There is no doubting Rafael Leao’s importance to AC Milan and also the development he has undergone since arriving at the club, and now the pressure is for him to kick on further.
La Gazzetta dello Sport write that Leao is one of the top five players in the world when it comes to beating his man on the dribble, and at the age of 24 the feeling is that we are not witnessing the complete version yet either.
Milan will start the season on Monday 21 August with an away trip to face Bologna hoping to end it with the second star, the Scudetto number 20. Perhaps they are not the favourites, but they are in the group of the best.
Leao could help by scoring 20 goals, which he has never scored but clearly has in his capabilities. The winger scored 15 times in Serie A last season – a personal best – and once in the Champions League.
However, he also missed a fair few chances and made the wrong decisions in certain moments which means the possibility is there to raise that ceiling and become a 20-goal scorer.
The last time Milan had a player who scored 20 or more goals in a league season was Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2011-12, the year of Conte’s first Scudetto at Juve, when he netted 28 times.
“Zlatan is an older brother, I’m always close to him. He knows that I can make a difference with my feet but he shows me that the important thing is my head, always staying focused,” Leao said some time ago.
Zlatan meanwhile always made it clear that he considered Leao different from the others, a special player for better or for worse because of his potential, and now he must take on this leadership role.
Leao signed a highly anticipated renewal in the spring and now has a contract with a series of progressive increases, making it clear he is the number one in the squad.
How can Rafa Leao add more goals? With accelerations to the left and with cutting inside he makes it look easy, but he will have to start putting them in like a centre-forward with tap-ins and headers, taking advantage of his movement and height.
The prerequisites for doing so are there because Leao seemed strong in preseason, even stronger than in May. He didn’t score against the big teams faced in America but he can start doing it against Bologna.