Five Milan players who have kicked on and improved under Stefano Pioli

Pioli AC Milan

While there’s still work to do, Stefano Pioli deserves credit for the job he’s done at Milan thus far as he has not only earned improved results, but he has helped in the development of key players.

Collectively, the Rossoneri have an identity and direction in their play and that in turn is leading to our current great run of form as we’re building momentum and confidence within the squad.

READ MORE: How Parma clash showed crucial value of influential Milan star rested by Pioli

That’s important in terms of strengthening our mentality too, and so Pioli’s influence and impact will arguably be felt even after he moves on as he has done really important work with this group of players on and off the pitch.

Franck Kessie admitted this week that it didn’t immediately click and he needed time to adapt to what Pioli wanted from him, as per MilanNews, but our combative midfield ace is one of five players who have really kicked on and developed their game particularly since the turn of the year.

Ismael Bennacer

The 22-year-old struggled in the early part of the season as he was left on the bench for four of the opening eight Serie A fixtures.

Pioli was appointed as Marco Giampaolo’s successor on October 9, and while Bennacer was initially left out, he hasn’t looked back since the end of that month as he has been an almost ever-present since.

The Algerian international was still clumsy at times and picked up needless bookings while getting caught out of position. Over the past eight months or so though, he has grown both in terms of ability and maturity to become a pillar of the side now, and the work done with Pioli and the coaching staff will undoubtedly have played a major part in that.

Franck Kessie

As he admitted himself, it didn’t quite gel instantly with Pioli, but Kessie is now taking his game to the next level and fulfilling more of his potential in a new role in the side.

Predominantly deployed as a box-to-box midfielder on the right side of a three-man midfield previously, the 23-year-old is now flourishing in his deeper role in the double pivot in front of the defence.

Not only is he influencing games with his physicality and tenacity from a defensive perspective, but he’s also breaking forward and causing teams problem with his attacking threat. Furthermore, if you need proof that his confidence is through the roof right now, all you have to do is watch his goal against Parma which was his third in as many games.

Hakan Calhanoglu

The Turkish playmaker still has a long way to go as he’s still got to find that extra gear to his game in order to become a great player, rather than just being a good one.

He managed just two goals and one assist in Serie A by the start of March, since then he’s bagged three goals and four assists.

There is no doubt he’s starting to show more class on a consistent basis, and again, while it’s important to stress that he can still improve, his influence on the side and his confidence has certainly grown under Pioli’s stewardship.

Samu Castillejo

While he still has to show much more if he wants to remain a starter next season, you know the 25-year-old is now an important part of our side when his absence is noticeable on the fight flank.

Having successfully replaced Suso in that role, his work ethic, desire and commitment have suited Pioli’s style of play perfectly and that has been an important aspect behind why he’s now so important for us.

With two goals and four assists in 22 games so far this season, Castillejo will be fully aware that he has to be more decisive in the final third, but he’s come a long way since the start of the season as question marks were surely being raised over whether or not he’d be anything more than a squad player.

Ante Rebic

His turnaround in 2020 has been superb. From going goalless and without an assist to his name in the league up to January 11, the Croatian international hasn’t looked back since that breakthrough against Udinese.

10 goals and two assists in the 14 games that have followed have ensured that he is now a pivotal part of our starting XI, and it could be argued that he embodies this new Milan which is now shining under Pioli.

While they’re intricate and minor tweaks to his game, it’s not a coincidence that Rebic is in the right place to pounce on chances and score some very important goals for us. That comes with the analytical help of his coach and the staff around him, and so he has undoubtedly grown under Pioli too.

Notable mentions

Gianluigi Donnarumma and Theo Hernandez were perhaps two other names that could have made this list, as both have certainly shown more maturity and improvement in their respective games as the season has gone on.

Pioli’s influence has been far-reaching and fundamental in the development of this group as we’re starting to put old weaknesses and vulnerabilities behind us, as evidenced perfectly in the comeback win over Parma this week.

While the Guardian noted earlier this month that Ralf Rangnick will take over this summer ahead of next season, there is perhaps going to be a lot for Milan fans to thank Pioli for if he does move on with the five named above surely set to go on and become crucial pieces in our success moving forward.