While the game eventually ended in defeat on penalties, Marco Giampaolo can take yet more positives away from Milan’s encounter with Man Utd.
The two sides met in Cardiff on Saturday evening, and after the game ended 2-2 after 90 minutes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men secured the victory in a penalty shoot-out.
As has been the theme throughout pre-season though, it’s the performance and fitness levels that are more important than the results at this stage, and there were plenty of positives to take away from the outing with August 25 against Udinese in our Serie A opener in mind.
The Premier League season kicks off next weekend, and so United are well ahead in their preparations. That shouldn’t be downplayed as it’s commendable that we managed to stick in the game, match them and impress particularly in the first half.
Giampaolo’s influence growing
The work being done at Milanello is evident on the pitch in these friendlies, and we’re talking about a side yet to reach peak fitness levels and with countless key players yet to return to improve the level of quality in the starting line-up.
From our organised pressing as a unit high up the pitch to the quick, intricate passing that speeds up as the ball goes into midfield and with players like Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu finding pockets of space between the lines, we’re showing really impressive signs of being able to build up play with a plan and with different dynamics and ideas.
Last season we were far too predictable and slow in possession, and while at times those old habits came back into play with dull one-twos between the two centre-halves, it’s encouraging to see us play with more intensity on and off the ball and with players providing options and movement.
Important to see Duarte & Hernandez integrate well
Ricardo Rodriguez put in a steady shift as usual, but as seen in Theo Hernandez’s brief debut, his urgency, intensity and energy to not only pressurise the opposition into mistakes but also to make bursting runs forward up the left flank to provide width and an attacking threat makes him a significant improvement at left-back.
Meanwhile, Mateo Musacchio could have done better on both goals and while he is tidy in possession and defends well for the most part, he is still vulnerable to dropping off and making errors that prove to be costly.
It was the same again in this game, and so until Mattia Caldara returns and proves that he can be the ideal partner for Alessio Romagnoli, perhaps Leo Duarte will get his chance to impress Giampaolo in the early stages of the season and keep Musacchio on the bench.
Suso impressive as trequartista
Question marks were raised by many as to whether or not Suso could successfully adapt and be effective in the No.10 role having become so accustomed to being a right-sided winger.
The Spaniard has silenced many detractors with his form and influence through pre-season, and it was evident again in this outing with a superbly struck goal and an assist for the second.
Beyond those decisive moments though, his intelligent ability to find space between the lines, the quick passing to set others free in space and the intricate through balls in behind the defence or down the channels, Suso has made a very strong argument to be given the trequartista role when the season starts which could force Lucas Paqueta back into the midfield three.
Goals will come for Piatek
It’s been a frustrating pre-season for Krzysztof Piatek, as he has failed to find the back of the net and has had opportunities to get on the scoresheet.
Ultimately though, it’s nothing to be concerned about as while he’s still building his match fitness and sharpness, if Milan continue to create chances and impose themselves on games like we’ve done at times over the past week or so, he’ll eventually thrive off the service.
The question mark is still looming over who will partner him up top, as Rafael Leao’s pace, movement and energy could be ideal. Samu Castillejo’s desire and work ethic can’t be faulted, but he still lacks the physicality and first touch to be effective as a starting second striker.
Wonderful to see Bonaventura back
Arguably the moment of the game, it was an absolute joy to see Giacomo Bonaventura return to the pitch and get some minutes under his belt.
Sidelined for eight difficult months after another injury setback, it’s been a long road back for the 29-year-old. However, it’s hoped that this is the first big step towards getting back to full fitness and top form, as he can still be a fundamental part of our plans moving forward.
Having carried us during previous struggles over the years, it will be a real boost to see him back playing regularly when the new campaign gets underway as his technical quality, creativity and eye for goal will be vital for Giampaolo’s style of play and brand of football. Welcome back, Jack!