Giampaolo tactics Milan

Genoa CFC – AC Milan: Milan Edge Out Four Red-Card Thriller (1-2)

This game had it all: a goalkeeping howler, a penalty save and let’s not forget the small matter of four red cards. Marco Giampaolo’s Milan career was on the line before this fixture and his tactical switch up yielded more questions than answers, but he managed to escape the Stadio Luigis Ferraris with all three points.

Tactical analysis and match report by Tom Quartly

Marco Giampaolo’s position as manager of AC Milan had not got any less tenuous, as a 3-1 defeat last time out against Fiorentina had gotten him just one sour result away from the sack. What was interesting an hour before kick-off was the tactical alteration he had employed. Deterring from his usual 4-3-1-2 shape, Giampaolo preferred a 4-3-3 formation. This was a bold statement from the Milan manager as he usually enjoys using a midfield diamond, with Ismaël Bennacer in the regista role and Suso just behind the two forwards.

Instead, a combative duo of Lucas Biglia and Franck Kessié allowed Hakan Çalhanoglu to operate  in what can potentially be seen as his best role: a mezza’la A mezza’la is a more proactive midfield player that works in a wide capacity as a number ten. on the left of the three. It gives him room to trouble the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. and provide a pass forward against pressing systems. Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso were the wide midfielders, giving the Milan outfit a sense of fluidity.

Ineffective build up and a goalkeeping error

A 3-5-2 shape when on the ball, goalkeeper Ionut Radu found it difficult to play from the back. With wide central defenders Cristian Romero and Domenico Criscito pinned on either touchline, the only options were Cristián Zapata and Ivan Radovanović. This meant that, more often than not, Radu would have to pump the ball long up towards Andrea Pinamonti. Milan were good at cutting passing lanes from this ineffective build up style and regularly gained possession and launched an attack.

Very few options for goalkeeper Radu because of Milan’s pressing.

Despite the inability to break through Milan’s press, Genoa had the only major chance of the half when Criscito’s long pass found its way through to Lukas Lerager. However, the Dane’s powerful strike was dealt with well by Pepe Reina. Peculiarly, Milan did not try to control the game, instead opting for a high tempo build up in an effort to slice through Genoa’s aggressive zonal press. Misplaced passes and heavy touches meant that this never bore fruition.

After feeding off scraps for the majority of the first half, a foul brought Genoa some welcome rest, but also an opportunity for former Ajax man Lasses Schöne to have a strike at goal. Thirty-five yards out, Schøne’s effort dipped and dived as it propelled towards the Milan goal. Bouncing just before it reached the usually so reliable Reina, the 37 year-old spilled it into his own net and gave Genoa the lead just minutes before half-time.

An interesting incident occurred at the end of the first half as, following a head injury, Riccardo Saponara on the Genoa bench received a red card for foul and abusive language towards the referee. 

Giampaolo’s patience runs out

As the second half began,  two new players entered the fray: Lucas Paquetá for Çalhanoglu and Rafael Leāo for Krzysztof Piątek. How much was this an idea from Giampaolo and how much of it was panic? The 4-3-3 shape remained the same, but Leão is a vastly different striker to Piatek, who is very much willing to stay between the posts. The Portuguese international dragged wide, particularly to the left hand side to receive the ball and relieve any pressure on the Milan defense.

A quick free-kick in the 51st minute alleviated some pressure. A swift ball fired down the channel found the feet of French fullback Theo Hernández who, on approaching the area, squeezed the ball past Radu. There had been no emphasis to Milan’s play whatsoever, but they found themselves level with Genoa.

Following the goal, there was finally what seemed like a plan from Milan and Giampaolo. Seen shouting “push into the gaps” at Franck Kessié, this indicated his transition into an advanced midfield role. This meant that passes were now getting out to the wide players Suso and Bonaventura, giving Genoa a lot more to think about.

This really did give trouble to Genoa and twelve minutes after the restart, Milan were ahead. It was following some VAR controversy that saw defender Davide Biraschi sent off for a handball. The referee gave a penalty and Kessié slotted it away to make it 2-1.

Milan kept the ball well after the goal, Lucas Biglia being the key cog in keeping the team ticking, but eventually Genoa’s press started to get the best of them, especially when Kouamé won a penalty following a foul from Pepe Reina. Despite what seemed like a clear dive, VAR had no issues with the decision and it would be Lasse Schöne to level the scores… Except he didn’t, because the penalty was saved by Pepe Reina. 

Milan’s performance was far from complete but Marco Giampaolo was going to live another day.


Genoa did well. They soaked up early pressure and then got into some sort of rhythm before finding an opener. Despite not coming away with three points, Aurelio Andreazzoli could be pleased with their robust nature. Up next for them is a trip to Parma, a game they need to win if they are to avoid the drop from Serie A.

Giampaolo’s demise seems inevitable. There wasn’t really a tactical approach to the game, just a change in shape and panicked substitutions. In the end, though, he still managed to walk away with all three points and keep Milan within two points of European qualification.

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