Five talking points as Milan slip to loss to Benfica in pre-season encounter

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Milan departed the USA after back-to-back defeats to Bayern and Benfica, but there were undoubtedly more positives for Marco Giampaolo to take from Sunday’s outing.

A deflected Adel Taarabt free-kick in the second half was ultimately all that separated the two sides, with the Rossoneri missing a string of great chances, particularly in an impressive showing in the opening 45 minutes.

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At this stage of the year, the results really don’t mean a great deal as the more important factors at play are that the players are reaching optimal fitness levels, are gelling with each other and the coach is implementing his ideas and they’re getting across to the squad on the pitch.

With that in mind, there were plenty of positives as the group returned to Italy on Monday despite the fact that they come away from the two games with two defeats.

Donnarumma shows why it’s so important to keep him

Speculation was rife over the 20-year-old’s future just over a month ago, but he’s still with us and as per MilanNews, via the paper edition of Tuttosport, it’s now being suggested that he will more likely renew his contract.

As seen with the string of brilliant saves he made in the first half, the shot-stopper’s quality, maturity and influence between the posts is crucial for us moving forward.

It’s nothing new as he continued to improve last season and showed he’s able to cut the mistakes out from his game, and so it’s vital that we keep hold of him and maintain that solidity and familiarity at the back.

Giampaolo style coming through

While we saw signs in the Bayern clash, the first half on Sunday was the biggest indication yet of what Giampaolo is trying to implement and change at Milan this summer.

There was an organised and intense press off the ball which will only increase in intensity and urgency as the players get fitter, and that in turn led to countless situations in which we either won the ball back high up the pitch or pressured Benfica into mistakes.

Further, there was an obvious desire to play more expansive football at a higher tempo, with the pace of our play quickening up as it got into the midfield with sharper and first-time passes to create one-twos and gaps in the final third.

Importantly, players were also finding space in between the lines with better movement off the ball, and that led to dangerous attacks being built up without allowing the opposition to settle into their system.

Suso shows promising signs as trequartista

As noted by Calciomercato, Suso has been strongly linked with an exit this summer but as we edge closer to the start of the new campaign, he’s still with us and is being played in a key role.

To his credit, the Spaniard impressed as the trequartista against Benfica, breaking into pockets of space either between their midfield and defence or wandering across to his preferred right wing slot and looking threatening from there.

Suso showed signs of being able to thread passes through for Krzysztof Piatek while posing his usual threat of strikes from distance. Whether it’s enough to keep Lucas Paqueta out from claiming that No.10 role as he returns to training this week and to avoid an exit, remains to be seen.

Biglia, Calhanoglu staking claim

The expectation is that Hakan Calhanoglu will be given a fresh chance by Giampaolo, not least because of his technical quality and versatility to play across various positions in midfield.

However, he hasn’t been as influential and decisive as many had hoped after his arrival in 2017, and so this year has to be the year that he proves his worth and flourishes in the new system and style of play.

The Turkish international was impressive in the first half and played with confidence as he looked a threat when linking up with others, while Lucas Biglia picked up from where he left off against Bayern and dictated the start of our play in his natural deep-lying role.

Pianeta Milan note that Ismael Bennacer has wrapped up the formalities of his move and should be announced soon, but perhaps keeping Biglia for the next 12 months could be key in providing experience and depth behind the AFCON winner.

As per the club’s official site, both Biglia and Calhanoglu were singled out for praise by Giampaolo along with Fabio Borini, and so the pair seem to be staking their claim to stay, and play a key role this season.

Integration of new and injured players is reason for excitement

The biggest reason as to why the results aren’t important at this stage is that Milan are nowhere near the finished article, both in terms of Giampaolo’s work in training and also in the summer transfer window.

Rade Krunic is still getting up to speed, Theo Hernandez will hope to return from injury in time for the new campaign and Bennacer’s energy and quality in the heart of the midfield will make a significant difference.

Add to that the return of Paqueta, Giacomo Bonaventura, Franck Kessie, Mattia Caldara and further new signings, Sunday’s performance should be a reason for excitement as to what’s still to come.

At this point, it’s merely a case of laying the foundations. Add more quality and players that actually fit the system and are functional to Giampaolo’s brand of football, both on and off the ball, and we’ll surely be picking up more positive results soon enough.