Milan need Kessie more than Zaniolo

Milan are interested in Nicolò Zaniolo, but Lorenzo Bettoni argues that the Rossoneri’s priority should be signing a player who would help Stefano Pioli defensively, such as their ex-midfielder Franck Kessié.

First and foremost, I am not saying that Kessié is coming back to Milan, nor that the defending Serie A champions are interested in bringing him back. Nevertheless, when Gigio Donnarumma left San Siro on a free transfer in 2021, Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara were fairly praised for bringing in an excellent replacement in Mike Maignan.

This didn’t happen last summer when Kessié joined Barcelona at the end of his contract, but no valuable replacement came to Milanello. The Rossoneri signed Aster Vranckx from Wolfsburg on a €2m loan deal with an option to buy for €12m, but the 20-year-old has struggled to adapt to life in Milanello, collecting just eight appearances and only one – in Coppa Italia – as a starter.

The Rossoneri have had a terrible start to the year. Not only they lost the Supercoppa clash to Inter and were eliminated from Coppa Italia by Torino, but only collected five points in four Serie A matches.

It’s true that their attacking threat is considerably reduced when Rafael Leao and Olivier Giroud are not on their day, but Milan’s most worrying notes in 2023 come from defence, having conceded 12 goals in six matches, including three against Inter and four against Lazio on Tuesday night.

Milan are just not as solid as they used to be and although Zaniolo would boost Pioli’s options in attack, the Italy international would not solve their defensive woes. Leao was named the best Serie A player last season – and rightly so – but the Rossoneri arguably put their hands on the first Scudetto in 11 years thanks to an impressive defensive record.

During the last three months of last season, hence in the final 11 matches, they conceded just two goals, scoring 16. It goes without saying that their priority right now is to regain solidity in defence and not add another attacking player to their team.

Kessié was often used as a ‘false 10’ last season, playing as an attacking midfielder on paper but often helping Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer in the middle of the park. Rade Krunic was also often involved, but the Bosnia international has been struggling with injuries lately and hasn’t been able to help the team consistently.

Zaniolo remains one of Italy’s best players and would be helpful in different roles in the final third for Milan, but signing a defensive midfielder should be a higher priority for Maldini and Massara right now. It won’t be Kessié, but it’s safe to say that the Ivory Coast international wasn’t replaced properly last summer, unlike Donnarumma a year earlier.