Stefano Pioli opted to rotate his Milan squad against Parma, with one key decision being resting Ismael Bennacer with Lucas Biglia getting the nod in midfield.
With games every three days, it’s understandable why the Milan boss opted to make changes as he needs his key individuals at their best both in terms of form and fitness in the final stretch of the campaign.
Given Bennacer has cemented his place in the starting XI and has developed into a fundamental piece of our side having made 31 appearances in his first year with us, he has been an almost ever-present after a slow start to the season, and his absence against Parma this week was both noticeable and a key factor behind why we struggled in the first half.
Bennacer’s influence in midfield crucial
There are two aspects to the Algerian international’s game which has seen him emerge as a pivotal figure in the heart of the line-up, as he has become influential in both the defensive and attacking phases.
His energy, intensity and tenacity in front of the defence provides us with protection and an ability to win back possession in a key area of the pitch to flip the direction of the game back in our favour. Both Bennacer and Franck Kessie have done a superb job of that since the restart, and their partnership continues to blossom.
Winning that midfield battle and gaining a foothold in the game is crucial, and more often than not, Bennacer has been able to help provide us with that, with his attributes off the ball.
However, equally as important is his quality in possession, as although he keeps it relatively simple, his ability to break the lines with quick, accurate vertical passes has become a major part in our attacking play.
Kessie has also improved in this area, but Bennacer playing at a high tempo, ensuring our transition from defence to attack is swift and finding our more creative players in pockets of space before the opposition can settle back into the defensive shape is an underrated quality.
We saw it against Parma as we went from the slow, lacklustre play of Lucas Biglia and his weaknesses off the ball in terms of his inability to cover ground quickly and shield the backline to Bennacer’s all-action and high-energy style which helped wrestle the initiative back in our favour.
In fairness, we had already gone ahead before he was introduced, but those goals came from a stunning strike from Kessie and a set-piece, with our all-round play still poor as we fell behind in the first half and risked slipping up after a brilliant run of form against much tougher opposition on paper.
The 22-year-old has come a long way since his arrival last summer, and as we saw in midweek, it could be argued that he’s already indispensable to the team as he will be a pillar of this side in the years ahead given he suits our style of play perfectly and still has plenty of room for growth and improvement as he gains more experience and matures into a top-class midfielder.