There was a great deal of intrigue and excitement in 2017 over what Hakan Calhanoglu could bring to Milan after his move from Bayer Leverkusen.
Aside from the highlight reel of stunning free-kicks, the Turkish international had showed creativity, flair and technical quality in midfield and in the final third to emerge as a player with real potential to take his game to the top level.
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Unfortunately for all concerned, he hasn’t been able to do that for Milan thus far, with modest tallies of 12 goals and 24 assists in 91 appearances for the Rossoneri.
Given he has been handed a key role and significant playing time as well as many chances under Gennaro Gattuso when some were perhaps calling for him to be dropped, those are disappointing numbers and there is little doubt that he is fully aware of that too.
In his defence, he has been forced to play in a more unnatural role on the left wing in a 4-3-3 system for the most part, but having shown glimpses of his quality at times, his inconsistency and inability to have a real influence on games was frustrating last season as he would have been expected to kick on in his second year in Italy.
Fresh chance under Giampaolo
With the arrival of Marco Giampaolo this summer, Calhanoglu will now have to find his place in a 4-3-1-2 system, and his versatility will certainly help him in finding regular playing time.
The expectation is that he’ll predominantly be used as a mezzala with Suso now seemingly making the trequartista role his own over pre-season, but Calhanoglu faces a battle in that department too with Lucas Paqueta on the left side of the midfield three.
That in turn raises real question marks over whether or not he’ll have a big part to play this season or if he’ll be forced into a depth role, and given our struggles in recent years with a lack of quality depth, it’s actually a welcome attribute to have in the squad.
However, before he is pushed down the pecking order, Calhanoglu could get an opportunity to impress Giampaolo against Udinese on Sunday, with an injury set to rule out Lucas Biglia.
Chance to impress as regista
As noted by MilanNews, via Sky Sport Italia, the Argentine stalwart suffered a setback in training on Friday, and it has been suggested that Calhanoglu could step into the regista role with Paqueta taking up his spot on the left of the midfield trio.
If that is the way Giampaolo goes, Calhanoglu must take that chance with both hands. He’ll likely see a lot of the ball and being in a deeper role, he’ll be able to set the tempo and get us moving in attacks while showcasing his wide range of passing.
Further, he has shown tenacity and an ability to track back and defend over the last two seasons, making some well-timed tackles to show a different side of his game. He’ll need that along with awareness and positioning to do well as the regista, a role he has been used in at times in pre-season.
With Paqueta potentially keeping him out of the side in his preferred role and with Ismael Bennacer widely expected to come straight into the side when he’s fully fit and adjusted to Giampaolo’s demands and style of play, this could be one of the last big chances that Calhanoglu gets in the starting XI.
Playing for a coach like Giampaolo who wants to keep possession and play attractive football should suit him, but time will tell if he’s able to step up and deliver or if we’ll simply see more of the same from the last two years and more of a bench role in the coming months.