With Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud on the treatment table, Ante Rebic is stepping up to make sure the absence of Milan’s star strikers is not felt, writes Matt Santangelo.
Adding yet another goal to his account on the weekend against Juventus, Milan’s Ante Rebić has begun to earn a reputation amongst supporters as a primetime performer. A simple appraisal of Milan’s current squad can easily distinguish who is rated well and who is not. Quite clearly, one can identify the top players Stefano Pioli has at his disposal, the names always first to be written on the team sheet to start on any given match day.
Then, some divide opinions and stir debate about their importance to the project for one reason or another. Ante Rebić falls into that category. Previously plying his trade in Serie A with Fiorentina and Hellas Verona, Rebić returned to Italian soil in 2019 from Eintracht Frankfurt with struggling forward André Silva headed the other way.
Of course, Milan lacked a real killer up front who could consistently produce goals, and Rebić had never owned a reputation for being that calibre of forward to decide matches on his own. Even in his final season in Germany, scoring nine goals and delivering a further four assists, he was widely considered the third wheel, as Luka Jović and Sébastien Haller took the reins as the main men up front for Adi Hütter. Still, while he may never be “the guy”, the plan was for Rebić to be a valuable, versatile attacking asset capable of putting forth quality performances when called upon.
Early on, the former Fiorentina man’s performances very much aligned with those of a fringe player, though a strong case could be made that was more a reflection on the poor workings of Marco Giampaolo than Rebić himself. After all, Milan limped out of the starting gates and
Giampaolo swiftly got ushered to the exit after only a handful of weeks.
Then, Pioli was appointed, followed by Zlatan Ibrahimović’s arrival and suddenly, there was subtle alchemy. From that point forward, the squad meshed and find extremely positive form. Rebić included. The veteran forward turned it on as one of the club’s key second half contributors, lending a hand in a surge towards a top-four finish that never came by bagging 11 goals after January.
Although their white-hot post-COVID-19 run fell short in the end, Rebić proved to be one of many prime beneficiaries of Pioli’s guidance and Ibrahimović’s presence, and someone to be relied upon heading into 2020-21. Unfortunately, injuries and COVID would force Rebić off track, unable to find consistency and continuity within Milan’s inspiring first half as Winter Champions. However, he would establish himself as a catalyst down the stretch run where Pioli needed him most, compiling ten goals – including one in a massive 0-3 victory away to Juventus in May.
There, it became clear that in Rebic, Pioli had a wild card. A weapon capable of flipping the script in perhaps an unconventional manner and turn a match on its head at any moment.
But with the Croat, there was a perception of him as a bit too Jekyll and Hyde, a hot and cold performer with streaky tendencies and a track record as a true second half player. That, of course, has been proven wrong so far here in the infancy stage of the current season by virtue of Rebić’s explosive start as a number nine.
Two goals and two assists combined against Lazio, Liverpool and Juventus suggest that Rebić is shaking off his duality as an attacker and is growing into a steady producer. More often than not, his knack for delivering the goods when the lights are brightest and stages are biggest has cast him as one of the Rossoneri’s clutches, big-game players. When compiling his numbers since his arrival, there is statistical evidence to support this claim.
During his Milan career against Serie A’s top sides (Juventus, Inter, Roma, Lazio, Napoli and Atalanta), the 28-year old has featured in 1,213 minutes, scoring eight goals and providing five assists, equating to roughly one goal contribution every 93 minutes.
Ante Rebić may not be the most aesthetically pleasing player to watch nor captivate an audience like others in his role, but his ability to conjure up goals and lend an assist when having his name called makes him an invaluable member to Pioli.
“I give him merits every day and every match”, the Italian coach told DAZN after the weekend draw with the Bianconeri. “He is a player who plays in all roles and can help us change matches.” With Olivier Giroud and Ibrahimović dealing with some early season injuries, Rebic has stepped up and continues to be the spark that ignites Milan when it is needed most.