Milan has started off their Serie A campaign with back-to-back victories for only the second time in 11 seasons. Given the quality of their opponents they have played so far, few will say it comes as a surprise. With respect to Crotone and Cagliari, the talent of their squads is nothing like Juventus, AS Roma and Napoli. Regardless, they are off to a hot start.
Just like they did against Crotone, Milan sprinted out of the gates and immediately put Cagliari under pressure. They moved the ball with precision and kept possession. They were rewarded in the 10th minute when 19-year-old Patrick Cutrone finished off a perfectly placed cross by Suso from the right wing.
Fullbacks Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez were pushing up in attack, and regularly made overlapping runs that gave Cagliari problems. Mateo Musacchio and Leonardo Bonucci were holding a high line, stomping out any counter-attack Cagliari tried to produce. However, for as good as Milan’s defense has been throughout their first six games of the season, their defensive flaws were on full display Sunday night. With a brand new back line, it was evident that they need to get used to playing with each other.
Even though those overlapping runs made by Conti and Rodriguez can be dangerous, they left Musacchio and Bonucci totally exposed. After a mandatory water break in the 25th minute, Milan’s tempo dropped and Cagliari started to exploit the weaknesses in Milan’s defense. Although Musacchio and Bonucci are skilled center-backs, neither of them are known for their pace. Marco Sau and Joao Pedro started to take advantage of that, and if it wasn’t for a shot hitting the post and Gigio Donnarumma making a couple of great saves, Cagliari would have been level before the half.
In Milan’s first fives games of the season, they were never really threatened, but Cagliari put their defense in total disarray. It was as if the back line was not prepared for the constant waves of attack being tossed at them. In the 52nd minute Joao Pedro deservedly got on the score sheet, and if it were not for a brilliant free kick scored by Suso in the 70th minute, Cagliari would have come away with a well fought point away from home.
Tactically, coach Vincenzo Montella will have a lot to ponder as these problems need to be fixed quickly. In the second leg of their Europa League qualifier against KF Shkendija, Montella experimented with a 3-5-2 formation. That let the fullbacks play more as wing backs and get into the attack more often. Since Conti and Rodriguez both love getting forward, Montella may consider using that formation in the future. Luckily for Montella, both Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli have played in a three-man defense while on international duty for Italy, so it would not be brand new for them.
Milan is going to have two difficult months ahead of them as they play Lazio and open up their Europa League play in September, and then in October when they play AS Roma, Inter and Juventus. Fortunately for Milan, the talent in their back line is not the issue. When you start off the season with a brand new defense, naturally it’s going to take a while until everyone is on the same page. That being said, if Milan is serious about finishing in a Champions League spot, they will need to sort out those issues to reach that goal.