AC Milan failed to build on their weekend win over Bologna as they were held to a 0-0 draw at Sassuolo at the Mapei Stadium on Tuesday night.
AC Milan boss Stefano Pioli rotated his side heavily and made five changes to the starting lineup that defeated Bologna on Saturday, bringing in Alessandro Florenzi, Simon Kjaer, Tommaso Pobega, Alexis Saelemaekers, and Brahim Diaz.
It was a scrappy opening to the game from both sides with plenty of misjudged passes slipping too quickly across the rain-soaked ground. But Milan had the first clear-cut chance of the game when Rafael Leao’s outside-of-the-box effort smashed the upright.
Milan continued to enjoy the better chances, and Brahim Diaz demonstrated his talent by turning Kristian Thorstvedt and unleashing a low drive from just beyond the box that drifted just past the far post. But it was Sassuolo who had the opportunity to grab the lead from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute when Alessandro Florenzi and Alexis Saelemaekers combined to clumsily bring down Giorgos Kyriakopoulos inside the penalty box.
Penalty specialist Domenico Berardi stepped up to take the spot-kick, and the reigning champions looked set to go behind. However, Mike Maignan, so often AC Milan’s saviour in the past, had other plans as he brilliantly extended to his right to keep out Berardi’s penalty.
As expected, Sassuolo grew into the game and were more on the front foot towards the end of the first half. Following that, there were half chances for both the teams but nothing concrete in what turned out to be a drab affair, with lots of tactical fouls, and scruffy plays.
— Lega Serie A (@SerieA_EN) August 30, 2022
It is certainly not the kind of result that forms great momentum heading into the derby fixture against Inter Milan on Saturday. But Milan will now have to dust themselves down and forget this game quickly. It will not be an easy game, and the Rossoneri attack must start firing before then. In the meantime, The Hard Tackle looks at how the AC Milan players fared on the night.
Mike Maignan: 8/10
A brilliant performance from Maignan as he rarely gave anything away despite being surprisingly busy and ended up salvaging AC Milan a point with that excellent penalty save from Domenico Berardi in the first half.
Aside from the spot-kick, Maignan made a host of other crucial saves as well Sassuolo continued to pose a significant threat on turnovers. The Frenchman was once again excellent with the ball at his feet, completing 84% of his passes, including 6 accurate long-balls.
Alessandro Florenzi: 5/10
Florenzi showed his experience on many occasions and covered for Alexis Saelemaekers’s deficiencies. He had one or two good patterns of play, but his deliveries into the box were blow-par, both from the set pieces and in play, failing to beat the first. He got injured late on, seemingly with a hamstring problem, forcing Milan to finish the game with 10 men.
Simon Kjaer: 6.5/10
Kjaer started his first game for AC Milan in nearly nine months against Sassuolo, and it was great to see him back on the pitch. Prior to his injury, he was in outstanding form and was a big loss for AC Milan. His production and leadership will be immense this season as the Rossoneri aim for a strong title defence.
Kjaer used his physique on several occasions to get the best of the Sassuolo attackers. But he also had a couple of poor touches, which is understandable as he is still shaking off the rustiness from a long-term injury.
Fikayo Tomori: 6.5/10
He actually did do enough to get a pass. The Englishman was also solid when it came to the build-up phase and defended on the front foot to allow AC Milan to try to suffocate their opponents’ midfield, which proved too strong and evasive on the day. It was not the most assured display, but he can not be faulted for his teammates’ underperformance in the advanced areas since he did his job and maintained a clean sheet.
Theo Hernandez: 7/10
Hernandez was also solid at the back and often went forward with his trademark runs, combining with Leao to good effect. It would be very harsh to criticise him for his performance, given that he absolutely managed his duties.
Tommaso Pobega: 5/10
Pobega was like a rabbit in the headlights in his display against Sassuolo. He could not curb his enthusiasm to get forward, which resulted in AC Milan losing control of the midfield, with Bennacer being a similar sort of player. The Milan academy product is an attacking No. 8, not a sitting No. 6.
