How Milan ace may have found preferred role after back-to-back impressive outings

Milan have made the decision to sign Alexis Saelemaekers on a permanent basis, and the Belgian ace is showing why that might turn out to be a smart choice.

As noted by the club’s official site, we’ve exercised our option to sign the 21-year-old outright, and he has now penned a deal which will keep him with us until 2024.

READ MORE: Five key talking points as wasteful Milan salvage draw vs SPAL but not good enough

It’s been a slow burner for the youngster as he played a bit-part role prior to the lockdown, but in the last three games, he has steadily forced his way into Stefano Pioli’s plans and is starting to grow into a more substantial role.

After his cameo appearance Lecce, his introduction in the win over Roma was crucial along with Lucas Paqueta, as the pair upped the tempo and gave us a bit more life going forward in the second half as both sides began to tire.

Then, he stepped into the side after Samu Castillejo’s early injury blow at SPAL and after an inconsistent initial impact, he looked a lot more settled at right-back and eventually provided the cross which forced the own-goal to ensure that we salvaged a point from the game.

Saelemaekers at right-back…

Whether it’s a lack of experience or perhaps a need to build confidence and belief in his own game, Saelemaekers is a bit hit-and-miss in a more advanced position on the right as his overhit crosses and inability to beat his man attests to.

With that in mind, his work ethic, pace, ability to break forward and offer support all suggest that he could be more effective at right-back, offering competition for the likes of Andrea Conti and Davide Calabria, one of whom could be looking over their shoulder at this point if Saelemaekers is staying to put pressure on them.

Perhaps it’s a lazy comparison, but there are arguably similarities that can be drawn between him and Ignazio Abate, as both initially started in a more attacking role, but the Italian eventually became a mainstay in the side at right-back instead.

There is potentially a similar path ahead for the Belgian, unless he can prove that he can consistently deliver in the final third if he is to wrestle that starting spot away from Castillejo, while he must also work on his defensive game too. Either way, a jack of all trades is handy, but it surely benefits all concerned if he has a defined and settled role.

Given the Spaniard is an injury doubt against Lazio this weekend after coming off with what appeared to be a hamstring problem against SPAL, it will be interesting to see what Pioli goes with in that position on Saturday as Saelemaekers could come into his planning.

However, as noted by Pianeta Milan, the Rossoneri boss has correctly outlined one of the bigger issues with his young right-sided star at this moment in time, as he needs to learn to be less frenetic in possession and must play with more confidence and calmness.

For now though, his talents could be better suited to giving us an energy boost down the right but in more of a defensive role. What we’ve seen in the last two games though should give us hope that it was a sensible move to snap him up permanently as he has plenty of room to grow and can be a useful part of the squad at least.