Kessie void and the need for balance: Why Milan must prioritise the signing of a No.6

By Rohit Rajeev -

The imminent sale of Sandro Tonali to Newcastle United has left AC Milan’s midfield in need of a rebuild, but there is one particular area that seems to be getting ignored.

At the moment, the transfer links are centred around profiles such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Davide Frattesi, Yunus Musah and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. All are good players in their own right but with one common theme: they are box-to-box midfielders.

Whether Stefano Pioli sticks with the 4-2-3-1 or moves to a 4-3-3, the fact remains that there is still a gaping hole when it comes to midfielders in the Milan squad that can play a deeper-lying role.

Role and responsibilities

One of the most misunderstood and underrated positions in football could be that of the No.6, Defensive midfielders are often those who are tasked to do the dirty work. They soak up the pressure, cover large areas of the pitch and provide physicality in the middle of the field.

It is the kind of player provides the more creative presences with the freedom to play their game. A good example was when Milan’s midfield warrior Gennaro Gattuso and how his work rate and ‘grinta’ allowed Pirlo to do what he did best.

For some time Milan have been pondering to move to a three-man midfield but either way they need a defensive whether they maintain a double pivot or move to a single pivot.

Some of the responsibilities of this position include:

➤ Breaking up play of the opposition
➤ Initiating the press (if the team uses a pressing game)
➤ Covering for a full-back incase he goes to join the attack
➤ Better distribution of the ball in the defensive third of the pitch
➤ Covering the space between the lines

A familiar example

It was seen in action when Milan had Franck Kessie. He would cover the space between the lines and block passing lanes like how he did here against Inter.


Whenever Theo Hernandez would join the attack, Kessie was there to cover for him.


If Simon Kjær would press high up the pitch unsuccessfully, Kessie would cover the space left by the Dane.


Maybe one of Milan’s biggest mistakes was to not replace Kessie adequately and perhaps thinking that Tommaso Pobega could perform the role. Pioli then was forced to convert Tonali into a defensive midfielder which went against his true style of play.

Potential targets

Milan have been linked to a variety of names. With a quick data analysis we try to find the best possible No.6 for Milan. The names considered are Yunus Musah (Valencia), Sofyan Amrabat (Fiorentina) and Florentino Luis (Benfica).

The metrics used are as follows:

➤ Defensive actions: Tackles plus interceptions, which is number of tackles won plus interceptions made per 90 minutes.

➤ Offensive actions: Progressive carries plus Progressive passes, which is the numbers of times a player carried the ball from defensive areas to attacking areas plus the number of times they passed from defensive area to offensive area.

ImageKessie in the 2021-22 Scudetto winning season averaged 2.52 defensive actions per game while having 6.49 offensive actions. Keeping this as a standard here are other performers:

➤ Musah: Very similar to Kessie. Although his progressive passes are lesser he carries the ball more and likes to dribble past his opposition player rather than pass the ball. His defensive actions are 2.52 per game while offensive actions are 7.05 per game (with more dribbles).

➤ Amrabat: By far the most comfortable player in possession, while his tackles plus interceptions per 90 are not the greatest which is a surprise given how people have him down as a tough-tackling midfielder. His defensive stats average 2.7 per 90 while his offensive actions are 9.55 on average per game

➤ Florentino: Has the best defensive stats per 90 as he averages 6.14 tackles and interceptions per game. His progressive actions are also very compelling. After two disastrous spells it seems he has matured under Roger Schmidt.

Another Name to throw into the mixer is Bologna’s Nicolas Dominguez. At the age of 24 and as an Argentine international with an Italian passport, he is very underrated and not injury prone.



The proceeds from the sale of Tonali to Newcastle must be used correctly. The midfield was a problem area last season and it can get better if the money is spent correctly, with one of the investments made surely having to be on a defensive midfielder.

Tags AC Milan Florentino Luis Nicolas Dominguez Sofyan Amrabat Yunus Musah


  1. Sure, just like they properly replaced Hakan and Kessie. Now RLC and Musah should replace Tonali and Bennacer? Wasting money on quantity.

    1. Spot on. And that’s the exact same thing that made the Chinese fail. Quantity over quality. Remember how they bought Kalinic and Silva instead of Audebemeyang for the same amount of money. It wont be much different with Redbird. And if you add how many fans are boycoting after what happened with Tonali and Maldini, Redbird might go down even faster. Which is not a bad thing from Milan fan point of view.

      1. I really don’t get, do they really think they’re improving the team with this kind of signings? This is just patching up with numbers. We went from Hakan, Bennacer, Kessie and Tonali to this? I mean does a midfield consisting of RLC, Musah, Pobega and Krunic sound ok to anyone here? Say those names out loud. That’s just awful.

