With the additions in midfield and attack this summer, Milan coach Marco Giampaolo now has options and quality depth at his disposal this season.
As the most talented deep-lying midfielder in the squad, Ismael Bennacer is expected to get the nod as our regista, but the two spots either side of him may well be up for grabs as the season progresses.
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Further up the field, Suso and Krzysztof Piatek have featured heavily through pre-season and the start of the new campaign, and so they’ll likely continue to play key roles.
That in turn leaves the third spot in the attacking trident open, with Samu Castillejo entrusted with providing quality in that department thus far.
Unfortunately for the Spaniard, that required quality hasn’t been particularly forthcoming from him. After an underwhelming pre-season, he has struggled to have a telling influence on our general play while failing to offer a genuine threat in the final third.
That in makes his position in the side questionable, while the pressure is seemingly on both Hakan Calhanoglu and Franck Kessie to deliver in midfield with MilanNews noting that those two and Castillejo are all expected to start against Verona this weekend.
Competition queuing up behind them
Castillejo at risk?
Castillejo is arguably under the most pressure to keep his place in the starting XI, particularly when considering Ante Rebic, Rafael Leao and Giacomo Bonaventura are just three options off the bench who are looking to break into the line-up.
Bonaventura has recovered from injury while Rebic and Leao will be hoping for a chance after having had time to settle at their new club.
Castillejo, 24, has managed to contribute just four goals and four assists in 42 appearances for Milan and so for an individual with such a vital creative role in the side, that simply isn’t good enough.
Nevertheless, as per the report above, it would appear as though he’s going to get another chance to impress on Sunday, and he must produce in Verona until Giampaolo feels as though it’s the right time to make changes.
With his figures in mind though, the expectation is that Castillejo will play a key part in our work off the ball given his tireless work ethic, but that isn’t going to be enough to stay in the side long term with the quality knocking on the door to displace him.
Calhanoglu and Kessie must step up
As for Calhanoglu and Kessie, these are two players who are under pressure this season to now take their respective games to the next level.
The Turkish international is seemingly aware of that, as per Pianeta Milan, and scoring the winning goal last time out against Brescia will certainly be a confidence boost.
However, popping up with the odd goal or assist isn’t enough for a player with the talent and technical quality that he possesses, more is needed in being a creative spark in midfield and to help us dominate games and dictate the tempo.
That’s ultimately why we signed him, and the goals and assists will hopefully flow from there as a result.
Kessie is slightly different in that with his attributes, he remains a vital option in our midfield. It could have been very different this summer with La Gazzetta dello Sport noting that he came close to a switch to Monaco, but ultimately it was decided that he was too important to Giampaolo to let go.
His energy, tenacity, work rate and powerful driving runs forward make him a fundamental piece in our midfield. Yet where the 22-year-old has consistently let himself down is the end product, decision making and lack of composure in the final third.
For a player with his quality, he must offer more from an attacking perspective as he’s certainly capable, but he hasn’t yet shown the maturity and improvement to make a key difference. Thinking back to the chances he’s been involved in over the last two years, tallies of 12 goals and eight assists in 98 games for Milan is nowhere near good enough.
Similarly to the case noted above with Castillejo, we have Rade Krunic, Lucas Biglia and Bonaventura pushing for a spot in midfield, while Lucas Paqueta should perhaps be ahead of them all in the pecking order anyway when he returns to full fitness after a summer and international break spent with Brazil.
In the report above from MilanNews, it’s even suggested that Paqueta could come in for Kessie with Giampaolo eyeing a midfield trio overflowing with technical quality along with Bennacer and Calhanoglu.
It remains to be seen if he’s brave enough to take a risk with the balance of the side and play such attacking football, but Castillejo, Calhanoglu and Kessie are all seemingly under pressure this season and if they don’t produce this weekend, they may find themselves on the bench before too long.