After a decent debut campaign as a Milan player, Rafael Leao will be aiming to step things up a level next season as he continues to battle for a regular starting berth.
The 21-year-old ended the year with six goals and three assists in 33 appearances, while the experience he will have gained in his first year in Italy will be invaluable moving forward.
That’s not only in terms of what he learned on the pitch either, but training with this group on a daily basis and working alongside the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to improve and develop as a player himself, it should result in better production moving forward as he continues to settle and adapt to life at Milan.
As noted by MilanNews, via the paper edition of La Repubblica, Pioli was keen to once again reiterate that there is much more potential and quality to unlock when it comes to the Portuguese youngster, something he noted on several occasions during the course of last season.
Based on what we saw, he’s absolutely right.
Leao still has to prove himself to Pioli
While Leao enjoyed a run in the starting XI after the turn of the year, he was named as a substitute in 10 of the last 12 Serie A games of the season as he continued to struggle to earn Pioli’s trust as a starter, which should tell us a lot in itself.
To his credit, he showed the right approach by offering a decisive impact off the bench as he bagged four goals and an assist after the restart, but that still wasn’t enough to force his way into the line-up from the opening whistle on a regular basis.
There is absolutely no doubting Leao’s talent and potential. With his pace, movement, directness and threat in front of goal, he can be a nightmare for any defence and could have a big future ahead of him.
However, he must still prove that he can deliver consistently over 90 minutes as well as week in and week out, while his attitude and effort off the ball has to improve as that is still a major weakness in his game.
Throughout the campaign and particularly after the restart, Pioli could be picked up on the microphones relentlessly urging his young charge to work harder to press the opposition or to track back and apply pressure, and yet it was seemingly not getting through as he would have hoped.
That surely played a major part in why he was apprehensive in naming Leao in his starting XI, and coupled with the impact and influence of the likes of Ante Rebic, Hakan Calhanoglu and Samu Castillejo in supporting Ibrahimovic, there was no room for the Portuguese ace in the side.
He clearly has a bright future and could go on to become a top player, but it’s not enough to spark into life and show glimpses of quality just when he’s in possession, he needs to work harder and be a bigger part of the collective as well as shining as an individual.
If he can find that balance, then Milan will have a serious player on our hands. If he doesn’t correct those flaws and fails to listen to Pioli’s advice, then he might be set for another year trying to force his way into the line-up as there is absolutely no doubt that Rebic, Castillejo and others will give everything they have for every minute they’re on the pitch for the team and that goes a long way when you consider the shift in style, mentality and culture we saw under Pioli.