It’s been stated enough over the past few weeks, but just for the avoidance of all doubt: Milan are really struggling to score goals this season.
They had netted just 11 goals in the first 12 rounds prior to Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Napoli, the worst return in 25 years, and fans are beginning to lose patience with one player in particular.
That man is Krzysztof Piatek, a €35million January signing from Genoa who arrived at San Siro and continued his early-season momentum from his time at the Rossoblu, netting nine league goals for the Rossoneri before the season ended despite somewhat of a goal drought towards the end of the campaign.
The problem though is that – whether you believe in the No.9 curse or not – those struggles at the end of last season have grown a whole lot worse so far this term.
The Poland international has just one goal from open play and three in total (two coming from the penalty spot), yet perhaps the most frustrating thing is the assumption that after each goal he will find confidence again and go back to being the player we saw.
Unfortunately, there aren’t even any remote signs that a return to form is coming, and Stefano Pioli simply cannot keep praying that it will come.
There is something systematically problematic about Piatek when he’s not scoring; he seems to offer very little to attacks, his link-up play is questionable at best and he often goes missing for large periods of games.
The flip side of this problem is that we saw glimpses of brilliant from Rafael Leao but they proved to be only that, and he ended up appearing largely ineffectual too when playing up front alone.
The issue, though, is that Piatek seems intent on alienating a fan base which has been surprisingly patient during his struggles.
Speaking to Polish TV station TVP Sport (via Calciomercato.com) recently, the 24-year-old offered some background on his move to Milan before making a claim about his valuation.
“When I moved to Milan it all happened so fast that I didn’t even ask questions,” he said.
“I was focused on work, in football yes It’s always about setting new goals. Now I’m worth 38 million, the next time I change clubs, I’d like to be worth 60-70 million.
“I have to be ambitious, I’ll work for it, I’m at the beginning of my career, it’s only my second season in Serie A, one of the top five championships.”
There is clear ambition in what he says, but the timing of that interview and the emphasis placed upon his ‘next move’ was simply criminal.
Word appears to have spread, too. For the first time in memory he was jeered off the field when he was replaced by Leao for the final five minutes against Napoli, and actually scored the lowest out of all the players in La Gazzetta dello Sport’s ratings, being graded a generous 4/10.
The cracks were appearing before, yet there is a feeling that the full-on breakdown in the relationship between player and the fans is just around the corner. The performances aren’t good enough and for one – given the aforementioned interview – his attitude and focus can be questioned.
WhoScored has him as comfortably the worst performing Milan player so far this season ratings wise among those with over 500 minutes played, with a score of 6.44/10 based on various performance parameters.
Unfortunately, it looks more and more like Piatek is going to go down as one of those ‘one season wonder’ strikers in Serie A like Pablo Osvaldo and Leonardo Pavelotti.
For the people who are insisting on persisting with Piatek up front, I almost tip my hat to you for showing such loyalty given that he has shown no reason for us to do so. Perhaps the answer to the problems also doesn’t exist within the current squad – but this is where action must be taken, plans must be made for the future and a genuine goalscorer should be brought in.
Some have suggested fielding Leao and Piatek up front together, though that essentially compromises the entire system that Pioli wants to play and is therefore unlikely.
Loan Piatek out or sell him for the right offer and keep Leao to grow under an out-and-out centre-forward with experience, leadership and goalscoring ability. Like Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
You may argue it is short-sighted, but Milan are in 13th place in the Serie A table. The time for sentimentality is over, and answers to the current crisis are needed now.
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