Devil’s Advocate: Milan must drop interest in €40m Arsenal star and go all-in for boyhood Rossoneri fan

By Oliver Fisher -

The midfield is possibly the most fascinating department of the AC Milan squad to assess ahead of next season, given the many uncertainties surrounding several players.

There are a number of players that face uncertain futures with the club, starting with two whose contracts expire in June. Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura are obviously the first suspects to leave the club at the end of the season, and for the Argentine there is virtually no chance of a renewal, while the latter seems destined to depart after six seasons.

Question marks remain over the consistency of Frank Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu, while both Marco Giampaolo and Stefano Pioli clearly see Rade Krunic as a rotation option and Lucas Paqueta appears set to depart after a difficult season.

Above all there seems the need to give Ismael Bennacer the perfect complimentary partner in the Rossoneri engine room to allow the Algerian’s strengths to properly flourish.

It was recently reported that Milan have resumed contacts with the agent of Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira over the possibility of a summer move, having tried hard last year to sign the Uruguayan.

That particular report also claimed that the player wishes to return to Italy and that Milan – as well as Napoli – would be a welcome destination, with an asking price of around €40m set.

It was then reported on Wednesday by SportMediaset that the Rossoneri are keen on signing Sandro Tonali, who earlier in the week confirmed that he is still a Milan fan just as he has been since he was young.

Calciomercato.com reporter Daniele Longo even went so far as to say there has been a ‘surprise’ in the race to sign Tonali as Milan have begun discussions with the player’s agent amid links with Juventus and Inter.

The bottom line is this: Milan absolutely must go for Sandro Tonali if the door is even creaked slightly open regarding the possibility of a deal, and there is a key reason for this.

What Milan have in Bennacer – one of the few certainties regarding the current midfield department – is something very specific. He admitted himself in a Q&A on Friday that he sees his best skills as recovering balls, winning duels and passing between the lines, which is something he is incredibly good at.

However, it is also something that Lucas Torreira is very good at, to the extent that they actually appear to be very similar. Some would argue that having two Bennacer-like players behind the creative players is not a bad thing, but a double pivot like the one Stefano Pioli uses should have two pillars that compliment each other well.

This is where Tonali comes into the equation. Although by his own admission he is a combative midfielder who will not shy away from a tackle and models himself on Rossoneri legend Gennaro Gattuso, there is a certain silkiness to his game which is virtually unparalleled at his age.

His confidence and composure in possession; his ability to drive play forward plus the eye and execution to be able to seemingly pick out a team-mate anywhere on the field with a pass is exactly the reason that a valuation north of €50m is being talked about, and why most of Europe’s top clubs have been linked.

Tonali’s numbers stack up more favourably when put against Torreira’s in terms of the identikit of player Milan should be after too. The Brescia star has a comfortably higher overall rating this season (6.96 to 6.61, via WhoScored) and has more assists (5 to 1).

They average the same shots per 90 mins (0.8), but Tonali has more key passes (2.1 to 0.6), a higher number of completed dribbles (1.4 to 0.7) and draws more fouls (2.2 to 1.8).

On the defensive side, both average 1.2 tackles per game, while the Uruguayan comes out on top in interceptions (1.3 per 90 compares to 1) and fouls committed (0.8 to 1), but Tonali has more clearances (1.3 to 0.9) and blocks (0.6 to 0.3), which would arguably be useful given Bennacer specialises more in the areas Torreira comes out on top.

In addition to providing more key passes, Tonali also completes more passes overall (39.5 to 33.9) and is significantly better with long balls (2.7 to 1.3) – and that is something which shouldn’t be undervalued.

Given that both would command a similar price if sold this summer, it makes sense for Milan to go for the slightly young player who is a fan of the club and offers things that none of the current midfield crop do.

What the Diavolo need is a player who will win the ball back and properly break through the lines with his passing and decision making. Taking that pressure of Bennacer would allow him to grow even further, and Milan could have their pairing sorted for years to come, one which could form one of the most formidable duos in Italy. It just makes total sense.

Tags AC Milan Ismaël Bennacer Lucas Torreira Sandro Tonali