The Derby della Madonnina ended in disappointment for Milan on Sunday, but Ismael Bennacer proved his ability to deliver in the big games too with an impressive display.
Although signing a player from a relegated side in Empoli was perhaps initially met with scepticism, that turned into intrigue and hope after his starring role at the Africa Cup of Nations as he was named the Player of the Tournament.
It took a little time for the 22-year-old to fully settle with us as he was in and out of the side in the early part of the campaign, but from November onwards, he has solidified his position in the starting line-up and has emerged as a fundamental figure in our XI.
Playing in that deep-lying midfield role, the Algerian international has to put in a shift defensively and provide a protective screen for the backline.
While he still needs to improve in that area of his game as he often picks up unnecessary bookings and looks clumsy at times, he does show positive signs of reading the game well to make interceptions while also showcasing great tenacity and intensity with his defensive work to force mistakes and win back possession.
His mobility and engine to get about the pitch is also vital in that role, and while his teammates were busy capitulating around him in the second half against Inter, he kept his head and continued to try and give us a foothold in midfield to get back into the game despite being as inexperienced as most others.
As seen in the video below, it’s easy to forget just how often he breaks up play and wins possession back, and so that is arguably an underrated part of his game but is improving and becoming more prominent.
Technical quality on the ball
Whether it’s getting out of tight spaces with his close control or his ability to make bursting runs forward to his class in making quick, sharp passes and picking up the tempo of our play, Bennacer is coming into his own in this specific area.
His vision, passing range and urgency are all pivotal characteristics which we’ve lacked for so long in midfield, and he’s bringing a real touch of class to our play at times.
On Sunday, he was constantly looking for the give and go as he was always making himself an option, and he’s never afraid of picking the ball up in a dangerous position and finding a way to get out of trouble.
He’s improving as he gains more confidence and with further experience and maturity, we’ll hopefully see him take his game through the levels. It’s no coincidence that we look a much better side when we play at a higher tempo on and off the ball, and that often starts with Bennacer.
Piece to build around
These are all crucial reasons as to why one of the priorities this summer has to be finding the ideal partner for Bennacer, whether it’s in a four-man midfield or a midfield trio.
The 22-year-old is a player Milan can build around and watch him develop and flourish into a leader of this team in the coming years.
Naturally, he has plenty of room for improvement and growth still, but we’ve seen enough on a consistent basis over the past three months, and also in the big games against the top sides, that he’s more than good enough to mix it at that level and is a reliable pillar which we can depend on.
It looks as though Milan have signed a real gem in Bennacer, and the clip below arguably sums up all the positive things that he brings to this team and why he has become an indispensable piece in the XI as it’s hoped that continues as we improve around him.
Ismaël Bennacer Vs Interpic.twitter.com/zyyS6A5SgT
— BNS Comps (@BnsComps) February 10, 2020