Having raced into a two-goal lead at Sassuolo on Sunday night, Milan's eventual capitulation was a cause for real concern. The Rossoneri fell to a 4-3 defeat to the Serie A new boys as teenager Domenico Berardi ran riot to put the Milan defence to the sword, becoming only the third player in Europe's top five leagues this season to net four goals in a single match, following in the footsteps of Carlos Vela and Luis Suarez.
The win for the hosts moved them out of the relegation zone in Serie A and left Milan 30 points behind league leaders Juventus at the midway point of the season. It's a spectacular downturn in fortunes for the team, who only three seasons ago won the Scudetto. This poor run of form, taking only 22 points from 19 games, saw Massimiliano Allegri relieved of his duties on Monday; a decision that came as little shock to the neutral.
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While the results didn't live up to the expectations of the owners at the club, the stats suggest Milan weren't performing as poorly as many would like to think. At the time of writing, the Serie A side concede an average of only 11.3 shots per game, only top of the table pairing Roma (10.4) and Juventus (8.4) have conceded fewer this term.
Yet, Milan have shipped an alarmingly high 30 goals in the league, only Livorno, Bologna (both 33), Catania (34) and Sassuolo (41) have conceded more goals this season. Comparatively, Juventus have let in only 12 and Roma 10, with the pairing boasting the best defensive records in the league.
From a statistical viewpoint, the 18-time top-flight champions haven't necessarily underperformed offensively either. Milan are averaging 16.6 shots per game, in part due to striker Mario Balotelli, while only Juventus (18.3) are having more attempts on goal, but the club have netted just the 31 times in Serie A; 15 fewer than the defending champions.
Even in possession, Milan lead the way with 59.6 percent in Italy's top tier, but have continuously underwhelmed when on the ball. Perhaps the most telling indicator in this poor start to the season is the performances of individuals in the most important positions on the pitch. Take for example Balotelli, who has exhibited his striking capabilities when needs must, but this term is failing to consistently find the back of the net.
While the 23-year-old is averaging the same number of shots per game (5.9) as he was in Serie A last season, his conversion rate has dropped from 15.6 percent to 8.4 percent. Balotelli may be Milan's top goalscorer in the league (seven) and their highest rated player by WhoScored.com (7.47), but like his conversion rate, both of these have dropped when compared to last term, from 12 and 8.23 respectively, having played one more game this season.
This poorer return in front of goal hasn't aided their season but much of that, it can be argued, has been down to the unavailability of Stephan El Shaarawy and departure of Kevin-Prince Boateng. Granted, the former saw his form dip significantly following the arrival of his compatriot Balotelli, but the creativity he brought to the team in the attacking triumvirate and movement off the ball allowed for Balotelli to be granted the space needed to maximise his ability in and around the 18-yard box.
Moreover, with the pairing available, Allegri was able to field the striker as the focal point in the attack, a role he thrives in. However, without El Shaarawy and Boateng, the former Milan boss was forced to make do with the personnel available to him, thus seeing him start with a two-man strike force on seven occasions this term.
This saw both Alessandro Matri and Robinho, two players often criticised by Milan fans for their below-par performances, at times partner Balotelli in attack, downgrading the creativity that El Shaarawy and Boateng brought to the Milan side and limiting Balotelli's impact as a result. This has seen the young striker pull to the wings in search of the ball rather than rely on those around him to feed him possession to utilise his strong finishing.
Granted, the arrival of Kaka has provided Milan with a further offensive option from midfield, but the Brazilian's style of play is too dissimilar to that of El Shaarawy and Boateng, with the 31-year-old better suited to operating behind a frontman than on the flank. While the midfielder has shown his quality upon his return to San Siro, the club now boast an abundance of players that can be deployed in the middle of the park. Coupled with the emergence of Bryan Cristiante and signing of Keisuke Honda the options in this position increase.
In turn, this could be part of the reason why Riccardo Montolivo's impact has dropped. The Italian secured an average WhoScored rating of 7.45 last season, but has seen that drop to 7.14 from 13 appearances in this campaign. While his creative stats haven't significantly altered between the seasons, the 28-year-old's influence has.
Milan won 58.1 percent of the 31 games Montolivo started last term to 42.9 percent of the seven he didn't, while the team scored more goals per game with him (1.81) than without (1.57). However, this season Milan have won a higher proportion of their league matches without Montolivo starting (28.6 percent) than with him (25 percent), while the Rossoneri are netting more when he isn't in the XI (1.71 per game) than when he is (1.58).
For a player of his ability and importance to the Milan setup, it's little surprise that their form has been worse off without the midfielder on song. Following a season where he was Milan's second highest rated player, only Balotelli bettering his figure, this drop in rating is a clear indicator to a dip in performances.
Focusing finally on the goals conceded compared to shots conceded, their miserable return can be attributed in part to goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. The veteran Italian, much like Balotelli and Montolivo, has seen his average rating drop to 6.56 from 6.76 last season, with his deteriorating displays in between the sticks clear for all to see.
However, perhaps more telling is the drop in Abbiati's save success rate. The 36-year-old has saved only 58.5 percent of the shots he's faced in Serie A this season, a massive drop from the notable 73.9 percent of last term. While only Juventus and Roma have conceded fewer shots on goal per game, Milan's high number of goals conceded suggests that the depreciating goalkeeping ability of Abbiati has contributed significantly to the side's poor start, ultimately culminating in Allegri's sacking.
The drop in performance levels in such key areas across the pitch hasn't aided Milan's cause in Serie A this season. The injuries handed to Allegri didn't help him, but the individual displays of Balotelli, Montolivo and Abbiati over the course of the season have certainly been a factor in Allegri being shown the exit door on the back of the demoralising 4-3 defeat to Sassuolo.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.