“The match was lost in midfield”, said Siniša Mihajlović, the Coach addressing the media afer having watched his Milan side be thoroughly outplayed over the course of 90 minutes. “We will move on and try and improve. On Sunday we didn’t pass the ball around enough, there were lots of errors and we weren’t purposeful enough.”
It was a damming indictment of the way the Rossoneri had performed in the centre of the pitch, but the real problem is that those comments came after their loss to Fiorentina on the first day of the season. Now, over three months later, little has changed as Mihajlović continues to struggle for a solution, trying a variety of formations and players with little success.
Results have improved of late, with seven goals scored in the last two matches against Sampdoria and Crotone in the Coppa Italia, however the stats show that results can be attributed to strong performances both in defence and attack. In order to continue to improve, the coach must address the long term inadequacies in the midfield.
It is surprising that Milan, the sixth-placed team in Serie A, are as low as 12th in terms of possession with just 48.8 per cent. It is a similar story with the pass completion rate which is just 78.1 per cent, seeing them placed only 10th in the rankings. Mustering 13.3 shots per game – the eighth highest in the division - their attacking combination of Carlos Bacca and Giacomo Bonaventura are working overtime with little service from the midfield.
Since his debut against Sassuolo on 25th October, 16-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma has hit the headlines for some superb performances, and has helped Milan shore up the defence. The next game against Chievo was Milan’s first clean sheet of the season, and since then, the Italian youngster has been beaten just three times.
Milan’s most used midfield trio this term - Ricardo Montolivo, Andrea Bertolacci and Juraj Kucka - have each provided a solitary assist, illustrating exactly how little the midfield have contributed to the nineteen goals scored in total this season. If you consider the fact that Bonaventura has supplied five assists on his own, the extent of Mihajlović’s problem becomes clear. Although adept at shielding the defence, Milan’s midfield simply must be more creative going forward.
Bonaventura was deployed in a deeper role for the win over Samp, but seemed far from content. “I’ve played in the midfield three and I did well getting a goal and blending-in, but I think when you play in that role you have to play more sensibly. Maybe playing in midfield limits my qualities a bit, but I try to give my contribution in any case."
With the defence and the forward players working efficiently, it must be said that if Mihajlović can solve this problem then his side can continue to push on this season. The fact that the team is still suffering from the same issue three months on from that first game against Fiorentina however, is a worrying sign that the Serbian Coach is out of ideas – just like his midfield.