The match was billed as a true test for both sides. Lazio of course already had a big victory over Juve but in the league itself had not shown a consistent form. Milan stole the headlines in the transfer window and had dispatched lesser sides in Serie A and Europa League to this point. The meeting between the two was a true test of where they stood early in the season, and if to underscore the mightiness of the match-up, it was delayed due torrential rainstorms.
There were two big stories for Milan coming into the match, both that would play a role in the outcome. The first was the return of former Lazio captain Lucas Biglia returning to the Eternal City in opposition red-and-black, and earning the start despite some injury concerns at the beginning of the season. Whether he should have started is more questionable in hindsight, but Montella cannot be faulted too much for assuming Biglia would play with extra incentive to show up his former side.
The second talking point was the record 17 Milan players called up for international duty. The upside is this shows the quality of your side, while the downside is your players are knackered due to playing a large number of matches in a short time. As a manager, you of course have to man-manage around injuries and fatigue. For Montella, that meant starting Davide Calabria over an injured Andrea Conti and leaving Calhanolu and others on the bench. To his credit, after the match the Milan manager defended his choices, telling the media, “I would field the same players if I had to make the decisions again. In my view, these were the best players for the situation”.
In my view, he was quite wrong.
The match started with both sides probing a little and failing to push hard for the opening goal. That is not to say there were not opportunities, but rather Lazio and Milan wanted bodies in the midfield to try and dominate the middle third. Lazio came out in a 4-3-3 that at times morphed to a 4-4-2 with Immobile and Luis Alberto up front. For Milan, they trotted out a 4-3-3.
The scoreless draw broke on a penalty late in the first half but the signs had been there all day. Calabria (and to be fair Rodriguez) were challenged by the Lazio wingers throughout and Calabria had a tough time keeping up. Specifically, him falling behind Senad Lulic sealed Lazio’s fate to begin the second half but he was poor throughout. As for the first-half goals, both were the result of poor positioning by a Milan team that expected more from its defending. In particular, the second Immobile goal on a cross from Lulic (that name again) saw the Milan backline ball watching and reacting too late, allowing a spectacular goal by the man in form for Italy and Lazio.
Down 2-0 at the half, Montella had a chance to shake-up the squad and try to grab points from a poor match to that point. Rather, he waited until the scoreline was 4-0 before bringing on Calhanoglu and Kalinic admittedly, Milan played better after their introduction and one has to wonder they could have done with an additional ten minutes.
The takeaways? While it is still hard to make definitive judgments this early in the season, Milan looked poor overall in this match. Montella failed to rotate his squad coming off the international break and failed to recognize until too late that he needed to put in some of his bigger names. The season is far from over, but this result has to have Milanistas feeling like they have so often this past decade.