In this tactical analysis we look at Lazio vs AC Milan in the Serie A. AC Milan’s performances as of late can be best described as a cataclysmic collapse. Despite having one of the most talented teams in the league, Milan are slowly moving out of the Champions League places by losing or drawing to teams they would otherwise be expected to beat.
Lazio did not reinvent the wheel in this match. They did, however, choose where Milan were allowed to play when they were out of possession, and exploited Milan’s growing weaknesses when in possession. With a combination of playing out from the back and isolating fullbacks and central defenders, Lazio thoroughly dismantled AC Milan.
Lazio deployed a 3-5-2 formation that changed its shape often. Out of possession it was a 5-3-2, however if play moved to Lazzari’s side of the pitch, Lazio would press more aggressively in an attempt to dispossess Theo Hernández. In attack it resembled a 3-2-5 with Alberto making late runs into Milan’s defense.
AC Milan used a very rigid 4-2-3-1 that rarely changed shape. Milan were shut out from playing through the middle of the pitch by Lazio, specifically by the screen abilities of Immobile and Correa, so MIlan were forced to move the ball to the wide areas often. It was in these areas that Milan would either lose possession or be forced to go backwards due to the Lazio press and block. A notable absence is Zlatan Ibrahimović
Despite not actually holding on to the ball much, Lazio dictated how Milan could play by stopping Milan from playing centrally, forcing them wide or backwards. By shoving Milan to certain areas of the pitch, Lazio could press more aggressively, especially against Hernández.
Below we can see how Immobile, Correa and Alberto combine to box out Bennacer, one of Milan’s best players during the build-up phase. Donnarumma is now forced to go wide instead of centrally.
By forcing Milan to the wide areas, Lazio always know where they need to press: the left side or the right side. Lazio press exclusively when Milan go wide.The wingback would press the Milan fullback while the ball sided central defender, midfielder and forward screen inside passing options. This puts Milan under pressure and forces play to move backwards or risk losing the ball in a dangerous area.
While the Lazio forwards and midfielders screen Kessie and Bennacer, the remaining Lazio players allow Hernández to sit in space in the hopes that Milan pass the ball to him. Lazio have identified Hernández as a weak link when in possession in Milan’s first and middle third, so they allow him to be used as a passing option knowing that they will likely win the ball back.
MIlan pressed very aggressively, as they have done all season. Lazio welcomed the Milan press by encouraging Reina to participate in the build-up phase. When Milan pressed, Lazio left their forward players in the space left behind the pressing players. When Milan press, they leave their defenders isolated, making them excellent targets for Lazio to run at.
While most teams have targeted Hernández and the space he has left behind this season, in this match, Calabria and Kjaer were targeted almost exclusively. Lazio absorb the press and by playing amongst their defenders, then Reina would launch a long ball over the AC Milan midfielders and to the running forward players. It isn’t beautiful football by any means, but it works.
By beating fifth place AC MIlan, Lazio are now just five points behind MIlan with a game in hand. Lazio now join what is already an incredibly close top four race. Seven points separate second from sixth. With AC Milan and Juventus putting in poor performances recently, it’s hard to say that either one of them deserves to make the top four. While Lazio are not packed with as much talent as some of the other Italian teams, like AC Milan for example, they’re winning more games than their competitors and deserve to make the top four.
I’m a Canadian soccer/football coach and analyst with a bias towards Manchester City. Follow me on twitter for more football content @CamH___