Five Milan players who Pioli must integrate to add key elements to core of XI

With over a week to go until Stefano Pioli takes charge of his first Milan game, there will be much discussion over what his preferred XI will look like.

Ultimately, the core of the side will likely look familiar, with Gianluigi Donnarumma, Alessio Romagnoli, Franck Kessie, Suso and Krzysztof Piatek all keeping their places in the starting line-up.

SEE MORE: How Milan could line up under Pioli: Fresh start for key figure, underperforming trio could remain

While it’s hoped that the 53-year-old is prepared to drop ‘big’ names if they are underperforming, there is a threat that he will perhaps play it safe and rely heavily on the same players who have let us down with their inconsistency time and time again in recent years.

With that in mind, there are five players who Pioli must now integrate into his starting XI on a consistent basis, and if added to the core group of Donnarumma, Romagnoli and Piatek in particular, he may well not only win over the supporters who reserved a fierce backlash to his appointment earlier this week, but it might also lead to positive results too.

Mattia Caldara

As noted by MilanNews, the Rossoneri finally welcomed the centre-half back to training with the rest of the group this week, and the target is for the Italian international to get minutes under his belt in November.

A degree of patience will be needed in this instance, but there is surely little doubt that he offers a more complete and concrete option next to Romagnoli ahead of both Mateo Musacchio and Leo Duarte.

His biggest challenge is staying fit and steering clear of injuries, if he can do that, Pioli must bring him in and start building that partnership in the heart of the backline.

Ismael Bennacer

Rather worryingly, Calciomercato (via La Gazzetta dello Sport) note that Lucas Biglia will be the key figure in midfield for Pioli given their familiarity with one another from their Lazio days.

If he can miraculously get the 33-year-old playing at an elite level and Milan are winning games, there will be no complaints. However, we’ve seen his limitations and there is a strong argument that if we want to move forward and make long-term progress we must stop going back to the old faces.

Bennacer has arguably been unfortunate to have been in and out of the side under Marco Giampaolo, but that’s not an approach that Pioli should repeat as the Algerian is everything we need in midfield with his energy, tenacity and technical quality on the ball.

Lucas Paqueta

While international commitments undoubtedly complicated his start to the season, there is little doubt that once Paqueta is fully fit, he should be in the starting line-up without question.

His flair, creativity, technical quality, tenacity and link-up play with Krzysztof Piatek makes him a potentially crucial figure in the side, and like the others in this list, he still hasn’t had a consistent run of games.

Particularly given how Hakan Calhanoglu continues to disappoint, the Brazilian ace must be given a more prominent role by Pioli and the focus should be on tapping into his full potential rather than limiting him, with Football Italia noting how Giampaolo suggested that he wanted him to be ‘less Brazilian’.

Giacomo Bonaventura

It was a joy to see him back in the starting XI against Genoa, as his intelligence and reading of the game still sets him apart from many others in this current squad.

If Pioli adopts a 4-3-3, it could be that he’s deployed on the left flank with Paqueta as a mezzala, or if it’s a 4-2-3-1, he can be used on the left of the trio behind the frontman.

Either way, whatever formation, Bonaventura must start for Milan as he has seemingly put his injury woes behind him and can now return to being a pivotal presence in our attack.

Rafael Leao

It will be some task fitting everyone in, but staying true to the names mentioned above, Leao would probably have to be played on the right flank instead if they all somehow get the nod.

He can still use his pace, directness and technical quality on that flank even though he’s been effective on the left, but with Paqueta and Bonaventura both playing, theoretically he would have to switch.

That would of course involve Suso being dropped, and while there is a feeling that Pioli won’t do that, he’d arguably be making a big early mistake if he didn’t allow Leao to build on what has been impressive start to life with us so far this season as it was a baffling decision to leave him out last weekend.

In turn, some of the names above could miss out as the Pioli tenure gets underway, and although the priority is always to see Milan win games as the club is bigger than any player, it’s hoped that this quintet get a solid run to cement their places in the XI as they can offer so much more than some of their teammates.

Preferred Milan XI:

(If 4-2-3-1): Donnarumma; Calabria, Caldara, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer; Leao, Paqueta, Bonaventura; Piatek.

(If 4-3-3): Donnarumma; Calabria, Caldara, Romagnoli, Hernandez; Kessie, Bennacer, Paqueta; Leao, Piatek, Bonaventura.