AC Milan were a class above Empoli on Serie A Matchday 19, defeating the Azzurri 3-0 in the Sunday lunchtime match.
Goals from Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Olivier Giroud, and Chaka Traore secured the victory for the Rossoneri while Theo Hernandez performed well as a makeshift centre-back. Diavolo coach Stefano Pioli gave youth a chance in the Coppa Italia Round of 16 and the youngsters continued their good form in Serie A.
Meanwhile, it has been a forgetful campaign so far for Empoli, and for Azzurri forward Nicolo Cambiaghi in particular. For all of his efforts, he cannot seem to buy a goal.
Theo shines at the back for AC Milan
Throughout his career, Theo Hernandez has made a name for himself as an excellent attacking left-back. Despite his offensive qualities, he was often seen as being suspect defensively.
His integration into the France Men’s National Team under the pragmatic Didier Deschamps saw him improve his defensive game, and in recent weeks, Pioli has had to force him into a centre-back role out of necessity. Injuries have kept the likes of Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu out of the squad, and the AC Milan tactician decided to trust the qualities of the Frenchman in a more central role.
Alongside Simon Kjaer, Theo did well to marshal the defence against Empoli. The 26-year-old made three blocks, six clearances, and five recoveries. He also won five out of seven ground duels, one successful dribble, and had a passing completion rate of 90%.
When the Rossoneri are at full strength, Theo is best placed as a left-back. However, the Frenchman has shown improvement in his defensive game and demonstrated that he can play in a role that is different to what he is used to.
Pioli rewarded for giving Jimenez and Traore opportunities
With the recent injury crisis engulfing AC Milan, Pioli has had to promote more youngsters from the Primavera squad. A few of them played in the 4-1 victory against Cagliari in the Coppa Italia a few days earlier and they showed their worth again in Serie A.
Alex Jimenez replaced Alessandro Florenzi after the Italian came off injured in the 35th minute and he was full of confidence. The Spaniard who is on loan from the Real Madrid Under-19 team demonstrated his pace and his desire to take on opponents. Although he was yellow carded for a rough challenge, Jimenez showed desire and fearlessness at left-back, and he is someone that can only get better with more match experience.
Traore was among the scorers in that emphatic win against Cagliari and he sealed the win against Empoli after Christian Pulisic initiated a counter-attack, then passed to the Ivorian. Despite being just 19 years old, he is showing great composure in front of goal.
AC Milan have demonstrated their issues with depth and there are some players that might be better off leaving in January. However, Pioli has done the right thing by playing the youngsters and they are rewarding him for his trust.
Cambiaghi out of luck in front of goal
Empoli forward Nicolo Cambiaghi cannot be faulted for trying to score goals, but he has failed to find the back of the net in 18 Serie A appearances this season.
His last goal was in May 2023 in a victory against Salernitana, and that ended a run of three goals in as many games. In 2023/24, he has taken 41 shots and had an xG of 2.3, but he has not been able to break his drought. Against AC Milan, he had seven shots: three were blocked and four were off target.
Cambiaghi is on loan from Atalanta, but if he cannot turn his form around and secure safety for Empoli, there would be little reason for La Dea to take him back.