Both teams used 4-3-3 formations. The only notable point was that Mattia De Sciglio and Luca Antonelli were sidelined and Davide Calabria took the left-back position.
1. Torino’s offensive strategy
This season under Sinisa Mihajlovic, Torino employs several tactics during the offensive phase, and this game is no different. The two key strategies: 1, The occasional overloads of players on the right flanks, with Marco Benassi and Adem Ljajic supporting Davide Zappacosta and Iago Falque. It was less evident in this game but used more often previously (You can see it from their players’ positions in this game or their game against Juventus). 2, Counter-attacks coupled with their high and intensive presses. 3, Long-ball. This is the tactic they mostly used in this game, and I will focus on that in this analysis.
The long-ball tactic used by Torino is deliberately designed and carried out. They are not the typical long-balls that bypass the midfield and aim for the strong and tall strikers. The following GIF shows how this tactic plays out:
Joe Hart initiated the offensive phase by passing to their two center backs. The two center backs often stayed very close to their own goal-line. The aim is to lure Milan’s forwards to press them. Once they were lured, Torino’s center backs would send long balls to their two full-backs. Both Antonio Barreca and Zappacosta are nimble and pacey players who can dribble or surge past their markers. This is the key to this strategy: The initial lure allows them to get through the opponent’s first line of defense. With Barreca and Zappacosta they can get through the opponent’s second line of defense and will face the last line of the defense directly. In this game, especially in the first half, Milan’s four defenders often had to deal with the surging Zapacosta with Falque and Andrea Belotti lurking behind.
This tactical strategy is important for the overall play style of Torino. Their most creative players are their two full-backs, Ljajic and Falque and they can only initiate penetration of the opponent’s defense on the flanks. They need two physical midfielders (and not so technically gifted) to protect Mirko Valdifiori and the space left by the surging full-backs. The result is that there is a lack of means to penetrate in the middle. No teams can keep pressing opponents intensively throughout the whole game. Therefore, for Torino to be able to initiate any meaningful attacks on their own, they require a strategy to allow to open up opponent’s defense with minimal technical support centrally. The lure strategy and the long-balls do just all that.
2. Milan’s problems in the full-backs.
Milan struggled to deal with Torino in the majority of the first-half. A major weakness was their full-backs, who were always left to deal with Torino’s full-backs or forwards 1v1.
Calabria replaced Mattia De Sciglio at the left-back and struggled:
In the first goal, he was too slow to close down Zappacosta initially. Once Iago dribbled past Alessio Romagnoli, he was also too slow to close down him.
In the second goal, he did not clear the initial cross (he should have concealed a corner kick) and he did not mark Benassi at all.
Being left to defend 1v1 against Torino’s isn’t individual mistakes of Calabria or Loris Abate. Milan’s three midfield players or forwards should have probably provided assistance. However, the Calabria committed many individual errors in the two goals and were just unforgivable at this level.
3. Milan’s central penetration.
After half a season to experiment and optimize, Montella has used a pretty stable starting lineup. Mario Pasalic and Andrea Bertolacci make up the midfield with Manuel Locatelli. Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura occupy the forward positions to support Carlos Bacca. The main advantage of this lineup is that Pasalic, Bertolacci, Bonaventura and Suso are all very technical players. With the impressive passing ranges of Locatelli, these players are often able to create openings by dribbles, short passes and positional plays between each other.
In the second half of this game, Milan also made an adjustment to push the defense lines all the way to the Torino’s half.
The goal was to force Torino to defend deep in their half. It also shortened the distances between Milan’s defenders and their front players during the offensive phase. When they lost the ball in the midfield, the defenders were always ready to tackle, cutting off Torino’s counter attacks.
Milan’s central penetration also exposed Torino’s weakness. When Torino presses high, they can maintain intensive pressure on the opponent team. When they defend deep in their half, they defended with five players in the midfield, with Ljajic and Falque occupying the wide positions. However, they do not defend in a coherent unit and allows the opponent teams to pass through the midfield easily. It puts great pressure on their defenders.
You should see that in the initial entry pass to Locatelli or the subsequent pass to Suso, Milan players received the pass and completed the subsequent pass with minimal pressure from Torino’s players.
Both teams played with 4-3-3, but they played with very different styles. Milan dominated possession and was able to penetrate the midfield and the central area easily. In contrast, Torino attacked mainly through the flanks, taking advantage of their pacey and skillful full-backs and forwards.
Both teams played with a midfield combination that is relatively weak regarding defense. It puts great pressure to their defenders, especially the full-backs because they were always defending in 1vs1. It will be especially interesting how Milan will deal with even more dangerous players on their flanks in their coming game against Napoli.