AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Attackers

Wide Attackers

The attacking wide men in the AC Milan side play in the inverted winger and inside forward roles, depending upon who is playing in the various positions. The players drive at the half space in between central defenders and full backs before looking for a cross/shooting opportunity in the inverted winger role, or look to cut across further in the inside forward roles before seeking to shoot or pass to an on-rushing teammate.

Attacking Midfield Right-Hand Side

New boy Emi Buendía had an excellent first season. One brief look at his player radar and percentiles tells you as much. He was league-leading in both non-penalty goals and assists – putting him out on his own for goal contribution amongst attacking wide players. With a total of 32 goal involvements out of all goals scored by AC, this was a whopping 45.71%. His 14% goal conversion is also incredible given that he was responsible for taking direct free kicks when on the field of play. His desire to drive at his opponents, using his trickery to go beyond players and lay on chances for his teammates or find himself in goal-scoring situations. His 76% passing success highlights that he was willing to attempt risky passes if it was for the benefit of the team, and given his 0.37 assists per ninety, these look to have been highly effective when they did make it through to a teammate.

Fellow right-sided attacker, Suso, would by any normal standards have had an excellent season, were it not for his teammate above. He was second in the league behind Buendía for both key passes and assists per ninety. His eleven assists and nine non-penalty goals in 30.42 90s gave him a goal contribution of 0.66 per game, or 28.57% of all goals that AC Milan scored across the season. He too sought out the riskier passes for the benefit of the team, explaining his poor pass completion statistics, but again, when these risky passes are leading to goals, they should not be discouraged.

Attacking Midfielder Left-Hand Side

Rebić’s performance highlights a potential weakness within the AC Milan set up – either with the recruitment team or the tactical system. His two year loan spell has been average at best – literally, if you look at his percentiles for 2020-21. Whilst he was something of a goal threat (registering seven non-penalty goals) he was not a key contributor of assists (just two to his name), his goal contribution saw him fall at the 60th percentile – nothing much special for a side that outscored the rest of the league relatively comfortably. He could and perhaps should have scored more given his high number of shots on target over the season – poor finishing or just bad luck in front of goal cannot be assessed with the current available data. Overall, looking into these available metrics, his loan will not be made permanent, nor will AC be seeking to extend the loan.

The question of recruitment or tactical set-up is further compounded when analysing Rodrigo De Paul’s performance. He too had a mediocre season to put it mildly. His recruitment from Udinese at the start of the season looked promising, given his relatively cheap price and the performances he had put in for over the season that saw the Udine-based club relegated. Whilst it was anticipated that he would be a back-up player to Rebić, his quality of performance when he was on the field was not at a level that is expected of AC Milan, despite his eight assists. A goal conversion rate of 4%, and only 0.86 shots on target per ninety meant that when De Paul was in a position to shoot, he was either taking poor quality shots, or wasting good chances. Recruitment will need to focus on this area, not just because Rebić’s loan is at an end, but primarily to add quality and redress the issue of an imbalance across I Rossoneri’s attack. With both players coming in at around half of Suso’s goal involvement, and well below that of Buendía, scouts have been charged with finding a player ready for first team football at the San Siro.

Emi Buendía’s performance in front of goal becomes apparent when you compare it directly to the other AMR/AMLs. He destroys most other players in the same sections of the field, with only Lorenzo Insigne coming close to matching his goal output to shots. With Suso and Rebić somewhere around average, Rodrigo De Paul’s poor season looks even more drastic with this comparison.

Ronaldo’s ridiculous number of shots on target/90 can go partly towards explaining his goal output, but he was far less efficient than either Buendía or Insigne. Using this metric to analyse potential replacements for Rebić’s loan expiring, no-one appears to be an abundantly obvious prospect.

Buendía also looks to be way out from the rest, but alongside Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne, when it comes to the number of non-penalty goals and goal conversion. This metric is more useful to demonstrate that Ronaldo is profligate in front of goal, shooting with incredible frequency within ninety minutes. Roberto Insigne is a big outlier in this metric, but only played 16.47 90s (1,482 minutes) and scored only two goals from just twelve shots taken. As such, his metrics should be ignored due to a small sample size.

