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Evolution or Revolution – AC Milan


Welcome to Evolution or Revolution, the Stats Perform off-season series where we analyse three areas with room for improvement for sides across Serie A. Some teams only need small tweaks in areas of their play, but for others wholesale revolution is required. This piece focuses on AC Milan, who will be looking to continue the outstanding post lockdown form they showed throughout the summer.


By: Edoardo Donati

AC Milan began the last campaign looking to embark on a new era following the summer departure of Gennaro Gattuso, who was replaced as Head Coach by Sampdoria’s Marco Giampaolo.

Unfortunately for Giampaolo, his reign at the San Siro was short lived. Following four defeats in his first seven matches he was dismissed and replaced by former Inter coach Stefano Pioli, who had been out of work for six months after leaving Fiorentina the previous April.

Following a short settling in period, Pioli embarked on his own revolution going into 2020, establishing a Milan side embodying his own trademark approach to the game.

Adding Experience and Embracing the High Press

Pioli is a coach known for adopting a high press and his approach was quickly instilled into Milan following his appointment. Over the course of 2019/20, the Rossoneri attempted 51 shots following a high turnover, more than any other Serie A team.

Milan were one of Europe’s form sides post-lockdown, scoring more goals than any other team across the big five leagues (35) and averaging 2.5 points per game – only Bayern Münich (3) and Real Madrid (2.8) boasted a better tally.

One player who has benefitted from Pioli’s appointment is Hakan Calhanoglu. Having operated on the left wing early in the season, his move to a more central attacking role saw the number of chances he created per 90 increase from 1.9 per 90 pre-lockdown, to 3.2 post-lockdown.

Only Lionel Messi (15) was involved in more goals than Calhanoglu (14) in the big-five leagues post-lockdown and the Turkish international became the first AC Milan midfielder, since Kaká back in May 2008, to be directly involved in at least one goal in five successive league games.

Another key decision made by Milan earlier this year was to use the January transfer window to instil more experience into the squad. Since taking over ownership of the club in 2018, the Elliott Management group has looked to predominantly recruit young players with the potential to develop and increase in value. This strategy has resulted in Milan having the youngest squad in Serie A (25 years, 84 days).

In January a number of the club’s senior executives, notably Paolo Maldini, felt that experience was required to support their nucleus of young players. This resulted in the signing of Simon Kjaer, initially on loan from Sevilla and the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from MLS.

Their arrival, together with that of 20-year-old prospect Alexis Saelemaekers, coincided in their upturn in form. Indeed, since the start of 2020, only Atalanta have picked up more points (47) than AC Milan (45) in Serie A.

With Kjaer and Saelemaekers making their loan moves permanent this summer, together with further reinforcements in the form of Sandro Tonali, Brahim Diaz and Pierre Kalulu, who are all aged 21 or under, Milan are well placed to build on their promising 2020 so far.

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Providing Support to Zlatan

Since his return to the San Siro, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been talismanic in Milan’s revival, scoring 10 goals in 18 games. Despite only participating in half of the campaign, he generated the highest season xG across Milan’s squad (10.6) and the highest volume of shots on goal per 90 (1.4).

The Swede’s impact is reflected in Milan’s results. They averaged 2.1 points per game and a win percentage of 61% in games he featured in last season, compared to1.4 points and 40% when he didn’t.

Ibrahimovic is the oldest player to score ten goals or more in a single Serie A campaign (38 years and 302 days) and is also the player with the most goals (167) after turning 30 in the top-5 European Leagues since 2000. He also holds the distinction of being the only player in Serie A history to score 50 goals for both Milan clubs.

Although Ibrahimovic’s performances demonstrate that he still has what it takes to perform at the highest level, there remains a question mark as to whether he can maintain the same level of performance over a full season, particularly given he will be turning 39 next month. Ante Rebic, operating on the left hand side, was the only other Milan player to reach double figures for league goals (11) last season, whilst their two other strikers to play in at least 1,000 league minutes, Rafael Leão and Krzysztof Piatek, were both unable to get as many shots away from high quality locations as their veteran teammate.

If Milan are to challenge for honours in 2020/21, they will need their young attacking players to step-up and support Ibrahimovic, otherwise the Swede could be faced with the burden of carrying his team’s attacking threat on his ageing shoulders.

Stats Perform Verdict: Revolution Required

Addressing Donnarumma’s Slight Dip in Form

Since breaking into the Milan side at the age of 16, Gianluigi Donnarumma has been one of Milan’s most consistent performers.

According to Stats Perform’s xGOT model, which can help establish how many goals the average goalkeeper would be expected to concede, given the quality of the shot location (xG) and the end goalmouth location of the shot, Donnarumma has prevented more goals than the model would expect in three of his five seasons as Milan’s first choice.

However, 2019/20 saw him suffer a slight dip in form. Excluding penalties and own goals, he conceded 3.3 more goals than expected based on the quality of the shots he faced, ranking him 16th amongst the first choice keepers across the 20 Serie A clubs.

As highlighted by the graphic below, we can see that he conceded a high volume of goals last season from attempts to his right hand side, as well as a few low shots aimed centrally possessing a low xGOT probability.

As well as posting the lowest season goal prevented rate of his career to date, Donnarumma also made seven individual errors which led to either an opposition shot or goal last season. Only Lecce keeper Gabriel (10) recorded a higher number. Donnarumma also claimed only 81% of the crosses he came for cleanly too, below the league average of 83%, dropping the ball on five separate occasions.

When we take into account his over performance on xGOT in 2018/19, the errors during the last campaign can be viewed as a potential blip that can affect any keeper, particularly one still only 21 years of age, but Milan will be hoping that he can regain the form he showed under Gattuso once the competition resumes this weekend.

Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Review other pieces in this series:
Manchester United
Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City
Leeds United
West Brom
Real Sociedad

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