AS Roma AC Milan 1-2 Serie A

Roma – AC Milan: Milan Outmatch Mourinho’s Men (1-2)

Roma and Milan squared off in a massive Friday night Serie A fixture, with the two teams taking opposite trajectories in the very early stages of the season. The visitors preserved their perfect record with a pretty convincing victory, whilst Roma’s struggles continued as they were left winless after three games.

Tactical analysis and match report by Neel Shelat.

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After a disappointing end to the 2022/23 season that saw them lose the Europa League final and just about secure European football for this season thanks to Juventus’ points deduction, Roma had a lot of work to do over the summer. Things have not gone right for them so far, as their first two league matches saw them draw with Salernitana and lose to last season’s relegation playoff winners Hellas Verona. A much tougher test awaited them in the shape of Milan, heading into which optimism was understandably too quite high.

Milan, meanwhile, were flying after their first two games. The title-winning system of 2021/22 returned but with a few modifications to accommodate the new signings, and it all seemed to click very quickly. They led the way in the extremely early table with six goals scored in two victories – a tally they were keen to add to on the night.

Roma lined up in their usual 3-5-2 formation. As ever, Rui Patrício started in goal behind Gianluca Mancini, Chris Smalling and Diego Llorente who were between wing-backs Mehmet Zeki Çelik and Nicola Zalewski. Leandro Paredes had Bryan Cristante and Houssem Aouar on either side of him in midfield, whilst Stephan El Sharaawy joined Andrea Belotti up front.

Milan named an unchanged side from the one that beat Torino, so Mike Maignan saw a back four of Davide Calabria, Malick Thiaw, Fikayo Tomori and Theo Hernández in front of him again. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tijani Reijnders started either side of Rade Krunić in midfield, whilst Christian Pulisic and Rafael Leão flanked Olivier Giroud up front.

Milan pull Roma apart early on

As they often tend to do, Roma set themselves up in a 5-3-2 medium block out of possession which often quickly became a low block as their opponents pushed forward. In so doing, they asked Milan to try and break them down, which was an invitation the visitors gladly accepted.

In the early stages of this season, Stefano Pioli’s side have clicked fantastically in possession. Although they do generally conform to a somewhat fixed structure, what makes them so dangerous is the fluidity and interchanges among their attackers – especially on the flanks. On the left, Leão and Hernández have been forming one of the most formidable wing attacks in the world for quite a while now, so the major improvement this season has come on the right where summer signings Pulisic and Loftus-Cheek have connected quite seamlessly.

Another common theme in Milan’s matches so far this season has been right back Calabria inverting into midfield through all phases. Against a deeper Roma defense, though, they had the freedom to mix things up a bit with their buildup structure too. So, Hernández generally started deep on the left and helped his side play out before pushing forward where he was free to drift in centrally, whilst Krunić always stayed back as the deepest midfielder and sometimes even dropped in to split the center-backs.

All of these rotations show up quite clearly in their passmap from the match:

Milan’s passmap also shows how successful their buildip structure was with strong connections between each of the players in it as well as a few good progression lanes to the attackers.

The visitors scored an early opener from the penalty spot, but the goal was created down the right wing through one of their most common rotations. Loftus-Cheek pulled out wide to receive a pass from a defender on the wing, before turning and looking to go forward. He found Giroud available inside to play a quick one-two with, so he did so and burst into the box. The Englishman’s initial attempt was blocked, but he was illegally prevented from getting to the rebound by the goalkeeper which is why a penalty was awarded.

Roma defend higher but no better

Not too long after conceding, Roma realized they could no longer afford do defend so deep whilst trailing in front of their home crowd. So, they started to step higher into the opposition half, although there were some major holes in their setup.

Due to the fact that they tried to maintain a flat back five, they were left weak on the wings. Milan could not make much of this on their right side due to the fact that Calabria was inverting into midfield, but with Hernández wider and sometimes even deeper on the left, they looked deadly down that wing.

On that side, Çelik was asked to closely follow Leão wherever he went. So, the Portuguese winger contrived to create space in behind by initially dropping deep before spinning in behind. Milan were then able to access this space in behind either through a direct ball or via support from Reijnders or Krunić, who would be left free because the Roma midfielder was forced to step out to Hernández.

15th minute: Milan look to attack the space in behind of Roma’s defense through some quick one-touch passes to set Leão off. In this instance, he was blocked off and fouled by Çelik.

Roma’s defense was repeatedly exposed in this manner, but they made no adjustment to try and prevent it from happening. The only positive for them to take from the first half was the fact that they were no more than a goal down, but otherwise they were outclassed in all departments.

Tomori’s red card somewhat skews the stats

Milan were in complete control throughout the first half, where the only thing missing for them was a second goal that would cushion their lead a bit. They got that very quickly after the break thanks to an ingenious strike from Leão, after which they looked on course to cruise to a comfortable win.

However, there was a spanner in the works when Tomori picked up a silly second yellow card just after the hour mark. Milan were forced to adopt a much more defensive approach thereafter and had to give up a lot of their possession, which somewhat diminished their dominance in the overall match statistics.

Roma still struggled to create any meaningful chances and looked particularly flat in attack until the introductions of new signing Romelu Lukaku and Italian international Leonardo Spinazzola, but they could only make an impact on the scoresheet in stoppage-time. Spinazzola pulled one back with a strike from range, but it was too little too late by then.


It might be too early in the season to get the alarm bells ringing, but there definitely should be a lot of concern around what Roma are doing. They have looked poor in all departments so far, struggling to show any significant attacking threat against the ten men of Milan or indeed relegation-battlers such as Salernitana and Hellas Verona, whilst their defense looks quite shaky too both collectively and on an individual level. The transfer window is now shut as well, so they must quickly find an in-house solution to their problems.

Milan, on the contrary, might even be described as early title favorites on the back of their three performances so far. They have not been tested too much defensively so that is the only area still worth scrutinizing, but their attack looks sensational. Everything seems to be clicking when they have the ball including the new signings who are just a few games into their Milan career, so they look like the team to beat after three matches of the new season.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. Click to enlarge.
Check the match plots page for plots of other matches.


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