Measuring creative abilities against finishing output of these attacking players gives further evidence as to how successful the two AMRs were for AC Milan.

When assessing the input of players playing in these positions towards creating chances with key passes to the number of passes completed, remarkably, given his frequency of assists, Buendía isn’t far away from the crowd. Fiorentina’s Marius Wolf is another example of a player who appears to have been exceptional in terms of his desire to be involved in play. Yet, when the numbers are analysed, he only played 15.14 90s (1,363 minutes). Therefore, his 1.78 key passes across 65.44 passes per ninety need to be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s plausible that these numbers could have come down across more minutes. Hestad also only played 16.86 90s (1,517 minutes), so there’s cause for caution there too. However, Federico Chiesa’s figures came across 39.64 90s (3,568 minutes), so are far more reliable. His key pass frequency is actually better than that of Buendía, even if they are across considerably more passes per ninety. Federico Chiesa is already known to be a considerable talent and fits the requirements of the AC Milan board of signing young players for the first team. Scouts will be sent out to watch his games and assess his availability from Fiorentina.

Centre Forward

Krzysztof Piątek top scored in Serie A over the 2020-21 season, with 31 non-penalty goals. His marksmanship saw him score 14% of all shots taken, putting him in the top ten percent of all strikers in Serie A. Overall, his involvement was not as strong though. His instinct in front of goal did not appear to be on the same level as his contributions to the rest of the team, in terms of trying to press and win the ball back from the front and make passes to bring in others. A goal involvement of 58.57% is exceptional, but 50% of that came from his goals (including penalties).

His performance in front of goal has him out all on his own when it comes to looking at the number of non-penalty goals against minutes per non-penalty goals. His ability in front of goal has him at the pinnacle of Serie A’s strikers, averaging less than 200 minutes per goal.

Given the above evidence, you could be inclined to believe that Piątek’s season couldn’t have gone much better. Yet when you break down his goal conversion against the number of non-penalty goals that were scored by Serie A strikers, he actually performed below the trend line, this indicating that there was perhaps more to squeeze out of him.

In terms of the rest of the League, Gabriel Barbosa (Gabrigol) looks to have had a remarkable season, scoring at an incredible conversion rate. It has to be questioned as to whether or not this is sustainable going forwards for the Atalanta forward. Cristiano Ronaldo’s shot frequency and quality is also plain for all to see here. Yes he scored the third most goals over the season, but just 8% of all his shots went in. Higuaín practically ashamed him in this regard being far more clinical with the chances provided to him from the playmaking powerhouse in behind him in the form of Modrić, Can, Pjanić and Rabiot.

Serie A strikers appear to be a selfish cohort and Piątek doesn’t seem to be any different from the rest of the crowd. Coming in at just over 0.10 assists per ninety, his goal involvement stemmed from him predominately putting the ball in the back of the net himself rather than laying on opportunities for his fellow teammates. Given his output in front of goal, this should not necessarily be discouraged, assuming he can continue to hit the target on a regular basis.

Romelu Lukaku on the other hand is out there on his own in terms of his goal involvement. A ratio of nearly 0.3A/90 & 0.45G/90 sees the Target Man a fantastic foil for those around him. It’s a wonder that Lautaro Martinez did not finish higher on the goal scoring charts with this level of service from his fellow striker. Martinez actually endured a relatively torrid season by his high ceiling, as did Džeko, though perhaps time and a poor AS Roma showing contributed to this.

Indeed, despite playing as a Complete Forward on Attack, Piątek did not look to heavily involve himself in play. Perhaps a combination of being assigned the Attacking duty, pushing him further away from his teammates and being the sole striker, thus being easier to mark, are explanations for this lack of involvement in the build up play. Yet when he was integrated into the play, he was not profligate with the ball, regularly finding his teammates, to give him an excellent pass completion statistic for a lone front man. Given the preference to play two wide men cutting in to support the attack, hitting in between opposition centre backs and full backs and also to play three central midfielders, the system will not be adjusted just to increase the involvement of a striker, and nor should it if he is able to demonstrate his effectiveness in front of goal with the lowest minutes per goal in Serie A.

With Piątek’s performance taken into consideration and Andre Silva returning on loan from Frankfurt, there is no need to go into the transfer market to add more depth. If anything, Silva’s return frees up Leão to go out on loan himself to gain valuable first-team experience.

