GdS: Bennacer’s role vs. Napoli just the latest in the series of Pioli’s winning tactical moves

By Oliver Fisher -

Some eyebrows were raised when it became apparent during the early exchanges of the game against Napoli that Ismael Bennacer was playing as an attacking midfielder, but it was just the latest trick up Stefano Pioli’s sleeve.

La Gazzetta dello Sport recall how Pioli used Brahim Diaz on the right side of the attack and he had the freedom to try and exploit his dribbling ability because of the work of the midfield.

It wasn’t the first time that Brahim was used on the right, as he also started there against Juventus on 8 October at San Siro when he scored the goal to make it 2-0 after a dribble and finish.

The other winning move from Pioli was Bennacer’s advance to the frontline, with Krunic retreating and playing next to Tonali, and it is just the latest example of the Milan boss surprising the opposition.

Pioli surprised a few in September and October 2020 when he deployed Lorenzo Colombo from the first minute against Bodo/Glimt despite him being a teenager, and then Pierre Kalulu made his first start against Sparta Prague in the group stages.

On 6 January 2021, Milan faced Juventus with a lot absences and Pioli was forced into an emergency solution, so he lined up Davide Calabria in the middle together with Franck Kessie, with Diogo Dalot as full-back. The Rossoneri lost 3-1, but Calabria scored and was convincing.

The highlight of Pioli’s three and a half years as the head coach however is the exponential growth of Theo Hernandez, who is now an additional playmaker and has sometimes ventured from left-back all the way over to right wing.

A trick he repeated several times last season was the use of Kessie as a playmaker to add a bit of physicality to the attack, while Krunic has also played as a box-to-box midfielder, playmaker, winger, deep-lying midfielder and even full-back (against Genoa, a year ago).

The choice to go to a three-man defence seemed to settle things in February, while against Spalletti’s Napoli on 6 March 2022 – when Milan got a vital 1-0 thanks to Giroud’s goal – he used an unprecedented 4-1-4-1, with Tonali behind and Bennacer more advanced.

Tags AC Milan Ismaël Bennacer
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