Having lost just two games before the Winter break, AC Milan were sitting atop Serie A. The squad had gone through something of a transformation, as clubs with a higher reputation, such as Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid, picked off some of their best talents. Five players left, three of which were first teams starters, resulting in the AC Milan recruitment team swinging into action to replace those that had left.
Some savvy recruitment ensued, with the Club picking up players using either a data analysis approach (Wöber) or identifying those that were under-valued (e.g. Guimarães) and under-utilised players (Cucarella). These were replacements who, it was hoped, would not drop the quality in the squad, nor jeopardise the harmony among the players, which was very strong given their position as current front-runners for the Serie A title. This approach to the two transfer windows (including the previous Summer window) yielded a net transfer spend of £47m for the year according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, helping the Club return to the black. The established war chest could be useful in the Summer transfer window, after a detailed squad analysis to address any weaknesses or lack of depth. This will be the focus of the next blog post in the series.
There was a strong sense of optimism but not necessarily overwhelming expectations amongst the Milanese hierarchy for the title and trophy to arrive back at the San Siro. Club legends, Messrs Maldini, Baresi and Boban, recognised that the push for the Club’s first Scudetto in 11 years could be realised at the first attempt under their new manager.
In truth, there was little to worry about for the Board. Milan’s second half of season mirrored that of the first in terms of defeats, with just two more losses against their name. The changes to the tactics and the personnel at the Club, amongst both playing and non-playing staff, saw a significant increase in the number of chances created and goals scored. The goal difference soared to +53 as a result, leaving an impressive Atalanta behind in second place, with a ten point gap to I Rossoneri. The title was confirmed at the San Siro following a routine 2-0 victory over Parma in front of the home fans.
Goals came from across the team but Piatek was the Capocannoniere for 2020-21, with a credible 24 goals from 36 games, beating off Immobile and Ronaldo. Leading the front line in a far more creative side than the ’19-20 cohort, and for a team taking considerably more shots, Piatek was able to benefit from the service provided to him and use his impressive finishing ability to put chances away, scoring 20 non-penalty goals. Again, more on this in the next blog post.
The Club’s desire to win Serie A was achieved two years ahead of schedule, which even they conceded was beyond their expectations given Juventus’s domination of the League in recent years. This was seen as something of a fillip for the owners of the Club as they had been touting the Club to potential buyers. This news of success on the field only increased the value of the Club off it, with Singer and partners able to cite higher anticipated future revenue streams from Champions League TV money, as AC would be going straight into the Group Stage as number one seeds. When matched with new sponsorship deals, the financial future of the Club looked to be on a stronger footing than it was at the start of the 2020-21 season.
The Club also had reasonable success in the Europa League, if not actual silverware. The squad made it to the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by RB Leipzig over the two legs.
This journey also significantly boosted the Club’s reputation, though it was still a long way short of the overall target – to return the Club back to its 1990/2000s heydays.
League Financial Spending 2020-21
The on-field success and work of the marketing team to drive sponsorship deals saw AC Milan have a healthy 31% of their revenue being spent on player and staff wages. With the third highest revenue stream in the League, AC look to be well set when it comes to adding to their squad in the Summer. Spare a thought for the directors of Napoli who have an eye-watering 67% wage/revenue expenditure. Add this to the fact that their stadium is rented and in desperate need of renovation/replacing and it might be a while before the Neopolitan’s see a new stadium being built through internal finance. Little wonder Napoli fans are staying away in their droves – their capacity utilisation was less than 50% over the season.
In terms of competing financially with Juventus, great strides have been made with matchday and ticket revenue following a successful season on the field. Attractive attacking football saw the crowds return to San Siro to cheer on their side, with an average attendance of 59,908, some 14.59% up on last year. Together, Juventus and AC account for just over one third of the overall income generated from ticket sales and match day revenues, leaving the other big four in their wake.
League Statistical Analysis
The opening blog of this series looked at the causal relationship between salary expenditure and success, measure in points per game. Analysing the data over the season, AC Milan performed above average on their salary expenditure compared against the rest of the other clubs, with the exception of Atalanta. With Juventus spending well over the norm for the rest of Serie A, their 4th place finish saw them drastically under perform. Atalanta deserve notable commendation for their display in the League with only the eighth largest salary expenditure – the La Dea clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to their financial outlay on recruitment, as well as their training/player development and style of play.
In assessing the League’s use of the ball in possession in terms of points per game, AC Milan again came out favourably. Averaging 56% possession but scoring 70 goals in the 38 game season, only Juventus scored more and with less average possession. This looks to be proof that the tactical style is not just possession for possessions sake but that the ball is being progressed into areas which are yielding goal scoring opportunities. When this data is analysed, Brescia are well below the curve and clearly badly under-performed, not creating enough when in possession of the ball, resulting in their relegation. Inter and Lazio both appear to be capable counter-attacking sides, scoring points but with less than 50% of the ball, finishing 5th and 6th respectively.
Yet, when Il Diablo’s shot efficiency is analysed, the team do not appearing to be scoring significantly above the average number of goals per shot taken. Perhaps more could be done to improve this going forward but it is not an immediate concern. Fiorentina on the other hand, took a considerable number of shots and ones that were presumably of poor quality. La Viola’s possession/PPG is also below the trend line too. Perhaps their build up play is too considered/slow, enabling opposition defences time to organise themselves, in turn forcing Fiorentina to pass the ball around before frustratingly shooting from distance? This data also further underpins Lazio’s abilities on the counter-attack, taking the fourth largest quantity of shots and scoring the third highest number of goals despite their possession statistics. The generation of shots by Juventus is also stand out given their possession statistics. To have taken that many more shots than the rest of the other teams by comparison highlights their trigger happy nature as a team. Although when one builds in the C7 factor, then maybe the water becomes a little clearer? Nonetheless, it’s hard to blame the attack of The Old Lady for not defending their Serie A title with this output.
The adage of “your opponents can’t score if they don’t have the ball” also looks to be true to an extent for AC Milan as they conceded a League low of just 17 goals over the season. Only city rivals, Inter kept more clean sheets, with 25, one more than I Rossoneri. Inter appear to be considerable outliers in this regard – their level of possession conceded to goals conceded demonstrates just how tight their defence was over the season. Fiorentina raise their head above the parapet once more with their defence giving up a considerable number of goals given their League-high levels of average possession. Not only were they wasteful when they had the ball, when the lost it, it cost them goals with a high frequency.
For AC Milan, if youth team graduate, Donnarumma, can maintain this class going forward in his blossoming career, AC could be well-placed to dominate into the future. When combined with the mean defence, their domination of possession in games is the result of their recruitment of highly technical players who resist initial pressures and can play through or around deeper defences when the opposition choose to drop off and regroup. Their tactical build-up and their high work rate to press the opposition when the ball is loss then helps to recycle the ball and transition before the opposition are able to capitalise on any weaknesses.
Looking into this in more statistical depth across Serie A, the Pearson correlation co-efficient for goals scored and total points is 0.89 – a very strong statistical correlation. 1,048 points were obtained with a total of 887 goals scored. Yet, not conceding, i.e. keeping a clean sheet had a Pearson correlation co-efficient of -0.87 (negative as the fewer goals conceded leads to more points being gained). The total number of clean sheets across the League was 276. This is correlation is almost as strong to that of points and scoring goals – highlighting the importance of having a strong attack AND defence in the 2020-21 season.
As teased above, the next blog post will focus on the player performances, using data analysis to monitor compare and contrast the squad’s output against their League counterparts. Keep an eye out for when that drops.