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AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Central Midfielders

Central Midfield

The central midfield trio play different roles within the tactical set-up, with a single pivot as a deep-lying playmaker, and the other two as a box-to-box midfielder and a mezzala. As such, the player radars look very different to one another.

Sandro Tonali stepped up to the starting eleven at AC Milan when Bennacer was sold to Liverpool in the January window. The 21-year old demonstrated his playmaking intelligence, completing 89% of all passes attempted, with 2.30 key passes/90. Despite his deeper role, he still created above average chances amongst his peers and was prepared to do more of the dirty side of the pivot role by making 4.02 PAdj tackles per game. His PAdj interceptions per 90 were a concern, but perhaps the high pressing tactic of the players ahead of him meant that the ball was won higher up the pitch rather than Tonali picking up loose balls in the space between the midfield and defensive lines.

Giacomo Bonaventura is a chance-creating machine. His 2.85 key passes/90 and his 0.46 chances created per 90 stood him out from the crowd. His chance creation, attempting those risky through balls, did not negatively impact upon his pass completion statistics. This highlights that the chances he was creating ought to have been good quality chances since the opposition must not have been in position to regularly intercept these defence splitting passes. Where Bonaventura fell down was his defensive contributions – bottom five percentiles for PAdj tackles/90 and averse to a foul, highlights that he is not willing to engage in the necessary foiling of opposition attacks.

Domínguez was another new signing in January, picked up from Bologna. Not possessing the relevant attributes to play the box-to-box role, when he played, he became a deep-lying playmaker in the central midfield strata. This may explain in part his below average pass completion statistics and his key passes/90. Where he will need to improve is his PAdj Tackles/90 (2.40) and PAdj Interceptions/90 (1.18), but at the age of 22, he will be given the chance to work on these areas.

Guimarães was one of the first signings of the January transfer window. His versatility meant that he was able to play across all three of the midfield roles, highlighted by his generally above average metrics. It was this versatility that perhaps held back his first team action, only playing 13.52 90s after his arrival. Not necessarily extraordinary in any of these fields, the fact that he is able to play key passes, dribble the ball and create chances for team mates without giving away the ball, means that his contribution was valuable.

Initially, Paquetá found himself out of favour in the balance of the midfield three, with Kessié, Bennacer and Bonaventura the preferred three. Yet as the season progressed, Paquetá found himself receiving more minutes as his ability to contribute an attacking threat in the mezzala role. His four goals and three assists gave him 0.21 goal contributions per 90. Once more, the lack of defensive contribution from Paquetá was a concern, much like other AC Milan players, but this is not necessarily the role that is expected of him in this side.

Tonali’s and Bonaventura’s playmaking abilities are highlighted by the below graphic. They make excellent chances for their team mates without recklessly giving away the ball. Compare this to someone like Luis Alberto who has 78% pass completion yet created nearly 2.40 chances per 90 – clearly high risk, the same as Tonali, but Tonali had a pass completion some 11% better.

Further investigation into chance creation within the midfield strata demonstrates just how many chances Luis Alberto was creating for his Lazio team mates. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic also looks like a monster when it comes to goal-scoring opportunities that he was also laying on for I Biancocelesti. Little wonder that Lazio scored the third highest number of goals in Serie A (66).

The below graphic sorts the playmakers from the water carriers. Strangely, Paquetá rears his head in the poor creativity and low passing frequency, which shouldn’t really be the case with his attributes. Perhaps the play being focussed down the right when he played down the left counted against him, along with having a playmaker in behind him demanding the ball from team mates, but this was still disappointing and surprising for a team that dominated possession. Equally, the play-making abilities of Modric, Rabiot and Pjanic for Juventus stick out.

The below graphic highlights something similar – with Rabiot, Modric and Pjanic out on their own with Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto. Fellow Juventus player, Emre Can, is also an outlier, creating an assist to nearly ever chance created (13 assists from 16 chances created). This metric analysis graphic also demonstrates the quality of Bonaventura’s chances that he was creating for those around him, being well above the trend-line. Domínguez appears to have been unlucky not to have made an assist given his 0.3 chances created/90.

