Opening day defeat in Verona for Milan

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Giuseppe Cacace/Getty ImagesA brace from the ageless Luca Toni earned Hellas Verona an opening day win over Milan.

The long awaited return of Serie A football swiftly turned into opening day disappointment for Milan as they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Hellas Verona on Saturday evening. A Luca Toni double ensured the newly-promoted home side sealed all three points, leaving the Rossoneri with plenty to think about.

- Match report: Hellas Verona 2-1 Milan

The opening 25 minutes at the Bentegodi could not have gone much better: Milan were both patient and sharp on the ball with their intrinsic passing opening up the Verona defence to allow Andrea Poli to claim a debut goal.

However, what happened thereafter remains a mystery. While the home side grew in confidence and increased the tempo of the game, Milan's passing became wayward and their general demeanour looked lethargic and disjointed.

Traditionally, Massimiliano Allegri has made a slow start to each campaign in which he has been in charge of the club. While that could potentially be used an excuse, particularly when considering the trip to Verona was sandwiched in between the Champions League qualifiers, it was made clear ahead of the game that Milan could not afford to lose early ground.

The warning was not heeded, as Milan were generally outplayed following the opening stages of the game as the centre-half pairing of Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes failed to sufficiently deal with the threat of Toni. Another goal conceded from a set-piece hinted that lessons had not been learned from last year, but the bigger lesson is that Allegri must switch the tactical system.

With Kevin-Prince Boateng ruled out through injury, Allegri was forced into playing a 4-3-3 that Milan have become accustomed to over the past twelve months. Both Stephan El Shaarawy and M'Baye Niang were substituted mid-way through the second-half after similarly disappointing performances on either flank.

Following the PSV clash on Tuesday night, it was proposed that Allegri's minor tinkering in placing El Shaarawy closer to Mario Balotelli showed signs of results. However, by resorting back to the three-man attack, El Shaarawy was left isolated on the left wing just as he was in the second half of last season while Niang flattered to deceive.

That in turn left a frustrated Balotelli fighting a lone battle up front and attempting to pick up scraps as he consistently tested Verona goalkeeper Rafael with efforts on goal.

The impressive Jorginho was able control proceedings in the middle of the pitch for the hosts, while on countless occasions the Milan midfield was overrun on the counter-attack which ultimately led to Toni's winner.

It is important not to over-react to the defeat, as any loss on the opening day of the season is accentuated given the desire to see the return of domestic football only to be left disappointed.

In addition, the solution is clear in that Milan did what they should have done for the opening half hour but then failed to maintain it. The Rossoneri allowed their tempo to drop and were punished, and it only further established the importance of Nigel de Jong to the system.

With the three-man midfield dominating possession in their own territory, Milan need a creative spark to roam between the lines and provide more of a threat than the predictable passage of play in going wide. Critics will also point to the defence, and if Adriano Galliani needed reminding, his work this summer in the transfer market is not yet done.

In your opinion, what went wrong for Milan? Does the 4-3-3 system get the best of the players?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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