There had been articles in the build-up to the game against Cagliari criticising the lack of contribution from the summer signings, but those were answered affirmatively in the win over Cagliari.
La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) recall that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, scored his first goal in Italy last night. He ran over 10,000 metres and still had the strength left in his legs to beat Radunovic from 25 yards with a howitzer of a shot.
Stefano Pioli is beginning to enjoy the real Loftus-Cheek, a player capable of impacting the game in the middle of the pitch and even chipping in with goals, something seen under Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea a few years back.
Noah Okafor did the same, scoring his first goal for Milan in his first match as a starter, and this weighs even more on morale. Meanwhile, Okafor levelled the score in a precarious match while also banishing the ghosts of Origi and Rebic for a while.
Milan now has a reserve striker who scores and, in the long race for the Scudetto, that is fundamental because relying on Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao alone is not enough.
Milan started yesterday with Sportiello, Loftus-Cheek, Reijnders, Chukwueze, Okafor and Pulisic. Six summer signings. In the second half, Musah and Romero came on (plus Bartesaghi, promoted from the youth team).
That makes eight new players out of ten on the pitch, a perfect demonstration of how Milan needed to change. A season often rests on balance and momentum, which is why the Cagliari game is big. Spirits are high and Pioli will feel confident in his idea of controlled rotation.
The difference with the past is clear, in the level of the players and the space they have. Malick Thiaw made his first start a year ago in November, Sergiño Dest disappeared early, Aster Vranckx didn’t start a match before April, Divock Origi played several bad games.
It’s normal that Milan arrived in the spring trusting 11 players or a few more. Six months later, things have changed. Okafor scored after 40 so-so minutes and this is also important: seizing an opportunity and confirming that he can be Giroud’s deputy while waiting for Luka Jovic.
Loftus-Cheek deserves a separate discussion. RLC, Reijnders and Pulisic have been starters since July and – in Pioli’s mind – even before that. Loftus-Cheek is perhaps the most important for Milan: he has physique and technique and so far there is no discussion.
If he regularly combined that with presence in the last 16 metres and defensive attention, everything would change. Yes, injuries are a topic of discussion but there is no doubt about Saturday: Loftus-Cheek will start against Lazio and Sarri will look at him with the strange gaze of a coach who hopes he hasn’t taught him too many tricks.