AC Milan‘s pursuit of Champions League qualification took a hit as they were held to a goalless draw against Empoli in Serie A on Friday, as the Rossoneri’s lack of attacking depth was laid bare.
The Rossoneri have been in poor form since the turn of the year but stunned Napoli last time out, although the performance at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza lacked the ruthlessness shown against the league leaders.
Empoli were aided by a string of excellent saves from Samuele Perisan, whilst the post denied Alessandro Florenzi, but were good value for their point.
Despite dominating possession and territory, whilst showing intricate build-up play, Milan were unable to carve a way through and saw the chance to pull clear of Inter in the race to finish in the top four squandered.
Origi’s struggles indicative of lack of depth
Coming into the match off the back of a 4-0 thrashing of champions-elect Napoli, Milan were in control but lacked a cutting edge in attack, with Divock Origi and Ante Rebic unable to grasp their opportunities in the starting line-up.
Without Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao, the Rossoneri were blunt in attack and could not replicate the killer instincts shown at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona last time out.
Empoli were excellent in defence and showed superb organisation, forcing Milan coach Stefano Pioli to thrown on his star forwards midway through the second half instead of resting them ahead of their Champions League tie against Napoli on Wednesday.
Signed as a free agent from Liverpool last summer, Origi has struggled to make an impact and it is becoming increasingly apparent that Milan have little depth in attack; a necessity for any title challenge.
The importance of Giroud
Pioli‘s side looked far more threatening when Giroud was introduced from the bench, with the Frenchman seemingly winning the game at the death, only for his goal to be chalked off for handball.
Nonetheless, Milan are simply a different animal with the former Arsenal and Chelsea man in attack, especially when flanked by Leao, and cannot afford to go without the pair.
Milan went into the game against Napoli without a win in four matches, and the clash against Empoli suggested that their victory against the Partenopei was more of an outlier than a true reflection of their current position.
Pioli focused on Champions League clash
With the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Napoli to come in midweek, Milan coach Pioli resisted the urge to field his strongest team and instead sought to avoid injuries to key men, with Giroud and Diaz rested until the second half.
Having shone in the annihilation of the Partenopei in Serie A last week, Leao was also not risked from the start, with the Portugal international deemed to be short of full fitness.
Milan‘s tame defence of their league title has left them with just the Champions League to contest, and despite the drubbing of the Partenopei, they face a monumental task to overcome the runaway Serie A leaders in Europe.
Pioli‘s team selection against Empoli was proof if any was needed that it is all eyes on Europe in the Rossoneri camp now, but with AS Roma and Atalanta breathing down their necks, Milan‘s lack of focus in the league could backfire in the long-run.