One of Milan‘s objectives this summer was to bolster Stefano Pioli’s options in attack and Matt Santangelo believes the Rossoneri have fulfilled their target.
For the first time since securing the Scudetto away to Sassuolo in May, Stefano Pioli and his Rossoneri were greeted at the San Siro for match day 1 with a very warm embrace from the 70,000-plus in attendance.
There was plenty of excitement ahead of the opening fixture with Udinese. Supporters in attendance were eager to witness the club begin their title defence and watch the fresh faces who promise to lend a hand in doing so.
But for Pioli, who still anticipates a few more signings in the closing stages of the summer window, it was the first meaningful test to see what he has at his disposal and who could potentially be relied upon to deliver when their name is called.
Personnel-wise, the starting XI Pioli trotted out versus the Friuliani looked near identical to the one often deployed throughout most of last season; Maignan; Calabria, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo Hernandez; Bennacer, Krunic; Messias, Brahim, Leão; Rebić.
Within this squad, there were several who entered this campaign with something to prove, namely the Spaniard and the Croatian forward due to their disappointing 2021-22.
Brahim pulled on the No. 10 last season in hopes of replacing Hakan Calhanoglu. Aside from the match-winner against Sampdoria in round 1, followed by a short-lived string of good performances, he faded into the background. As for Rebic, injury and failure to recapture his lightning-in-a-bottle form, we’d often see him display the previous two campaigns due to the consistency of Olivier Giroud up top.
Throughout this summer, many questioned whether the club should move on from Brahim and Rebić. Ultimately, Pioli has decided against that route and instead ran them out to start with the goal of understanding where they stack up amongst the rest of his attacking options.
On Saturday, after surrendering a very early goal to Rodrigo Becao before fans could make their way to their seats, it was Brahim and Rebić who got to work in reversing the deficit.
The Real Madrid loanee fired his shot toward Silvestri that eventually spilt into the path of Calabria who, after VAR intervention, resulted in a penalty conversion for Theo Hernandez. Then, it was Brahim’s nifty ball roll to create additional space and a passing lane in the build-up to Rebić’s sweeping finish.
Moments after the restart, Brahim quickly sprung into action to hop on the loose ball in from Theo and put Milan back in front, then chased down the ball carrier in the opposing end to muster up yet another goal for Rebić to deposit with his left foot for the nail in the coffin.
Pioli later pulled Brahim and the former Frankfurt forward, the latter receiving a roaring ovation from the Milan faithful, and introduced the club’s marquee summer signing, Charles De Ketelaere.
The €35m acquisition from Club Brugge had previously featured in the final pre-season friendlies, but Saturday provided a much clearer vision of what the Belgian starlet can provide the attack.
When looking to pivot from the defensive phase to attacking, De Ketelaere presented himself as an outlet to receive the ball from a midfield position, then looked to play the pass forward or make the foray on his own.
Though he did not have a full workload on the ball, there were sequences where his elusiveness and elegant movement to open space to play others as Giroud showed itself to be something unique to the club in years. Off the ball, his work rate and pressing should induce its share of self-generated chances to win possession higher up the pitch.
Overall, for a player freshly adapting to new Italian soil and a style of football, the 21-year-old’s exemplary play looks to bring further expansion within Pioli’s already progressive system. Milan put four up on Udinese and that was without Leão demonizing by his normal standards.
Without even a mere mention of Divock Origi and Yacine Adli in this equation, if Saturday’s four-goal performance was any indication of how well the attack can operate, Pioli will be plenty pleased with the options available to him.