The crosses were wayward, the through balls lax. Accurate shots were few and far between. There was no creativity and very little cutting edge. This was AC Milan’s story as they faltered to a 1-0 home defeat to Bologna on Wednesday afternoon, and it left Carlos Bacca exasperated.
The Colombian striker was the club’s most expensive acquisition last summer, and towards the end of 2015, he was beginning to show the ruthless touch in front of goal so typical of his time with Sevilla. On Wednesday, though, he struggled to get involved as Milan huffed and puffed without success.
This was a Milan performance straight out of their recent copybook; they controlled the ball and competed for space, but ultimately fell short in the final third more often than not.
The Rossoneri did have chances, particularly in the second half, when two clear-cut opportunities fell to Alessio Cerci and M’Baye Niang.
Cerci was played through by a lustrous Niang through ball that split Bologna’s defence wide open in what was Milan’s only memorably penetrative moment, only for the Italian to dally with goal baring down on him, round the goalkeeper and fail to shoot.
Later in the game, Niang found space and time in the Rossoblu penalty area only to slip and subsequently shank the ball high and wide when it would have been easier to put it in the net.
Milan’s overall frustration at these missed opportunities was only compounded by a late Bologna goal.
Anthony Mounier found space to cut back inside on the right before floating in a beautifully curled cross for Emanuele Giaccherini on 82 minutes. The on-loan Sunderland man softly rolled the ball underneath Gianluigi Donnarumma to make Milan pay the highest price for their attacking inefficacy.
With such a display, it’s easy to turn on the attacking players, particularly the strikers. Considering Bacca had less influence than Niang on the game as a whole, his output could be singled out.
According to WhoScored.com’s statistics, Bacca was caught offside on three separate occasions, while making just 20 passes and taking four shots. It was an underwhelming individual showing, and it wasn't the only time the cunning forward has been subpar of late.
Bacca put in an equally absent performance last December, adding little as Milan drew 0-0 with Carpi. However, his individual insignificance in these matches was symptomatic of more holistic concerns, namely that Milan weren't cohesive in either game.
The forwards are the most open to blame on the back of goalless draws or defeats, but the inability of Bacca to get involved speaks more to Sinisa Mihajlovic’s tactics than any particular flaw in the Colombian’s makeup.
One of the major issues with the 4-4-2 system that Milan have used of late is its propensity to lead to openness. In its most orthodox deployment, the formation—as Milan use it—lacks linkmen between the three lines of defence, midfield and attack.
As a result of this, Milan’s wide players are often used to bridge the gaps, though this only exposes the Rossoneri’s soft central underbelly. For example, when Giacomo Bonaventura cuts in to try and combine with Bacca, this only leaves space for the opposition to counter, and Milan lack the stability to deal with it.
Bologna did much the same as Carpi last December in that they nullified Mihajlovic’s men, rendering them impotent. With Amadou Diawara holding in a central-midfield three, there was little space for Milan’s wide men to drive infield to. In turn, this had a stifling effect on Bacca, who requires service to be effective.
After the match, Mihajlovic stated that he was satisfied with his team’s attacking play, bar the end product. He told Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia): “It’s a defeat that hurts because we create so much and score so few goals.”
Any sort of notion that Milan were more creative than Bologna would be fallacious. The reality is, once again, Mihajlovic’s tactics led to a shortage of interchanges and fluidity going forward.
Bacca has scored eight goals in 18 league appearances since moving to the San Siro. He scored in three consecutive games before the winter break set in. He is not to blame for Milan’s defeat to Bologna, nor is any one individual.
When Bacca doesn't play well, this tends to signify the team is lacking ideas; that Milan find goalscoring an issue when in possession of one of Europe’s most clinical finishers is inexcusable.
Mihajlovic has made many tactical modifications since taking charge last summer, but on the basis of Wednesday’s evidence, he has more changes to make.