In the city where Shakespeare set his famous play, Romeo and Juliet, there was little romance in the Rossoneri’s performance as Max Allegri’s Milan began their league campaign just as they had done last season, with a loss.
Andrea Mandorlini’s Hellas Verona side were making a return to Serie A after a gap of 11 years and marked the occasion with a very impressive performance. The home side had most definitely earned the 3 points on the day against a lacklustre Milan side through a Luca Toni brace after Andrea Poli had given Milan an early lead.
Both teams began with a 4-3-3 shape with 3 midfielders packed into midfield and 2 wide players either side of the centre-forward.
The most fascinating aspect about Verona’s play was just how wide their wingers were. Most 4-3-3 shapes in Europe usually see at least one wide player cutting inside once the side gets possession. Verona on the other hand, seemed happy to have both wide players hug the touchline as much as possible.
What this meant was that Verona did not present one of the major weaknesses of a 4-3-3 – they did not let the opposition full-backs have space to run into. Not only had Verona made things congested down the middle with their 3 central-midfielders, they also managed to restrict space down the flanks very well.
This is unique for an Italian side. If there’s one thing Italian sides lack, it’s the inability to provide natural width. This is one of the reasons why 3 at the back has increased in popularity both at club level and La Nazionale in recent years.
Montolivo in Front of the Defence
The way the teams shaped up, it was Montolivo who would find the most space for Milan and made 112 passes in the game. There was no direct opponent marking him. Sometimes Toni would drop deep to get tight to him and on other occasions Jorginho would press him but he was midfielder who found the most space.
But Milan had problems in terms of midfield balance. Montolivo did not get any help from his fellow midfielders. Nocerino’s contribution in the first half was minimal. He had no defensive steel beside him and Milan were hence prone to the counter as the game went on.
This is the build-up to Verona’s eventual winner and as you can see, the Verona midfielders found ample space to run into once they got past Montolivo.
Milan Marking or Rather the Lack of
Both Verona goals were a result of some hideous marking from Milan, which in fairness is not all that uncommon from the Rossoneri.
Verona got their equalizer through a corner. As you can see, there were only 3 Verona players in the penalty box but inexplicably, it is Constant who ends up marking Toni (red) which is probably the equivalent of André the Giant facing off against Santino Marella. Not to mention that another Verona player was also left completely free.
The 2nd goal came from a cleverly executed outside-of-the-boot ball from Jankovic to Toni, who smashed home the header. Once again, the marking was non-existent as Zapata was caught ball-watching and left the only attacker in the box, Toni, completely free.
Toni Turns Back the Clock
Luca Toni was undoubtedly the star of the match. The veteran target-man, who almost joined Milan in 2007 before eventually moving to Bayern Munich, did not let his lack of pace stop him from being a threat in this game. His stats were incredible in this respect – 4 shots on goal, 4 shots on target and 2 goals. He was always the target for Verona, from deep or from out wide.
What Verona did well was to make up for their striker’s lack of pace by getting players to make runs beside him. This is essential for any system using a target-man. If you leave your target-man isolated, you will be gifting possession back to the opposition by constantly hitting long-balls.
With a big, strong striker and wingers that stay wide, the game-plan was obviously to get crosses into Toni. In this game, thanks to Milan’s marking, it was a very successful approach. Toni was an impact option off the bench for Fiorentina last season but could enjoy a lot more starts this season for Verona.
Milan go for Broke
Allegri needed to make changes in the second-half. Ideally, he should have brought on a defensive midfielder to provide some stability beside Montolivo but resources were limited and the scoreboard didn’t allow him to make such a move.
Petagna and Emmanuelson were brought on for the disappointingly quiet duo of El Shaarawy and Niang as Milan went 4-4-2. Later Robinho was brought on for Constant and Milan became even more top heavy.
Although Milan did force Rafael into a couple of saves late on, Milan never provided a consistent threat to the Verona goal while the home side had looked threatening on the counter for the most part before tiring late on.
Sandwiched in between the 2 legs of a Champions League qualifier against PSV, Milan would have hoped for a comfortable afternoon but that was far from the case. The marking from set pieces was awful, the midfield shape unbalanced and the forwards were kept quiet. Needless to say, this is a performance that they’ll want to put behind them quickly.
Verona were very impressive. They could be a surprise package this season because they have something that not many Serie A teams have in wingers that provide width. They also defended resolutely but it will be interesting how long coach Mandorlini can keep Luca Toni firing. He could be key to their hopes this season.