact split second the other player, who is meters away, touches the ball with their boot, that every single part of his entire body and kit that is playable is onside with the last defender, who is also often meters away, to the very centimeter? If it takes 12 cameras, sensors in the ball, and a sophisticated computer and rendering system with two trained VAR referees to determine this with the benefit of still images and being able to go back and forth and draw lines and such, how is a player supposed to know this? Or the defenders, for that matter, to play the offside trap? The very notion is preposterous, and if VAR is meant to correct only a "clear and obvious error," how is a centimeter or two clear or obvious?

Leão was on target and most importantly, not able to be ruled offside.

Leão was on the job, though. In the 20th minute, he scored a fantastic goal, taking a pass from Musah and dribbling through defenders and shooting ruthlessly past Consigli. 2-1 Sassuolo. He (and Milan) were spared a very embarrassing yellow card by referee Massa shortly thereafter, when he caught the ball with his hands while he was still inside the pitch and the ball was still in play, a deliberate handball. Talk about a margin of error, Sassuolo have to be very angry that he was not carded for such a naive and disconcerting mistake.

He also had another blunder in the 36th minute, when, after a Sassuolo corner, the ball was sent back to his side of the pitch, and he for some reason passed it back to Sportiello with an opposition player just a few feet away. But luckily, Sportiello was confident and sure. Chukwueze fired another one into the stands, then Florenzi fired one from distance, forcing a big Consigli save, and Theo fired the rebound, forcing the double save. Theo also hit the side netting, and a Loftus-Cheek chance was blocked, too.

Theo turning on his turbo speed in attack.

The second half started out with another incident we may have been lucky about. In the 49th minute, Loftus-Cheek shoved his man in the box. Replays showed he could have possibly been a candidate for a booking. However, both Massa on the pitch and Guida in the VAR booth's margin of error on the night did not agree. We did not get to see enough replays or angles to know definitively, but Sassuolo may have had a reason to be upset about this one. Of course, they weren't upset for too long, because just a few minutes later, Laurienté scored his second goal to make it 3-1 Sassuolo.

Pioli was already preparing to remove Kjaer due to a flexor problem, so immediately after that goal, he was replaced by Gabbia, Musah was replaced by Giroud, and Loftus-Cheek was replaced by Reijnders. These three players helped significantly to shore up the defense and create more in attack. Pioli's struggle to find the balance between appropriate rotation and injuring his players or dropping points is still ongoing. Even if they had just played less than 72 hours before, just two or three of these players alone in the starting lineup could have literally made all the difference in the number of goals conceded in this match. Conceding goals has been a problem all year, but it is one that definitely could have been foreseen from the beginning of the season.

Kjaer left the pitch with an injury, how many more games will he play in the Milan shirt?

Sportiello did well to come out and stop one last Laurienté run, but Maignan is always missed for more than just his shot-stopping. However, at least most of the rest of the match was controlled by Milan. Including a goal just a minute later, created by Leão, whose shot Consigli parried away, but Jović was there to slot in the rebound. The score was now 3-2 Sassuolo, and Milan were very much back in the game. 

After a couple of missed chances for Giroud, Chukwueze created a beautiful goal, and Massa allowed it, too. However, VAR checked it, and Guida's team claimed it was also just offside. This one was even tighter than the first one, in fact, it's actually difficult to tell how he was offside at all. Without a doubt, this one was well within the margin of error for SAOT, and to overturn Massa's call was even more preposterous, given that it was not even a "clear and obvious error" at the molecular level. I mean, when we are talking splitting hairs, this call literally had to split hairs to reverse the decision. When Milan should have at the very least been level, if not ahead by one, we were still down by one. How is this helpful to the game?

How would VAR overturn Massa's original call of a goal with this evidence of a "clear and obvious error?"

Whether it was for Chukwueze's obvious frustration, to salvage his mentality, or just to try to take advantage of Pulisic's killer mentality and recent run of form, Pioli subbed the American on for the Nigerian just two minutes later. Shortly after that, Thiaw was shown a yellow for pushing off of Pinamonti with his elbow, which unfortunately means he will be suspended for the Derby on Monday. Pulisic did have a powerful shot on target after a great give-and-go with Adli, which forced Consigli into a massive save.

Pioli used his last sub to bring on Okafor and sacrifice Adli. That turned out to be brilliant, because with his first touch of the match, Okafor slotted it into the back of the net, assisted by Gabbia. 3-3 all. The cameras showed Bonera arguing with Pioli about something during the goal celebrations, then Pioli calling Okafor over and talking to him. I would love to be a fly on the wall for those conversations.

First touch. Goal. Noah Okafor.

The rest of the match was a battle. Giroud sent the ball over, Thiaw seemed injured and was limping around, but it turned out to only be a severe cramp. Ferrari shoved Giroud in the back. Watching these matches back, it is incredible what a beating Giroud takes in every single match. No wonder he wants to go play in America, where they don't even know how to defend. His poor body will not be able to last much longer at this rate. Milan would finish with 23 shots, seven of which were on target, with two goals disallowed within the margin of error of the equipment used to measure them.

When the whistle blew, no one was really satisfied. Sassuolo knew they blew a two goal lead, even if it was a lead that Milan had handed to them. At the place where Milan knew so much joy less than two years ago, Milan were literally robbed. Robbed of two goals by technology that is supposed to be enhancing the game, not making a mockery or circus out of it. Considering that both calls were well within the margin of error of the technology, too, makes it that much more bitter of a pill to swallow. 

Jović scored and did not wait around to celebrate. Winning mentality.

So, Milan sit on 69 points in Serie A, going into their Europa League Quarterfinals showdown at the Olimpico in Rome. Then there is the Derby at home, and then away to Juventus, all within less than two weeks. This match was needed for a mentality boost, especially after being robbed by the referee on Thursday, too. Regrets are one thing. Pioli should perhaps have them for some of his choices, and the players will definitely have them for many of their errors, too. But it is even more frustrating when it is the referee, or worse, their use of technology that lets you down. And it is completely depressing when those mistakes actually fall within the margin of error.

This post inspired by the music of Peter Murphy's "Cuts You Up"

Our next match is 
Europa League Quarterfinals
AC Milan vs AS Roma
Thursday, April 18 • 21:00 CET (3pm EST)

Sassuolo 3, Milan 3: Margin of Error Sassuolo 3, Milan 3: Margin of Error Reviewed by Elaine on 10:00 PM Rating: 5
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