AC Milan – Lazio Roma: Tactical Battle With Lots Of Pressing Decided By Penalty (1-0)

This game between two sides fighting for the Champions League places began cagey, as predicted. Smart changes after half time from Gennaro Gattuso opened the game up. After Lazio’s desperation to make up ground cost them a penalty, Milan were able to keep all three points at San Siro.

Tactical analysis and match report by Tom Quartly.

AC Milan have been struggling of late. Four points out of their last five games, including defeats to Juventus and in the Derby Della Madonnina, has not been pretty viewing. With Atalanta and tonight’s opponents Lazio breathing down their neck, a win here basically was a must.

The 2-1 loss to Juventus did not dishearten Gennaro Gattuso, as he fielded the same starting eleven, in the same 4-3-3 formaion as the previous week. Pepe Reina continues his stint in goal, with Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio protecting the Spaniard in the heart of the defense. Mainstays Davide Calabria and Ricardo Rodriguez play at fullback whilst the midfield trio of Tiémoué Bakayoko, Franck Kessié and Hakan Çalhanoğlu start their second game together. Suso on the right wing, and a sixth start for Fabio Borini on the left, acted as the main supply for dynamite goalscorer Krzysztof Piątek, who functions as the lone striker.

Lazio went into this game following a rollercoaster run of results. Since an unbeaten run in March, that saw a 3-0 win against city rivals Roma, their form has dipped slightly. A disappointing loss away to SPAL and a draw last time out against Sassuolo means that Lazio too could not afford to drop any points if they wanted to be in contention for the hotly-contested Champions League spots. This recent drop in form has prompted Simone Inzaghi to make six changes and a slight tweak in formation ahead of the tie at the San Siro.

Goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha kept his place in Inzaghi’s 3-5-1-1 formation. Ștefan Radu and Patric were replaced by Luiz Felipe Ramos and Bastos in the back three. The shakeup continued in midfield, as Adam Marušić made way for Romulo. Marco Parolo and Milan Badelj were swapped out for Sergej Milinković-Savić and Brazilian Lucas Leiva, who joined Luis Alberto in a dynamic Lazio midfield. Senad Lulić kept his place on the left hand side and perennial goalscorer Ciro Immobile acted as a lone striker, just ahead of Joaquín Correa, who replaced Felipe Caicedo.

Managerial Chess Creates A Cagey Affair

Both sides came racing out the blocks, a high press from Lazio reducing Milan to long balls down the channels, often finding the feet or chest of an isolated Krzysztof Piątek. A slight change from Gattuso saw Bakayoko and Kessié swap positions, the latter occupying a deeper midfield role out of possession, as Bakayoko was part of the proactive Milan press. This gave him the chance to make numerous challenges, often winning the ball in Lazio’s half. For the first twenty minutes, the constant pressing ultimately led to the two sides cancelling each other out. The game soon became a cagey affair.

Inzaghi’s pre-match tweak – from a 3-5-2 to a 3-5-1-1 shape – gave Joaquín Correa space in between Milan’s defensive and midfield lines. This brought success within the first five minutes when Correa’s wandering run found Immobile, who was only to be stopped by a fantastic reaction save from Pepe Reina. The combative Gennaro Gattuso soon retaliated, demanding Milan into a high block. Captain Alessio Romagnoli willingly pushed the defense closer to Kessié out of possession, strangling the space for any interplay between the forwards.

After the initial flurry of pressure, the game fell into a repetitive tempo. End to end, both sides went for similar approaches when creating chances: Lazio would build past the press, attempting a quick switch of play to catch Milan’s defense off guard before unleashing an early cross into Ciro Immobile.

This worked well for Inzaghi’s men, mainly thanks to the support from the midfield. Runs from Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinković-Savić distracted the center-backs, allowing space for Immobile to make his cutting runs. Despite numerous headed efforts, the Italian forward could not find the net, but Lazio certainly enjoyed the majority of the chances.

Lazio’s late runners gave Lulić many options from the cross.

Lazio’s low block A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. prompted Milan to also try and catch the opposition defense off guard, filing early balls into the box whilst also utilizing the space left by Lazio’s deep line to shoot from range. Çalhanoğlu came close a couple of times but to no avail. Milan got their biggest chance through a Piątek header late in the first half, but even that failed to trouble Strakosha in the goal. Lazio went into the break thinking they might be a goal or two up, but the score remained 0-0.

