At the end of the 2010/11 season, AC Milan were crowned champions of Italy. At the same time, Carpi earned promotion to Italian football’s third tier. That the two sides drew 0-0 on Sunday evening is as much a testament to Milan’s fall as it is to Carpi’s rise.
This was a match Milan simply had to win. Sinisa Mihajlovic had beforehand proposed, nay, implored, that his players continue the victorious form which had seemingly returned with a superb 4-1 win against Sampdoria on 28 November.
However, the winning run was over almost as soon as it started, with Sunday’s stalemate in the Stadio Alberto Braglia a seasonal low point that, while not as humiliating as the home hammering by Napoli in October, did provide a certain sting.
The trip was supposed to begin a sequence of success for Milan. Carpi are in a relegation dogfight, as are the Rossoneri’s next two opponents, Hellas Verona and Frosinone. But Mihajlovic’s hopes of a month of maximum points went up in smoke at the first hurdle.
The Serbian coach left the field with disappointment etched in his face at such an average display. While Milan had clearly been the dominant force on the pitch, they had failed to create many real opportunities with their possession and squandered those they did create.
This was different to the 0-0 draw at home to Atalanta in early November; then, Milan were second-best and relied on 16-year-old goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma to earn their point.
Against Carpi, they were rarely troubled defensively but couldn’t capitalise in an attacking sense. It showed an evident gap in Milan’s makeup, as they are not particularly comfortable assuming the role of the team in control of the ball.
When faced with a situation where the opposition—in this case Fabrizio Castori’s well-drilled Biancorossi outfit—are happy to give up possession in favour of defensive solidity, Milan faltered. One key reason for this was a lack of ingenuity in the final third.
Carpi matched Milan in terms of the system used: They too lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. However, they defended in banks of four, transitioned quickly into defence when they lost possession and counterattacked directly with long balls to Marco Borriello up front.
This presented Mihajlovic’s men with the task of opening up the Carpi defence, something they were unable to do. Mihajlovic himself admitted this failing after the match, telling Mediaset Premium (h/t Football Italia): “Carpi closed up well, we needed some creativity and a bit of luck. ... These are games you have to break through.”
In such circumstances, where the opposition limits space and restricts movement, Milan would no doubt benefit from the presence of Mario Balotelli and Jeremy Menez; both missed the Carpi match through injury.
Balotelli is out until around December 15, while Menez is set to return in January, according to Transfermarkt. Had they been available, their technical skills, audacity and imagination would have been welcomed by Milan in their attempts to overcome a defensively compact Carpi side.
In their absence, a lot of the creative duty fell to Giacomo Bonaventura. The Italian international shouldered the burden fairly well, making 11 crosses, six key passes and completing three dribbles, according to WhoScored.com. However, those around him struggled.
Alessio Cerci got into some dangerous positions, but a bad first touch let him down on more than one occasion. M’Baye Niang often ended up drifting too far wide due to his inability to fashion space through the middle, while Carlos Bacca was noticeably quiet.
At a time when Milan needed a goal, the attacking quartet—Bonaventura aside—seemed without leadership.
Perhaps this was the latest evidence of a new-look front line yet to jell. This was, after all, only Milan's second game in the 4-4-2 formation. Another theory would be that they simply underestimated how hard it would be to break Carpi down.
Ultimately there is a fine line between valid reasoning and flimsy excuses, but on the back of another poor result, Milanisti will be tired of hearing either.
Suggestions of a lack of synchronicity and poor mental preparation are no comfort whatsoever in the aftermath of two points lost, and with matches against Carpi's fellow Serie A stragglers Verona and Frosinone coming up, Mihajlovic must quickly rectify Milan’s shortage of ingenuity or face tough questions during the winter break.