When AC Milan lost to Torino at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night, it brought to an end a 17-game run without defeat away from San Siro. Yet more significant was the Rossoneri falling six points behind early Serie A pacesetters Napoli in the race for the Scudetto.
Although Stefano Pioli’s side also dropped points against the Granata in Turin last term – a 0-0 draw in April 2022, it failed to derail their charge to a first league title in a decade, as the Diavolo stood strong collectively and edged out Milanese rivals Inter.
However, how Milan crumbled and showed uncharacteristic defensive fragility, allowing Koffi Djidji and Aleksei Miranchuk to score twice within three minutes and ultimately win the game for the hosts, suggested the unity that took them to the 2021/22 title is missing. Not ignoring that, had Rafael Leao converted one of several early chances, the result could have been much different.
Tougher tests than Torino to come
Heading to Turin should have held little concern for Milan, with the Granata having scored just two goals at the Olimpico in their first seven games in the stadium this season. Yet they matched that total within 45 minutes, and Djidji’s opener from a set-piece was his first Serie A goal in almost 18 months – when with Crotone.
The Rossoneri are used to dominating the Granata during their encounters and, until that moment, had not conceded a goal to Il Toro in an astonishing 499 minutes of competitive Serie A action. However, within 89 seconds, they were watching a second sail past Ciprian Tatarusanu into the net and three valuable points slip through their fingers.
Milan lacking depth and quality
That the 36-year-old goalkeeper is a notable downgrade on regular first-choice Mike Maignan is a major factor in their lost defensive solidity. But last year Milan often looked greater than the sum of their parts to overachieve and finish top of the standings, and almost seamlessly integrate fringe players into the starting line-up.
Against Torino, the changes Pioli made to utilise his full squad, with one eye on the crucial Champions League clash with RB Salzburg on Wednesday, highlighted the limitations of the backup players in the first team and that, without the momentum they had created last term, this team somewhat depends on their individual qualities.
While Pierre Kalulu is an adequate right-back in the absence of the injured Davide Calabria, he is far more comfortable in a central position. Whereas fellow youngster and half-time replacement Sergino Dest – who arrived this summer on loan from Barcelona – looks painfully out of his depth. It is a sign of how far the Spanish giants have fallen in recent times.
The United States international appears to neither offer greater defensive resolve nor a significant attacking threat for the Diavolo. Against Torino, the full-back looked lost. He was devoid of ideas when heading towards the Granata penalty area.
Midfielder Tommaso Pobega was plying his trade with Torino last season and a familiarity with the Olimpico turf might have contributed to him coming into the starting 11. Rather than recover the ball for the Rossoneri, though, the Italian too often handed possession to the opposition with a number of needless fouls. Divock Origi also came in to lead the Milan frontline in place of Olivier Giroud. Without the Frenchman’s presence, movement or ability to bring others into play was lacking.
Having arrived from Club Brugge for a reported €35 million, Charles De Ketelaere will receive plenty of criticism, but his creative role will require developing an understanding with teammates as well as playing more than one half of football when already two goals behind.
If Milan cannot recreate the collective mindset of last season with the current crop of players, the talents of a 21-year-old will not be enough to see them through the rest of the campaign, and it will be a short-lived title defence.