On Sunday, Lazio will face a daunting challenge when league-leading Milan comes to Rome. Stefano Pioli’s side, unbeaten since January, runs a formidable 4-2-3-1 that is strong on both offense and defense.
Milan’s Hit-or-Miss Offense
Milan’s recent run of poor results has been primarily fueled by a lack of talent in the attacking midfield.
Brahim Diaz is in a rut and has not shown the level of creativity that he did in the first half of the season. At times, Pioli has tried to fill this hole with Franck Kessie, which has led to mixed results. The Ivorian, a prototypical defensive midfielder, is clearly out of his element. However, he did improve against Genoa, though Milan Badelj’s poor man-marking was partially to blame.
Without a competent number ten, Olivier Giroud’s production has taken a noticeable hit. He has scored just one goal in his last ten games with the Rossoneri, as his confidence and shooting percentage have dramatically fallen off.
However, Milan’s offense is still quite dangerous, particularly on the left wing. Rafael Leao is an immensely talented winger who can take on nearly any defender one-on-one, while Theo Hernandez uses his pace and spatial awareness to drive the ball into the attacking third.
So how can Lazio foil the Milanese attack? To start, they must keep an organized backline and not commit too many numbers forward, giving Pioli’s side additional chances on the counter. To stop Leao, the Maurizio Sarri would do well to learn from Torino and Genoa. In recent matches, these clubs aggressively double-marked the winger, giving him little room to create out wide.
A Talented Corps of Defenders
Over the last 12 months, Milan’s backline has dealt with a revolving door at centre-back. Longtime captain (and Lazio target) Alessio Romagnoli lost his starting position to Fikayo Tomori, and he was unable to get back in the lineup when Simon Kjaer tore his ACL. Tomori and 21-year-old Pierre Kalulu are now starting and, though they lack the passing ability of Kjaer or Romagnoli, both bring physicality and intelligent decision-making to the backline.
As previously noted, Theo Hernadez is more of a wing-back than a full-back, but his defensive acumen has greatly improved over the past few seasons. His counterpart, Davide Calabria, provides another offensive presence, but he is also a sound one-on-one defender.
Perhaps the best-known element of Pioli’s system is the double pivot. The star of the position, Kessie, is a hard-nosed destructive midfielder and has been Milan’s best player over the past two seasons. He is typically joined by either Sandro Tonali, a traditional deep-lying playmaker who is also a top-notch defender, or Ismael Bennacer, who facilitates play from in front of the centre-backs.
Milan’s defense has not allowed a goal since late February and should prove a difficult challenge for Lazio. Playing through the centre of the pitch will be difficult, so the Biancocelesti may have to rely on creativity from the wings or pressing to spark counter attacks.
Lazio vs Milan: Final Thoughts
Though Milan have been unconvincing in recent matches, Pioli’s side leads the league and has a fantastic road record. Both clubs desperately need a result, so this one should be an end-to-end, tightly contested encounter.
Prediction: Lazio 1-1 Milan