Cristian Brocchi has been AC Milan head coach for four games. In those four games, his side have won just once. They dropped their latest points on Sunday afternoon, drawing 3-3 at home to Frosinone, who sit 19th in Serie A.
The result represented the third consecutive match in which the Rossoneri have been humbled by supposedly inferior opposition, coming on the back of an embarrassing 2-1 defeat away to relegated Verona and a dour 0-0 draw with Carpi at the San Siro.
Quite clearly, this is not the response Silvio Berlusconi expected from the team following his dismissal of Sinisa Mihajlovic in mid-April.
Brocchi’s appointment and the team’s subsequent performances have left the club on the brink of a third straight season without European football to look forward to. With Sassuolo leapfrogging them into sixth, any hope of securing qualification for continental competition is now out of Milan’s hands.
And on the basis of the draw with Frosinone, a fightback is not on the cards.
Despite dominating the ball—with 73 per cent possession, per WhoScored.com—Milan were unable to convert chances into goals and were left to rue the consequences. Their more clinical visitors took advantage of their profligacy to go 2-0 up in the first half thanks to goals from Luca Paganini and Oliver Kragl.
Mario Balotelli missed a penalty early in the second half before Carlos Bacca pulled one back following a mistake by the otherwise-exemplary Francesco Bardi. Federico Dionisi restored Frosinone’s two-goal lead soon after, but late strikes from substitutes Luca Antonelli and Jeremy Menez were enough to seal a point for the home side.
After the match, Brocchi was at a loss to explain how his side had dropped two more points against one of Serie A’s lesser lights, telling Mediaset Premium and Sky Sport Italia (h/t Football Italia): "I do not agree with those who say Milan fell apart today. Milan cannot concede three goals at San Siro, that is true, and the result was not good. But we played well. Today was one of those games that football gives you sometimes."
Yet for all the possession Milan enjoyed, Brocchi’s assertion they played well is a wayward one.
In reality, the Rossoneri were disorganised, uninspired and generally devoid of purpose. On and off the ball, they struggled. And of those aspects, the performance was only a continuation of the team’s last two fixtures.
One of Brocchi’s first decisions when taking up his new role was to implement a 4-3-1-2 system with a narrow diamond midfield. This was the same shape Mihajlovic tried, and failed, to integrate early on in his tenure.
This change has led to less cohesive team displays. The midfield often appears loose, with players seemingly unclear on where they should position themselves, particularly when trying to build attacks.
This issue isn’t aided by a general lack of movement off the ball. Whenever Riccardo Montolivo or Alessio Romagnoli attempt to play the ball into more dangerous areas, they are hindered by their team-mates' lack of mobility. There are few options for the ball-player, and as a result, Milan’s possession play is often rendered ineffective.
Perhaps most worryingly, however, is the gradual collapse of defensive organisation since Brocchi took charge. In his four games as boss, Milan have kept two clean sheets. But in their two most recent fixtures, they have conceded five goals, the majority of which were avoidable.
Take Frosinone’s third goal as an example of this. Montolivo failed to adequately deal with a hopeful long ball, heading backward. Alex then failed to clear his lines, miskicking and allowing Dionisi in to score.
One of the major criticisms of Mihajlovic’s Milan was they weren’t pretty enough. But they were, to the Serb’s credit, functional. Since his firing, however, the team has taken a step back in this respect. The defensive organisation that briefly characterised this team is almost completely absent.
It’s difficult to blame Brocchi for the recent collapse.
While his tactics haven’t improved the team, it is worth noting his only previous experience came when coaching the Rossoneri’s Primavera. He is 40 years old and has time to learn his trade, but it is becoming clearer by the week the decision to put him in charge of the first team at such a vital juncture of the season was misguided.
Nonetheless, Milan’s stagnation under Brocchi’s auspices continued in Sunday’s calamitous and chaotic draw with Frosinone. And with just two league games left, he has little time to correct the tactical confusion that reigns over his underperforming team.