To look at the other side of the midfield part of the game, raw data on tackles/90 and interceptions/90 were compared to identify players that were good at breaking up play. This is where Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s importance to Lazio’s side becomes crystal clear. He breaks play up with regularity and then lays on chances for the likes of Immobile ahead of him. He’s a managers dream – no wonder that he is wanted by some of Europe’s elite sides with a hefty price tag attached to him. Once highly thought of, Alfred Duncan, looks to have had a season to forget, coming out average with tackles/90 but minimal interceptions/90 and poor passing creativity and low risk passing.

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AC Milan 2020-21 Season – Player Analysis: Defenders

Central Defenders

AC Milan employed a flat back four throughout the season, using three main central defenders: Alessio Romagnoli, Mateo Musacchio and Mattia Caldara. The stand-out performer of the trio was the Club captain, Romagnoli. Whilst his pressure adjusted (PAdj) tackles/90 and key tackles/90 were very low (12th and 16th percentile respectively), he was won 91% of these tackles and made a pressure adjusted 3.15 interceptions per 90. This demonstrates that he was able to read the game well and pick off the opposition attacks before dangerous situations arose. In the top 10% in the air, he was a goal threat from set-pieces (scoring four goals) and able to defend from the back from long-balls and when defending set-pieces.

Argentine, Musacchio, was the best passing defender over the course of the season for I Rossoneri. The ball-playing defender completed 35.30 passes/90, and was the League-leading passer for a defender, which helped the team to build up from the back. His tackling was effective, with 2.89 PAdj/Tackles/90 and he won 91% of all attempted tackles. However, his ability to read play through interceptions and lack of height to win headers meant that he was a significant weakness for AC when defending aerial balls. His heading percentages were the lowest across the League for all central defenders and a full 15% below Serie A average.

Caldara played 34.27 90s, and was also a solid passer, much like Musacchio. A further similarity to Musacchio was that whilst Caldara did win 4.32 headers/90, his heading was actually poor, winning only 71% of his aerial challenges. His ability to read the game was also something of a concern, making only 2.49 PAdj interceptions/90. Whilst AC had 56% possession, adjusting for this, he was still below average.

The first looks at the defending abilities of the Leagues defenders – assessing their ability to win aerial duels and win tackles, using percentages to measure their capabilities. As can be seen, all three of the AC Milan defenders were well above average for the percentage of tackles won, so were clearly strong in ground duels. Musacchio’s stand-out aerial (in)abilities, for all the wrong reasons, are stark when represented in the below graphical format. He is vastly below the average and well below the next worse aerial performances. This is something that will need to be addressed going into the 2021-22 season. Given that Musacchio is not about to see a growth spurt, it looks like Musacchio will need to be shown the door if the risk of conceding through aerial attacks and long balls is to be overcome. Yes, the team may have only conceded 17 goals all season, but marginal gains could be necessary with improvements being made by their Serie A rivals. Neither Acerbi (33), nor Manolas (having recently joined Napoli from Roma) are viable transfer targets, but scouts have been sent out to do eye tests on Fiorentina’s 23-year old, Nikola Milenkovic and also 21-year old, Gabriele Corbo, of Bologna.

As a side note, what is striking from these figures is how relatively ‘poor’ Juventus’s defenders were at ground duels. Chiellini is the definition of average and Rugani and de Ligt were well below 85% tackle success rates.

Where Musacchio claws back some of his reputation was through his ability to tackle on the ground. Winning well above League average tackle percentages, he won more (non-PAdj here) tackles per 90. Romagnoi and Caldara were remarkably similar – perhaps an indication that they played in a similar way. Veseli’s stand out tackling abilities are let down by his below League average heading abilities, so he was not put forward to the scouting teams. Manolas, again, looks a stand-out prospect, proof that Napoli recruited an outstanding defender when buying him from Roma – it’s looking possible to draw a link to his defensive abilities and their Champions League qualification, conceding 29 goals, nine fewer than Juventus and third best in the League.

