Milan got back to winning ways on Saturday as they secured a 2-0 victory over Cagliari and were led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Rafael Leao.
After the disappointment of being held by Sampdoria last time out and drawing a blank for the third consecutive game, it was vital that Milan produced a response this weekend.
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While it wasn’t emphatic, it was an improved performance on the whole as we deservedly return home with all three points and with much to be pleased about.
Ibrahimovic is back
The 38-year-old showed that he still possessed quality when coming off the bench against Sampdoria, and he was handed his first start since returning this time round.
Ibrahimovic didn’t disappoint, as while he showed a good touch and an ability to drop deeper to become more involved in our build-up play, he showed his true class with the finish that doubled our lead.
There were perhaps question marks hanging over him as whether or not he was still capable of making an impact at this level, and while it isn’t vintage Ibra anymore, it’s certainly not a bad version of him as he showed he can still play a big role for us this season.
Promising partnership up top
Another pleasing aspect involving our returning talisman was his partnership with Leao. While it’s still raw in the sense that they haven’t had a lot of time to work together, there are clear signs that suggest it could be a successful link-up moving forward.
From Ibrahimovic’s ability to hold the ball up and pick out a pass while being a threat in the box to Leao’s quality in stretching defences and using his pace to cause a different type of problem for them, if they can develop their understanding and continue to improve, it could lead to great results.
There is an element of it being an issue still from a defensive perspective as Leao in particular perhaps needs to do more off the ball, but Pioli will be pleased that he has that duo to work off in attack.
Pioli rewarded for changing system
Speaking of the Milan coach, he decided to change things up this weekend and not only dropped key individuals, but also changed the formation to a 4-4-2.
It took a while for it to show results as Milan weren’t that impressive in the opening 45 minutes, with Hakan Calhanoglu and Samu Castillejo in particular too quiet in their new roles out wide.
However, things started to come together in the second half as Theo Hernandez was allowed to continue to be a threat going down the left, while Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie gave us more of a foothold to allow the other attacking players to become more prominent.
It remains to be seen whether or not Pioli sticks with this system or not, but it’s certainly put itself into contention as we looked solid defensively and picked up the all-important win after moving away from the 4-3-3.
Milan win without Suso
The last time Milan dropped Suso, we needed him to come off the bench and rescue us against SPAL as he showed his class with a superb free-kick.
After the Spaniard was rightly left out again this weekend after a poor run of form, Milan showed that we are capable of winning without him, which comes as a major relief.
While that’s not to say that he won’t come back into the side and hopefully play an important role in certain games if needed, Pioli made the right call and was rewarded with a more balanced and improved display from the team with Samu Castillejo putting in a real shift on the right as he grew into the game in the second half.
Can Pioli integrate other key players?
While Milan got the win and can be pleased with the performance, the likes of Giacomo Bonaventura and Lucas Paqueta were left on the bench.
It’s hard to see Krzysztof Piatek displacing Leao after that display, while Suso could have a tough time getting back into the XI too.
However, Bonaventura arguably has a strong case to get in ahead of Calhanoglu if he can show he has the legs to do the defensive work too, while it’s hoped that the formation change doesn’t necessarily kill Paqueta’s chances of making an impact.
Pioli must simply start the best XI and go on form and who fits certain roles best, but it would be good to see that duo find a place in the line-up as it would surely only improve us.