After two poor results in Serie A – draws against both Salernitana and Udinese – Milan faced Inter in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semi-finals with both teams struggling for form.
For the Rossoneri, Sandro Tonali had to watch this one from the stands as he served a suspension, whilst Davide Calabria, Junior Messias and Brahim Diaz started on the bench. The tempo of the game was high for the majority of the over 90 minutes played, but it did not result in any goals as a lack of composure was evident.
Everything will be decided in the return fixture next month, therefore. For the most part, Pioli’s team were superior on the pitch as the defence and midfield did a brilliant job, but the attacking players failed to materialise some great chances and continue to struggle in front of goal. Here are five things we learned…
1. Solid as a rock
While the attack didn’t really click for Milan, the defence really stood out. Inter were completely neutralised in terms of their own forward play and they had just one or two chances all game, which were far from clear cut as well.
Pierre Kalulu came on for Alessio Romagnoli in the 25th minute after the Italian picked up an injury and did a fantastic job alongside Tomori. Florenzi also had a very high level game and so did Theo on the left, as he resumed his battle with Dumfries.
It was close to an air-tight display and the rearguard must keep the high attention until the end of the season if the team are to pursue silverware.
2. Knocking on the door
Speaking of individuals, what a game Kalulu had. The 21-year-old looked like a veteran after coming on, not giving in to any pressure and staying composed until the end of the game. He also carried the ball forward with great confidence even when the opposition was pressing hard.
The Frenchman just made things look easy and it was a performance reminiscent of how Tomori made his debut for the club in the cup against Inter last year in what could have been a baptism of fire, though he passed the test of character.
it was another brilliant performance from Kalulu and since this is not the first one, it raises the question of whether or not Pioli should just start him alongside Tomori in the upcoming fixtures, which he might be forced to do anyway because of Romagnoli’s injury.
Pierre Kalulu vs Inter (H)
Coming off the bench in the Milan Derby? No Problems 😎
— Milan Comps (@CompsACM) March 2, 2022
3. Winning the battle
Theo Hernandez also had a fantastic game as he won his battle with Dumfries on Milan’s left flank. The Frenchman also rushed forward on multiple occasions, even missing one on one against Handanovic.
Whilst he could have been more clinical and precise in his actions in the final third, his defensive work was brilliant, helping Milan keep a clean sheet and discouraging the Inter players from going down his side.
He also showed great passion and grit that was missing from the squad in the past couple of years, but now more and more players show these traits and it’s amazing to watch.
4. Back on track
Franck Kessie finally produced a decent performance in what has been an uninspiring season dominated by headlines regarding his renewal and false promises made over the summer.
He was solid defensively and we saw an effective Bennacer-Kessie duo that we had been used to seeing a year ago, with the Algerian taking care of the ground duels and Kessie doing more physical work that was important to keep Barella, Brozovic and Calhanoglu quiet.
It’s certainly pleasant to see some positive change for the Ivorian, but he will most likely be back on the bench for the next fixture with Tonali back in the midfield, and with all the drama around his contract it’s fair to say that there is no need to keep forcing him into the starting XI in order for him to gain momentum.
5. Same old story
It feels like we mention this after every game, but the fact is that the big problem for Milan at the moment is their attack. Excluding Leao, nobody came close to anything dangerous and this one-dimensional attack is relatively easy for the opposition to counter.
Against Inter, Leao had a lot of space on the counter, but against the smaller sides that sit back Leao doesn’t have the needed space to attack, and with the players around him struggling it has made the team so predictable and easy to guard against.
The inclusion of Brahim Diaz and Ante Rebic didn’t do much either, the Spaniard got on the ball a couple of times and had some good dribbles but the end product wasn’t there, mostly because of the Croatian.
Rebic was playing like a kid in his garden. He had no sharpness at all and his decision making was awful failing to produce anything after his inclusion. The management might start thinking if he is the right back-up for Leao and a squad that will be aiming to achieve more and more in the coming years.