Milan’s fifth defeat in just nine rounds made clear the extent of the problems they are dealing with. Defeat at the Olimpico is understandable enough, but not when gifting two goals to a decimated and exhausted Roma side.
Roma came into the game with about half of their main squad injured and Edin Dzeko playing with a mask on due to a broken cheekbone. The Giallorossi had only one midfielder in Jordan Veretout fit, so Paulo Fonseca played centre-back Gianluca Mancini in a more advanced role barely three days on from the Europa League match with Borussia Monchengladbach.
With all this in mind, how did Milan look more fatigued, sluggish and disjointed than Roma?
Stefano Pioli stuck to having Lucas Biglia in midfield. Hakan Calhanoglu started on the left, Suso kept his place and so did Franck Kessie. Krzysztof Piatek had to stay content with a spot on the bench for the second consecutive game, as Rafael Leao started up front.
Milan did start bright and won a flurry of corners in the first few minutes, even had a goal disallowed for offside. But the bounce faded off soon enough, as Roma grew into the clash at the Stadio Olimpico.
Yet again this season, it was a case of individual errors letting Milan down. It must be frustrating for a coach to see all the hard work undone by mistakes that you’d expect from a youth team player rather than an international. Can you really spend precious time training top flight stars on how to pass the ball accurately to another teammate?
Franck Kessie left Edin Dzeko, of all people, unmarked at the far post to hand the Bosnian what could be the easiest headed goal of the season. The lesson wasn’t learned, because Roma should’ve had another two identical goals, if not for Mancini and Chris Smalling turning free headers off target from six yards. Again, these are their most dangerous players in the air, the first ones you ought to be tracking. There’s tactics and then there’s basic common sense.
Even the glimmers of hope disguised imminent disappointment. Davide Calabria replaced the visibly struggling Andrea Conti and his cross helped create Theo Hernandez’s equaliser. However, it was also Calabria who passed the ball straight to Dzeko in the final third, allowing Nicolò Zaniolo to score relatively undisturbed. Another gift, another Roma goal.
Milan are a disaster defensively and can make schoolboy errors at an astounding rate in a single game. At some point, people have to acknowledge there’s only so much a coach can do when the basics are so alarmingly poor.
That’s not to say the various tacticians who passed through the Rossoneri doors don’t have issues to answer for.
The selection of Biglia continues to be a talking point. The Argentine contributed just about nothing, while Kessie was constantly making a mess. This lack of effort and concentration cost Milan against Lecce too.
Pioli, Paolo Maldini and everyone else keep insisting that there is no special treatment, that every player must earn his spot in the team. Yet Suso is always the first name on the teamsheet, despite his predictability forcing everyone around him to adjust their tactics to suit his frankly negligible presence. Make no mistake, if this team is persisting with 4-3-3, it’s because of the Spaniard and his seemingly cast-iron guarantee of a place on that right flank.
As for Roma, Fonseca will be delighted with the effort his players put in. They were organised, compact and worked their socks off despite almost being a half-broken side. The fact they are only one point off fourth-placed Napoli in the midst of an incredible injury crisis is remarkable and gives hope for what they could achieve with even just three-quarters of their squad available this season.