Derby della Madonnina deconstructed: AC Milan’s continued derby struggles and Marcus Thuram’s role at Inter

AC Milan's heavy defeat at the hands of Inter leaves Stefano Pioli with a tactical job to do, whilst the Nerazzurri have a new way of playing thanks to Marcus Thuram's lightning start in Serie A.

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It is particularly tricky to judge AC Milan following the Derby della Madonnina as their performance and the scoreline was so at odds with their first three games of the 2023/24 Serie A season.

The first prevailing public opinion came as a result of the three opening Serie A matchdays during which Milan looked like a revitalised side compared to the previous season. Their busy transfer window provided coach Stefano Pioli with a team seemingly equipped to battle it out against an Inter side that had claimed four wins in as many derbies in 2023.

Yet, the 5-1 hammering that the Nerazzurri inflicted on their city rivals to win their fifth consecutive derby across all competitions for the first time in history inevitably cast significant doubts over the positive impressions left by the Rossoneri during the first three games.

Were people too quick to judge? Was Pioli too naive in saying that Inter ‘haven’t changed that much’ in his pre-match press conference? A lot of questions will be getting asked at Casa Milan to work out why this happened.

AC Milan’s one-dimensional football must be addressed by Pioli

It’d be absurd to think that Saturday’s score reflects the gap between the two sides, and Milan should take the small amount of good from what they did in the opening 60 minutes, while not overlooking the reasons why they came up short once again.

The Rossoneri’s new signings have clearly increased the overall quality of the squad, but Pioli should now work on shaping a more versatile team able to find different solutions against the opponents who sit back, encouraged by Milan‘s inability to move smoothly until they reach the final third.

The likes of Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek struggled in the tight spaces left by the Nerazzurri, resulting in Milan boasting an impressive 72% of possession in the first half but without creating any serious threat to Yann Sommer‘s goal, except for Theo Hernandez‘s dancing run which finished with a wide shot.

Inter players, including Marcus Thuram and Lautaro Martinez, celebrate. [@Inter_en]

For long stretches before and after Inter’s second goal, the Diavolo actually matched the level of intensity of their opponents and created the conditions for a potential equaliser, but ultimately they seemed to lack the conviction to hurt a team that had grabbed that crucial early goal through Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

With the Rossoneri seeming to now have the tools to dominate games both with plenty of possession and whilst playing on the break, Pioli should not settle for just lethal counter-attacks. He must add more tactical complexity to his team to help them find a breakthrough in those games which require them to control things in the opponent’s half.

As painful as it may be, Milan‘s 5-1 derby defeat leaves them only three points behind the Nerazzurri with plenty of time to make up for lost ground and it could represent a crossroads. Should the Rossoneri coach be able to finally take full advantage of the quality at his disposal, there’ll be still room for them to have their say in what promises to be a long and exciting Serie A campaign.

Marcus Thuram has changed the way Inter attack

Inter’s Marcus Thuram celebrates. [@Inter]

Inter have undoubtedly retained some of their main features from the past, notably their ability to alternate moments of intense pressure with a more cautious approach. Helped by Milan‘s lack of quality in the build-up, the Nerazzurri could simply wait for their opponents as a three-line compact block in their own half.

At the same time, Marcus Thuram‘s arrival provides Simone Inzaghi‘s side with a variety of solutions that they didn’t have in the past. His composure when dropping deep to help ball progression is just as impressive as his speed and control when he’s urged to sprint past opponents into open spaces, which allows his team to mount lethal counter-attacks with few passes needed to reach the goal.

The Frenchman’s presence was utterly terrifying for Milan‘s defenders, who were constantly torn between challenging him and covering the space that he could attack behind them. More than that, the whole team put up a mature display as the awareness of their own strength was coupled with a strong focus on every moment of the game, which ended up making the difference when pressure increased.

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