Injuries Force Changes That Open The Game

Two minutes into the second half, Joaquín Correa went off injured, as Felipe Caicedo came on as a substitute. This reverted Lazio to Inzaghi’s usual formation: a simple 3-5-2 shape. The less mobile Caicedo meant that Lazio had to become more expansive to create chances. The underlaps Underlap means that the full-back joins the offensive play by playing on the inside of the winger he supports. This is the reverse of an overlap, where the full-back plays on the outside and the winger moves inside. from wide men Lulić and Romulo created issues for Milan, the latter having a tame shot fumbled slightly by Reina. For twenty minutes, the game lulled into a deep sleep, Lazio still in the low block, but with no link man between the midfield and attack resulting in aimless long balls forward.

However, when Alessio Romagnoli picked up an injury inside his own box, the game changed again. Romagnoli’s substitution sparked some ingenuity from Gennaro Gattuso, who switched Milan to a 3-5-1-1 shape. Colombian Cristián Zapata came on for the injured Italian, and wing-back Diego Laxalt replaced Davide Calabria. Gattuso shifted Borini to a right wing-back role. Suso went central, in behind Piątek, while Çalhanoğlu was given a free roaming role in the midfield. 

Milan run away with it

This alteration from Gattuso seemingly spurred Milan on, Lucas Leiva gaining a grip of the game and driving Inzaghi’s side forward. Despite this, Immobile still remained a passenger, a result of tedious marking by Mussachio and good screening from Kessié and Bakayoko. As Lazio became more expansive, a pattern developed. Milan would allow Lazio onto them, opening spaces up to counterattack. A prime example of this was when substitute Zapata bombed forward, reaching the Lazio area before finding Piątek, whose shot was saved.

Both sides really needed three points and this became evident as the early, cagey exchanges returned in the form of open, spacious, attacking football; a stark contrast to the opening twenty minutes of the second half.

The aforementioned free role of Hakan Çalhanoğlu became prominent when his clever flick over Acerbi got him in a threatening wide position, meters from the goal. An attempted cross hit the arm of Acerbi, prompting referee Gianluca Rocchi to point to the spot. VAR, however, correctly cancelled out the goal, but it was a positive sign for Milan that Gattuso’s changes seemed to work.

The desire from Gattuso’s side to win the ball back showed when the ball broke for Diego Laxalt on the left wing. A typical lofted ball into Krzysztof Piątek floated just over the rising Polish forward, breaking to center-back Musacchio inside Lazio’s area. A clumsy challenge from substitute Riza Durmisi, who had not touched the ball since coming on four minutes before, had referee Rocchi pointing to the spot once again. VAR could not save them this time. Franck Kessié sent Strakosha the wrong way and Milan were leading with ten minutes to go.

Inzaghi instantly retaliated, swapping center back Bastos with attacking midfielder Marco Parolo. This naturally moved Lazio to a 4-3-1-2 formation, with full backs Durmisi and Romulo playing as wingers. Lazio piled on the pressure.

Despite six minutes of added time, Lazio failed to carve out any real openings, coming close only when the ball fell for Milinković-Savić. A last ditch by Rodriguez stopped the Serbian from shooting and Milan ultimately saw the game out quite comfortably. Simone Inzaghi lost his cool after Luis Alberto’s challenge saw a booking. Lazio’s manager was sent off by Rocchi and only added salt to the wound on what turned out to be a frustrating game for Lazio.


Immobile was made to rue his early chances as the second half dawned and he became increasingly isolated. Intelligent mid-game management from Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso and an ounce of luck changed the game. This pragmatic tactical approach is something not commonly associated with the stubborn Gattuso, so it is good to see him make a change during the game.

Inzaghi’s initial setup was promising but the forced change of Joaquín Correa stifled any second half progress. All in all, this decisive top of the table clash has pushed Milan up to fourth in Serie A, ahead of Roma who won earlier in the day. Both sides have slightly ‘easier’ games next week, Milan facing Parma away from home whilst Lazio host Udinese.

Match plots will be added to this article later.


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