He is constantly trying to make runs into the box, leaving AC Milan exposed on the counter. He does not exactly fit Pioli’s possession-based approach, though he did show a few good flashes on transitions.
Ismael Bennacer: 6/10
Bennacer started off well and looked set to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. However, it is safe to say Sassuolo won the midfield battle with flying colours. While the Algerian international cannot be blamed for a lack of effort, he was sloppy and slow on the ball.
He had to be more aggressive, move the ball quicker, and find a foothold in the game. He grew tired as the game went on and lost the initiative. After a couple of excellent performances, Bennacer’s inability to keep his performance level up was telling, partly down to fatigue.
Alexis Saelemaekers: 3/10
Saelemaekers was handed his first start of the season after several bright cameos off the bench in previous Serie A games. He has a lot of energy and can change a game when his legs are tired. But as a starter, he falls flat, and this horror show is a perfect example.
The Belgian winger only won two of his ten contested ground duels and did not get a shot off throughout his time on the pitch. He was outworked by Sassuolo left-back Rogerio in every department and was booked for a cynical clip on the Brazilian. Milan needs further depth at the right wing to balance their attack.
Brahim Diaz: 4/10
?? Brahim Diaz against Sassuolo
Minutes played 57'
Acc. passes 8/13 (62%)
Crosses (acc.) 2 (0)
Long balls (acc.) 1 (0)
Shots off target 1
Ground duels (won) 2 (2)
Aerial duels (won) 1 (0)
Possession lost 8
Was fouled 1
Tackles 1 pic.twitter.com/lSL6p71e0D
— Milan Posts ??? (@MilanPosts) August 30, 2022
It is hard to put into words how poor his performance was against Sassuolo. It always looks quite promising when Diaz gets into prime spaces and facilitates play around him, but those moments were few and far between. Although he was quite nifty at times, a few nice flicks here and there matter little if he does not provide any end-product.
And that was the case here, as he completed only eight accurate passes during his 57 minutes on the pitch and finished the game with zero shots on target, key passes, or dribbles. He only had one good moment when he charged on the Neroverdi backline in a rapid counter-attack that resulted in a 4v2 situation but still managed to play the wrong pass.
Rafael Leao: 7/10
Leao was Milan’s main threat, often getting the best of his man, but it does not really make that much of a difference if the others around him offer next to nothing. And that was the case on Tuesday. He got off a chunk of shots, most of which were blocked. When he gets going, it is impossible to stop him.
He had a few good runs where he toyed with defenders and a few good efforts that either flew over the bar narrowly or were saved by Andrea Consigli. He kind of faded as the game wore down, and it was right to take him off in the end. But it is also clear Leao is a big threat when he drives at defences or cuts inroads.
Olivier Giroud: 6/10
As several other Milan players struggled to make an impact, the Frenchman was often given the ball in tight situations and far away from the opposition goal. Still, he handled it poorly and completed only four passes, which does not bode well for a striker of his calibre, even if he plays like a target-man. Milan need him to contribute more and be a more imposing presence in the opponent’s box, as he never really tested the hosts’ backline enough.
Sandro Tonali: 5/10
The expectation was that he would bring energy and wrestle back the flow of the game in Milan’s favour, but he did not see a lot of the ball.
Charles de Ketelaere: 6/10
Charles De Ketelaere did well when in possession and tried to make things happen. With a bit more time, perhaps he would have been able to create something dangerous.
Junior Messias: 6/10
Unlike Saelemaekers, Messias was actually able to beat his man on more than one occasion and at least added some edge to Milan’s attack. It always looks quite promising when he gets on the ball, but the outcome is almost always disappointing.
Yacine Adli: 6/10
Adli came to inject creativity, close control, and powerful runs into the Milan attack but could not do much for the team attacking-wise.
Pierre Kalulu: N/A
Did not play enough to warrant a rating.