  2. Good article, won’t mind if we get any of them. But my preference would be Amrabat or Dominguez since they are already familiar with the league and culture so won’t need to adapt much.

    If we can get double deal for Dominguez and Orsolini for about 30m I think we will be already stronger than last season, as I see Dominguez as better in DM than Tonali and Orsolini, well, no need to say will be massive upgrade on RW.

    But if we get Musah and Pulisic, with both younger and (arguably) more talented for around 40-50m max then its also good, as long as they fulfill their potential and stay injury free (a big task for Pulisic thou..)

    1. Stop with this nonsense. Everyone suddenly acting like Tonali was some great player now. He’s not. Tonali was the void.

      I have an idea for a Kessie replacement……..Kessie!

  3. The only four Starters we need to buy is:

    Openda 30M
    Pulicic 15M
    Loftus-Cheek 20M
    SMS 35M


    Then backfill with:
    – LW backup (El Sharaawhy)
    – LB backup (Parisi)
    – CB (???)





    1. Firstly openda is being valued at 50M so idk where you got that value from and secondly pulisic is not a RW, that is a fact and nothing else, if we look at back when tuchel at Chelsea tried to use him as a RW he completely failed he’s more of a LW/AM now which with Kamada is not necessary so for me pulisic is not the right candidate. The right candidates for us would firstly for kamada to secure a German passport to not take a non EU slot while then signing Chukwueze for the RW therefore having a top RW, Top AM and some solid depth to the midfield, costing at about a total 65M. Then in terms of a striker I have no idea who we would go for in this current time but honestly even with just those players around Giroud I believe that would he would be far more effective for us

      1. Pulisic mainly played as RW in Dortmund, and in Chelsea he is being played across 4 position in forward (LW, RW, AMC, CF). He is mainly right footed thou, so depends of the coach really.

        Last year he played poorly as all Chelsea players do.

  4. Amrabat or Dominguez. One of those should have already be waiting with their hand on the pen to sign the contract when they decided to sell Tonali. But it seems like there are no plans, first sell and then we’ll see what happens.

  5. Rohit mentions Dominguez as one of the players that would fit the defensive midfielder role at Milan and a few moments later Di Marzio reports Dominguez has been proposed to Milan.
    Dominguez agent reads articles

  6. Hey you know who fits that role and can also be versatile when needed? Oh and he’s a boyhood Milan fan?… Tonali

  7. In an ideal world, i would have preferred florentino luis to partner with either tonali or bennacer, just like the 3 strong midfield options we had when kessie was still with us. Unfortunately tonali is also leaving us. Have to see how RLC performs first before giving any judgement on him. As an Italian, Casadei or Ricci would have been nice.

    Florentino is one the affordable good & young CDMs available, Dominguez as well. Musah is almost similar to kessie in playing style, a destroyer. Hjolmund is another one.

  8. Haha been saying this since last season’s 1st match against Udinese (you can check the record) on how our defense looked bad (even we won that match, but the hole was there) cause there’s no one filled that Kessie’s role. And how Pierre-Fik duo would suffer as there’s no one who could cover ’em up. And of course, all hell broke loose. It’s like a sin just to bring his name up. And all the sentimentil reasons on the way he left us has nothing to do with his role we have to properly fill. 2nd option is for Pioli to rethink about his system. Well, none of the two was addressed that’s one the reason why our season was declining.

    Seeking all those players without much guarantee, why don’t we just bring him back? He was supposed to fill that Busquet’s role, and it might be one of the reasons why he wanted Barca so much, and we know it didn’t end up well. It’ll settle all sort of problems in midfield. This new Milan is all about less-emotion less-romanctism less-sentimental, more-logical more data driven more performance to budget kinda approach right? If we can sell Tonali, then why can we buy Kessie?

    1. His contract expire in 2025 . If ACM sacked him at 2024 , they only loss 1 year his contract and im sure they will sacked him if ACM get knocked out at groups stage CL or finish 5th below in serie A

  9. Yunus are close to ACM . His playstyle & stats almost similar ( but still below )with prime kessie. For anyone here that suggest bring kessie back , just forget him, barca will ask 30m euro transfer fee & kessie will ask salary more than 6m euro nett / season. Pay 30m euro to barca that would be embarassing. It is better for me we go sign yunus or invest on amrabat

  10. Don’t forget even we have replace all the players who had gone we still have one “unique problem” who i called stefano pioli, he is good because he has bring scudetto for us but we also witness in many games he also not smart enough as tactician, but hey maybe he can be lucky charm next season, bring us scudetto again mr pioli, we’ll support you, forza milan

  11. We had Tonali who was maturing as a player and this new management royally blew it. Nobody can skirt around this. This is a mess. This new management is a disaster already. None of these named players are worth our time. Musah? For crying out loud.

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