After a frustrating start to the season, Milan got back to winning ways as they managed to grab all three points in Sardegna against Cagliari.
The decisive goals arrived in the second half courtesy of Rafael Leao and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the Swede scored in his first start in his second spell with the Rossoneri, continuing his instant impact.
Coach Stefano Pioli changed things around this time with a new formation: a 4-4-2 which allowed both Leao and Zlatan to play up front together and finally saw Piatek and Suso dropped from the starting XI.
Overall, it was a good game for Milan as they looked more creative compared to the game against Sampdoria, with Ibrahimovic hitting the woodwork and having a goal disallowed as well.
Kessie and Bennacer looked nicely synchronised in the middle as the Ivorian produced a great performance this time around, so there were plenty of positives to take.
Here are five things we learned…
1. Problem solved?
A few people were sceptical about the return of Ibrahimovic due to his age and the fact he played in the MLS for two seasons after a serious injury, but the 38-year-old is dead set on proving his doubters wrong.
Boban and Maldini were looking for someone who could make a difference immediately and have a pivotal role in the locker room and they appear to have found exactly that. The Swede looked slightly rusty in the game against Sampdoria, but given the fact he had trained only a few days with his new teammates and had no game time after his spell in America it was only natural.
This time around though, the former PSG striker started from the first whistle and played the full 96 minutes, looking energised until the very end. His presence is giving an incredible boost for the whole team, but not only that; we saw him dropping deep, winning aerial duels and combining really well with Rafael Leao.
Surely the youngster will take notes from Zlatan and further develop and – as for the Swede – it’s great to have him back.
2. Leao the future
What more can a young striker want than having one of the best strikers over the past two decades as his mentor. Since the arrival of Zlatan the pair seemed to have clicked, with their impressive chemistry on show in both games already.
Reports in Sweden have claimed that Ibra is closest to Leao off the field and has taken him under his wing. It is even claimed that the pair have dinner together regularly, and the Portuguese starlet recently described his strike partner as a ‘big brother’.
The youngster provides Milan with much needed speed and his ability to take on players will surely grow with game time and confidence.
The Portuguese made a lot of good runs off the ball and created a few chances for his partner as well. With the rumours surrounding Piatek and reports that Leao is fundamental for this project, the stage is set for the 20-year-old to gain experience alongside a world-class strike partner and step up to be the big thing in this Milan team.
3. Midfield duo impressed
With the change in formation we saw Bennacer and Kessie partnered in the middle of the field. While the Algerian has constantly been improving his performances, the Ivorian was heavily criticised in recent weeks, but he silenced a lot of those critics with his performance on Saturday.
Bennacer grew into the game and made dribbles forward in the second half which meant Kessie had to stay back and cover him, which ended up providing quite a nice balance as the latter has often been wasteful in attacking situations.
Moreover, the former Atalanta man recovered a lot of balls and was not as sloppy in possession, which allowed him to make a few nice forward runs as well – but crucially at the right moments.
Hopefully the fact that Krunic, Paqueta and Bonaventura are all fighting for the starting spot will even further motivate Kessie to improve, but let’s not get too excited as we have seen excellent displays from him in the past, but then he failed to actually maintain and build on the positive performances.
4. On the right path
After some time Pioli finally decided to drop Suso from the starting eleven and with Zlatan’s arrival he managed to do the same with Piatek – two changes a lot of fans have been crying out for.
With the system shifted to a 4-4-2 we saw the Diavolo play a lot better than the previous few games. The defence looked focused and did not allow Cagliari to create chances, amassing a third clean sheet in the last four games.
Offensively the impact was pretty obvious: the inclusion of both Leao and Castillejo allowed the team to be more direct and demonstrate more flair when attacking, as both of them were not afraid to take players on.
In the middle the partnership between Kessie and Bennacer worked well too, so we give credit to Pioli for recognising the weaknesses and strengths of the current group and acting accordingly to give the team the best chance of winning.
5. Here to stay
Samu Castillejo got to start from the first minute in place of compatriot Suso, and he did not disappoint. He got an assist for the first goal in a dynamic display with dribbles, incisive passes and just general confidence coupled with creativity.
In addition to his performance with the ball he offered a lot out of possession in terms of pressing, helping out Calabria at the back. Last time we saw him being given a chance was against Lazio when he unfortunately suffered an injury, but was the man of the match up until he left the field.
It might be a good time to give him some playing time and see what he can do if playing of a regular basis and with rumours surrounding Suso’s exit, the 24-year-old may be an easy solution for the right side. Energy, speed and fighting spirit onto the field: Samu could be like a new signing.