CM: What a difference a year makes for Leao – the encouragement of Pioli and Ibrahimovic

By Oliver Fisher -

There are some remarkable parallels regarding Rafael Leao’s start to the 2020-21 season compared to last season, and the derby is no exception.

As Calciomercato.com notes, Leao was thrown in to start the derby against Inter in the fourth matchday of the 2019-20 season, one which pitted Marco Giampaolo against Antonio Conte.

On Saturday Stefano Pioli had the same idea, deploying the Portuguese starlet as a left winger to try and trouble Conte’s makeshift defence, except this time around he was much more effective.

Leao was used because his speed is thought to be lethal in the final third. Last year the opponent was Godin, a player who he troubled but not too much, while over the weekend Danilo D’Ambrosio could not catch up.

This was shown perfectly by his assist for Ibrahimovic’s second goal and in general a game of counter-attacks, Leao’s impact was shown perfectly.

The difference? The report adds that a ‘well-defined technical project and a player who appears increasingly mature’ have made him more effective.

At the end of the game, Pioli said: “He is doing well but he can expect even more from himself. He must seek consistency within the game.

“There is teamwork that can be improved. He has his qualities and he must know how to exploit them. He is a boy who he must know how to have more fun on the pitch and he must laugh a little more.”

Meanwhile, team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic provided a glowing reference: “He is very strong, he has a body almost better than mine. He has speed, technique. He just has to concentrate on football as he is doing. He is playing at Milan, there is not much patience here.”

Tags AC Milan Rafael Leao