Milan exited the Coppa Italia on Friday night as we were unable to find a way past Juventus in the second leg of our semi-final tie, with the Bianconeri advancing on away goals.
After a three-month absence, the season restarted in Turin this week as we looked to book our place in the final of the Coppa Italia next Wednesday.
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Ante Rebic’s early red card didn’t help us and after failing to find a breakthrough, the reigning Serie A champions will face either Napoli or Inter as they go through after the 1-1 draw at San Siro back in February. Meanwhile, we’re left to assess our disappointment ahead of the encounter with Lecce on June 22.
Five key talking points…
Players put in real shift
Milan looked woefully off the pace in the first half as we struggled to get a hold on Juventus, who in contrast looked as though they had played a few days ago, as they were sharp and crisp in their passing as they dominated proceedings.
After three months without football, it was ultimately the nightmare scenario seeing our players chase shadows around the pitch early on, and it certainly raised concerns.
That said, we grew into the game in the second half and the players showed a brilliant work ethic to dig deep, stay in the game and give ourselves a chance at least of making it through. While the result didn’t go our way, Stefano Pioli will surely be pleased with the effort he saw from his men.
Rebic red card makes it uphill task
Going down to 10 men after just 17 minutes was a huge blow as it left us without a focal point up top and forced us to drop deeper to give Juventus plenty of possession and control over the game.
It was reckless from the Croatian international in truth, and it certainly made our task a lot more difficult as we struggled to pose any sort of threat to Gianluigi Buffon.
While Hakan Calhanoglu, Giacomo Bonaventura and Lucas Paqueta showed glimpses of being able to cause Juve problems, it looked unlikely that we’d find a breakthrough with no-one spearheading the attack.
Solid core with quartet
One of the big positives to come from the game was the quartet at the heart of the side, with Alessio Romagnoli, Simon Kjaer, Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie impressing.
The defensive duo nullified Cristiano Ronaldo for the most part as well as the likes of Paulo Dybala and Douglas Costa when they drifted inside, showing good organisation, understanding and positional awareness to snuff out danger.
As for Bennacer and Kessie, not only did they provide a protective shield in front of the backline with their tenacity and tireless work-rate, they also offered quality and penetration going forward as they were among the top performers.
From Davide Calabria’s early misplaced passes to Andrea Conti still lacking physicality and a commanding presence down the right, it’s fair to say the pair didn’t shine.
Neither were particularly solid defensively as Costa and Dybala caused problems out wide, as did the overlapping Danilo and Alex Sandro, with some part of the blame perhaps on others for not tracking back and offering more cover.
Either way, it exposed our weaknesses down the flanks given we were more commanding through the middle, and so while Pioli will welcome back Theo Hernandez next time out, he has a decision to make at right-back.
The stage was seemingly set for Rafael Leao in the second half, as it clearly made sense to introduce him as his pace and fresh legs could have made a decisive impact.
Instead, we saw the 21-year-old once again lack bite in attack, almost showing disinterest at times in pressing and putting in the work off the ball, while he did little in offering a different dynamic to our attack.
There was even one phase of play where Kessie broke forward from midfield and instead of either making a run in behind or down the channel to give him an option and keep the attack going, the Portuguese forward looped back round his teammate, slowed the move down and played a simple pass sending us backwards.
While there is seemingly a lot of hype around the youngster still, this was a big chance for him to make an impact and show his worth. Having been snubbed by Pioli for his starting XI, it could be argued he’s not entirely convinced either and this won’t have done much to help his cause.