Lazio – AC Milan: Dominant Lazio score late equalizer deny Milan a stolen victory (1-1)
Joaquín Correa scored a late equalizer to earn a well-deserved point for Lazio, after AC Milan initially took the lead through a deflected own goal. The systems deployed by both sides largely cancelled each other out, but Lazio remained assertive for the large majority of the match because of their aggressive positioning and counterpressing.
The league table was finely poised ahead of the match, with Lazio occupying the fourth place, and AC Milan just one point behind in fifth position. Overall, there is very little to separate the contenders for Champions League qualification in Italy at the moment, but this contest would surely offer some early insight into both clubs’ prowess to finish fourth in this year’s Serie A.
Lazio approached the match in relatively odd form, considering that their last three league matches consisted of a draw, a big win, and a heavy defeat. That in comparison to Milan, who had won three of their previous five by one-goal margins. This season, Milan has only lost domestic league matches against the sides located at the very top of the table, in Napoli, Inter Milan and Juventus.
Simone Inzaghi made three changes to his side from their previous match against Sassuolo, with Wallace, Milan Badelj and Adam Marušić taking the place of Luiz Felipe, Lucas Leiva and Patric. Lazio deployed a 3-1-4-2 formation, but the midfield was very fluid and could be interpreted as a 3-5-1-1 depending on the moment.
Gennaro Gattuso had to make significant changes given the amount of first-team players he was missing through suspension or injury, with key figure Gonzalo Higuaín suspended due to his antics before the international break against Juventus.
To manage the problem, Gattuso employed a 3-4-2-1 formation, which retreated into a 5-4-1 once Lazio began to probe the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. . Patrick Cutrone took the place of Higuaín, Fabio Borini was tasked with playing as a wing-back, and Davide Calabria covered for Alessio Romagnoli, who sustained an injury on international duty.
Proactive Lazio take control
Despite both sides employing somewhat similar formations, Lazio remained the aggressors throughout the entirety of the match, with Milan only able to create the occasional chance. From the early stages of the contest, Lazio appeared the hungrier and more assertive team, with Inzaghi’s intention being to dominate the play.
Lazio’s wing-backs, Marušić and Senad Lulić, maintained a very high position whenever possession was secured, which thus pinned back the wing-backs of Milan. This meant that whenever Milan managed to steal the ball, Lazio’s defensive players were able to deal with the threat immediately due to Milan’s lack of width. Whenever Suso, Cultrone or Hakan Çalhanoğlu received the ball with the responsibility of commencing a counterattack, they were often isolated and closed down, which resulted in the ball being lost and Lazio regaining their control.
Lazio’s 3-5-1-1 / 3-5-2 formation against Milan’s 5-4-1 defensive organization
There were some periods in which Milan managed to secure possession for short sequences, thus allowing their wing-backs to advance higher. However, most of those sequences ended fairly quickly due to a poor decision being made on the ball, such as a hopeless diagonal pass, or a forced play due to Lazio’s pressure on the ball-carrier. Inzaghi’s side remained consistently assertive, and although an opening goal appeared unlikely, Lazio seemed the most probable to score.
Milan’s Overdue Width
Despite being pinned back for most of the contest, Gattuso’s side managed to find a breakthrough on the 78th minute which came as a direct result of width finally supporting the play. As previously highlighted, on too many occasions Milan struggled to sustain pressure because Lazio regained the ball before their wing-backs were able to advance highly and offer width.
This time however, Calabria’s positioning was high enough for Suso to immediately find him with a lofted pass over Lazio’s defensive line. Calabria then carried the ball towards the byline and cut back his cross for Kessié, who’s shot deflected past the helpless Thomas Strakosha. This was one of the very few instances in which Gattuso’s wing-backs managed to attack, as shown in the graphic below, and a goal was scored as a result.
Lazio’s defensive positioning just before Milan’s goal
Milan broke the deadlock against the run of play, and Lazio continued to probe until the final stages, in which they elected to go direct with a more desperate formation. Stefan Radu was replaced by a striker – Felipe Caicedo – as Inzaghi altered to a back four in an attempt to find a goal. Gattuso maintained the same system, and oddly refused to make a single substitution at any stage, which could have wasted valuable time.
In the end, the equalizer was scored in the 94th minute by substitute Joaquin Correa, who replaced Luis Alberto shortly after the hour mark. In a desperate attempt to score, the ball was floated from the halfway line into the penalty box, and Cristián Zapata’s headed clearance fell to Correa, who controlled the ball with his knee and fired in a half-volley past Gianluigi Donnarumma, who had been impressive throughout, but could not save this effort. After the goal, no big chances were noted, which meant the match ended in a 1-1 draw.
Overall, both sides played similar formations and essentially negated each other for the most part. The home side remained the more proactive for most of the match, by asserting a stamp on the play through bold positioning and competent management of counterattacks. The aggressivity shown by Lazio resulted in Milan struggling to assume control, with most plays breaking down due to a lack of width and connectivity in advanced areas.
Ultimately, a breakthrough appeared unlikely unless a mistake, a moment of brilliance, or a fluke occurred. The latter happened, but Wallace’s own goal did come as a consequence of Calabria offering some overdue wide support. Lazio eventually managed to score a deserved goal to level the scores in stoppage time, which was the least Inzaghi’s side deserved for imposing themselves throughout.
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