Milan ace taking his game to next level as he cements his place in Pioli’s XI

One of the biggest positives since the restart of the season for Milan has been the form and influence of Franck Kessie, who is starting to show signs of real progress.

The Ivorian international joined us in 2017 from Atalanta at the age of just 20. It’s easy to forget that given his physique and presence on the pitch, but he was still inexperienced and developing as a player.

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There was still undoubtedly a frustrating lack of progress and development too, as he seemingly stagnated for a while with no real improvement in his attacking play in particular, while it was felt as though he relied too heavily on his physicality and energy at times and hung his hat on those attributes while neglecting pushing to get better elsewhere.

Perhaps that also had a lot to do with his positioning and role in the side. As since the switch to a 4-2-3-1 and with Ismael Bennacer next to him, Kessie is starting to look like a top player.

Defensive solidity, key job in possession

In fairness, Kessie did flourish in an attacking role at Atalanta and became an important part of their side down the right flank in particular, linking up with Andrea Conti no less.

Seven goals and two assists in 31 appearances for La Dea back that up, but he struggled to replicate that after joining us and still only has 14 goals and nine assists in 127 games, and many of those goals have come from the penalty spot.

Perhaps we’ve stumbled into this solution or it’s arguably finally clicked into place for all concerned where Kessie can be most effective and influential in games, and that is ultimately in a more defensive role where he can make the most of his strengths.

With that physicality, energy and tenacity that he brings to the table, he’s able to provide a protective shield in front of the backline and break the opposition’s play up while giving us a solid base on which to build.

His partnership with Bennacer is working brilliantly right now, as the pair are linking up well and have a great understanding in that double pivot, as when one presses and wins back possession, the other is ready to receive the ball with time and space to start to build our attack, as this tactical analysis piece illustrates.

And that is another crucial reason why things are going so well for Kessie. From an offensive perspective, his job is to keep it simple, get the ball to our creative players quickly and then make penetrative runs off the ball to act as a decoy or a direct threat to get numbers in the opposition half and cause them problems.

It’s a role that is seemingly suiting him perfectly, and as we saw with his goal against Juventus, he’s even now showing some composure and a clinical touch in the final third. That is what confidence and belief does for you, and it’s hoped that he can now build on this run of form and further cement his place in our long-term plans.