Milan confirmed the purchase of Alexis Saelemaekers earlier in the month and for some it was a surprise, but so far the Belgian has justified his permanent arrival, capping off an impressive run of performances by scoring his first goal for the club against Bologna on Saturday night.
Many people were skeptical when the virtually unknown player was signed as a temporary replacement for the outgoing Suso. However, Saelemaekers has been more than been just a deputy to Samu Castillejo, instead taking the vacant RW position by the scruff of its neck off from Leão, Paqueta and Bonaventura
Why does Pioli prefer Saelemakers ?
Simple answer is his work rate. Saelemakers provides constant energy and helps in the sort of intense press that Pioli seems to have imposed in his tactical tweak since the break.
In attack Saelemaekers offers as an outlet to break the press and start quick counters. In the image below against Lazio you can see how Theo – who is being pressed by three Lazio players – makes a horizontal pass to switch play very quickly for Saelemaekers to run at the Lazio defence. Sadly, Saelemaekers made the wrong choice and couldn’t convert it to a goal.
However, against Bologna it was the aggressive press followed by Saelemaekers that made Skorupski commit an error and kick the ball to Rebic; the move ending in a goal for for the Belgian.
Where can he improve?
Saelemaekers is only 21 years old. He still has a long way to go and you can see that the player is putting the hours on the training ground, which is translating to positive results on the field. A good attitude is a step to success, but he still has a lot of areas to improve.
While his first touch is good enough his creativity with the ball and his vision are not in requisite with that needed from a right winger. His crossing needs to improve a lot, but there are encouraging signs.
Dribbling wise Saelemaekers may not be like Messi but he still needs to find way to beat his man and with his pace. With Saelemaekers, Milan have a solid option on the right to press and win balls and help those in midfield, but as a winger he needs to improve his attacking play. Maybe the arrival of Ralf Rangnick could do him a world of good.