Five key talking points as Milan battle for hard-fought point against Atalanta

Pioli AC Milan Atalanta

Milan secured a share of the spoils against Atalanta on Friday night in a tightly-contested 1-1 draw as we keep our impressive unbeaten run going since the restart.

Hakan Calhanoglu’s superbly struck free-kick opened the scoring, but despite Gianluigi Donnarumma’s best efforts as he saved an Atalanta penalty, Duvan Zapata was able to find an equaliser in the first half.

READ MORE: Talking tactics: Milan’s effective use of high press, Calhanoglu-Ibrahimovic link up vs Sassuolo

While we had our chances after the break, we couldn’t find a second breakthrough and had to settle for a point. With two games to go though, we’re still very much in the hunt for fifth place which will see us go straight into the group stage of the Europa League and skip the qualifying rounds.

Great effort from all given absentees

With no Alessio Romagnoli, Theo Hernandez and Ismael Bennacer, Milan were always going to struggle to reach the level we’ve displayed in recent weeks and we had to adjust our approach and tactics slightly too.

Take any three players out of a side who are as influential as that trio and that team will struggle, but we coped with the absences well and put up a great fight.

Credit goes to both the players on the pitch who battled hard throughout and stepped up with Matteo Gabbia and Diego Laxalt doing well, and praise must be given to Stefano Pioli too for making sensible changes to keep things fresh in the second half.

Biglia weak link/Bennacer missed

From barely making an impression on the game in the opening 15 to 20 minutes, to giving away the penalty with a sloppy attempt at winning possession and then losing the ball in the build-up to Atalanta’s goal, it was a disaster of a performance from Lucas Biglia for many reasons.

His experience was arguably the reason behind his selection, but when he’s this much of a liability, Pioli surely has to consider starting Rade Krunic next time as at least he offers the energy, mobility and pressure that has worked so well for us in recent weeks and would have allowed us to adopt a similar strategy.

What this game also highlighted though is just how important Ismael Bennacer is to us, as we didn’t look as solid defensively and we were certainly missing that bite, quickness and composure in the heart of the midfield next to Franck Kessie.

Donnarumma comes up big again

While Hakan Calhanoglu was decisive again, Kessie and Simon Kjaer were pillars of the side and others put in positive shifts, Gianluigi Donnarumma deserves a special mention.

Captaining the side for the first time from the start of a game, the 21-year-old put in a good performance and capped it off with a superb save to deny Ruslan Malinovskiy from the penalty spot.

It’s these decisive moments in games that he has been producing for some time now, and especially on the night that he wore the armband, it was great to see him have a direct influence on the outcome.

Mature effort from Gabbia

Still only 20 years of age, the young defender is going to make mistakes. However, what he did show on Friday night was great maturity and desire to make up for any lack of experience.

Applied pressure at the right time and stood off when needed as well, his decision-making was positive for the most part and that’s an important trait to see in a youngster.

Still vulnerable at times, but with Simon Kjaer alongside him who was top-class yet again, he’ll hopefully keep things tight at the back in the remaining two games with Romagnoli still missing and this was a performance to build his confidence given the quality of the Atalanta attack.

Important no drop off after Pioli deal

It would have been typical to see us take our foot off the pedal and drop off after Pioli’s new contract was signed this week. It would have been an obvious excuse if we had too much of a relaxed approach.

Instead, we got the same determination, commitment and desire from the players as before, and so that was pleasing to see that Pioli really has the got the players behind him.

That will hopefully set the tone for the last two games, and given how he has been able to deal with key absentees and the relentless schedule which has forced him to rotate and make substitutions, it’s hoped that fine work is rewarded with us achieving our objective when the season ends.