Perhaps another way to look at defending capabilities is to assess the number of tackles and interceptions players make over the course of ninety minutes. Again, these numbers are not PAdj numbers, which could help to explain the outliers of Veseli, Müldür and Maksimovic. PAdj numbers would require the identification of all games each player played in and the possession of their respective team for those individual matches for the minutes they were on the field – this has not been collected, so these are ‘raw’ figures. Here, Romagnoli comes across as a more than reasonable reader of the game, but his two colleagues pulled up well short of ‘average’. Credit now looks like it is shifting towards young AC Milan youth team graduate, Gianluigi Donnarumma, for the number of clean sheets and League-low number of goals conceded.

The potential transfer target identified above, Corbo, did not pull up any trees in his reading of the game but perhaps given his young age, he could have time to develop this area under the right tutelage and coaching. Milenkovic looks more developed, which at 23-years of age is perhaps to be expected. It will be interesting to see what the scout reports bring, should the AC Milan transfer team decide to strengthen the central defensive area.

Full Backs

Right Backs

Italian right back duo, Davide Calabria (24) and Andrea Conti (27), completed the most passes per 90 amongst all right backs in Serie A (right backs were simultaneously compared with left backs in this data). Not only did Conti complete the second most passes/90, behind only Calabria, he was in the 98th percentile (100th amongst right backs) by passing percentages. Given their respective role, to create width in a relatively narrow 4-3-3, the number of passes that these two players have contributed to the side indicate that they are a key cog in the tactical set-up. Both are functional defenders, operating at around average tackle percentages, and at or around average PAdj tackles/90. Yet it is their dribbles per game that highlight the space out wide that they are afforded by the way that the inside forward drifts inside and the box-to-box midfield operates vertically. Yet their crossing statistics are not anything much to write home about. This is likely because rather than opting to float or whip the ball into the box, the players are instead instructed to work the ball into the box to look for an opening. This correlates with the high frequency of passes, rather than crossing when an opportunity is presented to them, they instead opt to pass the ball back to a midfielder or into the half-space where the inside forward occupies.

Left Backs

Given that the left-full back berth was gutted by incoming transfer bids which were accepted in the January transfer window, new boys Cucurella and Wöber had little time to settle into life in Milan.

Cucurella was the man chosen to be first-choice left back, playing 14.90 90s, from January through to May. Much like his opposing right backs, he too was a successful passer, but ranked lowest in the League for both headers won and interceptions per 90. Given his lack of playing time at Barcelona when picked up by AC Milan, he will be awarded another season to adjust to the AC Milan playing style and improve upon his defensive capabilities. His attacking output, completing a creditable 22% of all his crosses for the right-side inside forward and Piatek to attack, was what distinguished him from others.

Nominally a centre back by trade before his arrival at AC Milan, Wöber spent time learning his new role as a left wing-back. This, along with the jump in quality from the Austrian Bundesliga, helps explain his dramatic drop off in PAdj interceptions/90 and tackles/90 compared to his statistics at Red Bull Salzburg which highlighted his abilities to the recruitment team. Nonetheless, his adaptation has not been without some success, given he contributed 1.13 key passes/90. His crossing ability does though give cause for concern and this will need to improve if he is to be an effective wing back.

Cucurella’s defensive frailties are highlighted by the raw figures and his tackle percentage. Conti and Calabria fair much better, around average, but Sassuolo’s left wing-back Rogério looks to have remarkable statistics across his 33.96 90s. Scouts have been sent out to assess his abilities and see if his season was simply freakish or an indication of his capacity.

Rogério’s crossing metrics highlight that perhaps his time was spent defending rather than being more of an all-rounder. De Sciglio looks to be more of a prospect, but it is unlikely that he would leave Juventus to come back to AC Milan.

The below graphic is designed to highlight the roles that players were playing for their team, along with their importance of the width that they were able to add. Players towards the bottom left of the graph were likely playing highly restricted, defensive roles, not giving away possession by crossing the ball nor dribbling with the ball at risk of losing possession. The players towards the top right of the graph must have been crucial towards the attacking output of their respective sides. Pol Lirola’s crosses/90 are let down by his percentage of successful crosses, the same with Alessandro Florenzi. Given that Cristiano Piccini is at Inter Milan, and Federico Dimarco was on loan at Cagliari from Inter, any upgrades from within Serie A look to be short on availability for full backs should AC Milan decide to enter the market for one.

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