After what seemed like an eternity, Serie A is back and AC Milan had to travel away from home to face Salernitana in their first league game of 2023.
The game started off in the best possible way for Milan with Leao scoring in the 10th minute followed by Sandro Tonali who doubled the lead five minutes later. The away side continued to attack but Ochoa grew into the game and did not look like he wanted to concede more on his debut.
In the second half Milan, again, were the dominant force, as they scored through either Fikayo Tomori or Brahim Diaz, but the goal got disallowed due to an offside on the Spaniard. Salernitana did get one back in the final 10 minuites to make things bit more interesting, but Milan hung on. Here are five things we learned…
1. Picking up where he left off
Rafael Leao started off the year in style as he scored a goal and was a constant threat on that left flank. He showcased his excellent pace and the was unlucky not to pick up another goal or assist, but that did not stop him entertaining with a smile as his skills were a joy to watch.
The 23-year-old didn’t start a game at the World Cup despite doing well when being given the chance and getting on the scoresheet twice. The display against Salernitana was a brilliant answer to Fernando Santos.
Hopefully his contract situations results in an extended period at the San Siro as it is hard to imagine Milan without Leao.
— SempreMilan 🏆 (@SempreMilanCom) January 4, 2023
2. Great to be back
Davide Calabria started on the right back side with the armband on and it felt so refreshing to see him on the pitch. He did make a couple of bad decisions, but we’ll give him a pass because of his long absence as he will need time to fully adjust to competitive game rhythm.
Other than that he brought a lot more stability in both phases of the game and was arguably the best Milan defender on the day. Hopefully the Italian manages to stay fit as he is an important piece for Pioli.
3. Bravo Sandro
The Italian was arguably the man of the match as he did rank highest in terms of rating in our post-game ratings . He assisted Leao on the first goal with a lovely through ball and then scored the second one himself to help his team get all three points.
He led by example in the midfield and was just too much for Salernitana, especially when you add Bennacer into the equation as the Algerian was and is the perfect partner for Tonali.
The former Brescia man – who scored his first senior goal in Italian football on the same ground – has grown a lot in the last couple of years, but doesn’t seem to be done yet and Pioli will be hoping that this uptrends continues.
📅 28 April 2018: Sandro Tonali scores his first senior goal for Brescia at the Stadio Arechi against Salernitana.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) January 4, 2023
4. Post World Cup rust
Oliver Giroud played an incredible tournament in Qatar and went all the way to the final, so we can argue that there is some fatigue at play especially considering his age.
But if we have to judge his performance we must say that he missed a couple of rather easy chances for a striker of his calibre and he was also unlucky to not pick up an assist.
It wasn’t the worst of performances, but he just failed to be clinical and when the win ended up being a one-goal margin, it becomes more prevalent how crucial it is to kill games off. Pioli will need to rotate up front and give him some rest since he hasn’t really had any, but with Origi and Rebic out it is tough.
5. Using the bench
Charles De Ketelaere had a decent game off the bench and seemed determined to open his account for the club by firing several threatening shots, but Ochoa was not having any of it and made two saves to stop him. Nonetheless, it was a positive outing for the Belgian who seemed to be playing with a touch more confidence.
Then, Gabbia and Vranckx also helped plenty in the defensive phase in the dying minutes and the Belgian in particular managed to keep the ball well. He seems to respond the best to Pioli’s instructions out of the summer arrivals.
It is good to see the substitutes focused and with the hectic schedule over the next couple of months, Pioli will surely rely on them even more.