The key tactics of Milan’s opponents in the Champions League group stage

By Rohit Rajeev -

The 2023-24 edition of Champions League will kick off in just over a week and AC Milan will start with Newcastle at home. Their group (F) has been labelled the group of the death and below we take a look at the key tactics. 

Milan will face Newcastle, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain in the group stage, making for a tough path to the knockout stage. It’s a very tough group to predict, with all four teams having their strengths, and will likely come down to details. Below, we take a look at the key tactics of the Rossoneri’s opponents.

Borussia Dortmund

It’s a team with a passionate fanbase and they have been famous for their exciting style of play, along with their ability to find good young players. They typically play a 4-2-3-1 formation under Eden Terzic.

In possession 

➤ Build-up from the back with a 3+1 structure. The defensive midfielder slots in between the centre-backs or as the left centre-back to form a back three.
➤ Reus and Brandt drop to collect passes while the full-backs stay wide to maintain width.
➤ When closer to goal, Reus and Brandt try to create one-touch combinations while trying to pull defenders out of positions. They also always try to be in the best positions when receiving the ball.
➤ A target man like Haller can take care of long balls, flicking the ball to his teammates.

Off the Ball

➤ A 4-1-4-1 defensive shape while defending high up the pitch. 4-4-1-1 while defending deeper.
➤ One of their weakness is defending counter-attacks given that centre-backs like Mats Hummels aren’t the quickest.
➤ Aerially they are very good. In fact, they have the third-highest aerial duels won in the Bundesliga (53%).

Paris Saint-Germain

Luis Enrique, who was appointed by the French side earlier this summer, uses a 4-3-3 formation just like he used at Spain and Barcelona.

In possession

➤ Depending on the pressing they face, PSG use various build-up varieties that may involve one or two midfielders. They build slowly, while forward players drop and rotate positions to scatter markers.
➤ Full-backs tend to overlap or underlap depending on the situation, and PSG also look to shift play towards one side and then make switches.
➤ They can play with a false nine and this allows midfielders to make runs into the box through the half spaces.

Off the ball

➤ PSG look to aggressively press their opponent and almost have their entire team in the opposition half.
➤ This makes them extremely vulnerable to counterattacks as long vertical balls over the last line can cause trouble.


Eddie Howe is preparing for his team’s return to the Champions League after a long hiatus. Bolstered by the summer signing of Sandro Tonali from Milan, they are by no means pushovers.

➤ The manager prefers a 4-3-3 to sit in a mid-block with space between the lines.
➤ Newcastle don’t tend to press high or sit deep. Instead, they are somewhat in between.
➤ To facilitate Kieran Trippier to push up, the left-back Dan Burn acts as the third centre-back.
➤ The two wingers tuck inside to act as passing options for Bruno Guimares, who often finds them as well.


These are obviously small and quick notes about the tactics. Teams may tailor their ideas to negate the ideas of the opposition. Of course, player quality also is a huge factor in all of these. No matter the tactics of PSG, a world-class player like Mbappe can definitely change any game. Milan’s new-found depth will be challenged and they will have to step up to the game.

Tags AC Milan Borussia Dortmund Newcastle PSG


  1. Teams may tailor their ideas to negate the ideas of the opposition. This is what Pioli unable to do. Havent seen milan playing with a particular game plan based on opposition under pioli.

    1. That is not always needed…

      Liverpool play with the same style over the years and, if not for Manchester City, will already dominate Premier League.

      Barca with tiki taka.

      We also won the Scudetto in 2021/22 playing with same style under Pioli.

    2. I have seen the team play very differently against each opponent this year based on different ideas. You never know before the game exactly how the other team will play, but he seems to spend a huge amount of time studying opponents. The way that calabria would come even further to the left so that there was a massive opening for thiaw on the right side was beautiful and led to a penalty.

  2. If Calabria can neutralize Mbappe, Luciano Spalletti have no reason at all to exclude him in Italy squad, even deserved to kick Di Lorenzo out from starting RB.

    If these tactic analysists are correct, 4 teams at Group F are in almost same at general tactic : Modern European Playing style : High press, fast, fluid. But i think Milan more fluid than all.
    Look at our 3 Serie-A matches :
    – When get high-pressed, the Regista (Krunic) go deeper, even deeper than CBs, and CBs go down to flanks, and GK always ready to involved to neutralize the pressure and switch passes. 2 Full backs go inverted to give more vertical passing option to Regista, and 2 mezzali always ready to making risky penetration with their fast vertical passes (Reijnders) or dribbling (Loftus-Cheeks).

    I think Pioli already prepared to facing the worst case scenario in Modern football strat, with this Milan. So this season is Pioli’s time to prove his tactical skills to the world. This kind of tactic might compete or even beat Guardiola’s system, i think.

    1. Truly, Milan tactics this season have been very interesting than our opponents but football is a game of total concentration. Little mistakes are what teams need and capitalize to win matches.

    2. You couldn’t explain it less. This strategy is difficult to neutralize, against Torino and Asroma, it really shows how this new game can be difficult to play against. Torino may not be among the top teams in Seria A, but they can be difficult to play against, especially against big teams. Roma will sit deep hoping for an error from their opponent in other to counter, but Milan passing has greatly improved such that the players knows when they are in dangerous position not to overdue to concede a counter attack. Evidence in how Torino only had one chance, and Roma has none until the red card

    3. it is guardiola’s system…which is slightly concerning given inter just prepared for a champions league final against them. but i am still holding out hope…

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