AC Milan 3-0 Spezia: Five things we learned – Leao finally decisive; Pioli flexes squad depth

By Ivan Stoev -

Milan won their third consecutive game in Serie A against Spezia on Sunday, and the Rossoneri go into the international break full of confidence before the big test against Inter in two weeks time.

Although the result suggests otherwise, the game wasn’t as easy as it seems as it took Milan almost an hour to break the deadlock though Rafael Leao. After that, everything seemed to fall into place and the team picked up another two goals to seal the win and continue their exceptional form.

The game highlighted the good quality depth of the squad with a lot of the usual starting XI allowed to get some rest. It did also show that Pioli still has question marks about his forward department, however.

Here are five things we learned from the game…

1. Depth will be the key 

The squad finally looks more competitive and that will be crucial over the course of the season. With the absence of Zlatan, Rebic and Romagnoli, Pioli still had the luxury to bench his midfield duo plus Calhanoglu and Castillejo and field a squad that looks dangerous and can get the job done.

The only missing piece to the squad that faced Spezia from the start was the striker position, as Colombo toiled away up front without reward.

However, Milan still won 3-0 thanks to the impact of the substitutions in the second half but it shows how much of a depth Pioli has to use compared to previous years where the team barely had a competitive starting XI.

With the integration of Hauge and Dalot, the squad will look even more deadly and with Europa League and the Coppa Italia on the horizon there will be plenty of room for everyone to play.

2. A job well done

As we mentioned above Pioli had a lot on his disposal and rested some of his key players after a long and painful game against Rio Ave. However, the Italian reacted really well to transform the game after a drab first half.

The inclusion of Hakan Calhanoglu and the rotation of Leao from winger to striker gave Milan the edge they needed to get the ball in the back of the net.

Pioli showed that he knows how to respond when things are not going his way and he deserves some credit as we often forget to praise his work. After such a run of form he deserves a bit of love.

3. TGV on-time

Theo Hernandez was simply outstanding last season, even receiving the Player of the Season award for the Rossoneri. However, the 23-year-old is far from done: he has a point to prove and he is working hard to do so.

The Frenchman seems to have improved in the defensive department as that was considered his weak spot last season. That does not stop him from going forward and continuing his attacking contribution though.

The former Real Madrid man already has a goal and an assist to his name in 3 Seria A games as he continues to impress and is slowly establishing himself as a leader in the Milan group.

4. Leao decisive at last

Rafael Leao has had a mixed year and a half to say the least. The Portuguese striker has been outstanding in one minute and frustrating in the other with his inability to be clinical in front of goal creating problems for Pioli who tried him both as a forward and a winger.

To make things worse, Leao had tested positive for Covid-19 at the beginning of pre-season and had the catch up fast in terms of fitness if he wanted to get his chance in the absence of Rebic and Zlatan.

Sunday night wasn’t any different; Leao was frustrating to watch on the wing in the first half, but after a rotation to the middle at half time it seemed that the youngster was able to find a little bit more space behind the defence and use his pace. With the inclusion of Calhanoglu, Leao managed to score the opener and then added one more goal to grab the brace.

And while he grabbed the Man of the match in our ratings, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions and say that he finally found his form. We know what he is capable of, and two instinctive goals in what was going to be a really bad game for him had he not scored does not make everything perfect.

5. Solid as a rock

Finally, it’s worth mentioning the exceptional work done by our defence. Last season ended with some serious questions that needed answering regarding depth in the centre-back and right-back positions.

Coming into this season, after a few shaky moments Gabbia has grown into a really reliable central defender showing his potential and partnering up really well with Kjaer at the back. The Danish international on the other hand has picked up where he left and has been a true leader in Romagnoli’s absence.

On the right it seems though Calabria has found himself as we all knew had the potential. He has had a good start to the season and has only been improving. In recent weeks he has been a constant threat going forward and has managed to clear the errors he was committing last season at the back which were leading to a goal for the opposition. Moreover, with Dalot arriving from Manchester United we should expect to see healthy competition where both the players improve during the course of the season.

Theo Hernandez is continuing his amazing attacking performances but has improved massively at the back as well providing more stability to his team-mates. It’s a pretty tasty defensive unit.

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