Rejection, resurgence and recent rollercoaster: Yacine Adli a curious case once again

By Christian Montegan -

Yacine Adli had barely been seen in the games leading up to Tuesday’s against Borussia Dortmund, and yet Stefano Pioli fielded him from the first minute in arguably the biggest game of the season.

“We always liked each other a lot, an extraordinary guy, super creative. An exemplary worker, for me the new Zinedine Zidane for his technical qualities. He needs consistency.”

Those words echoed from former Bordeaux coach Paulo Sousa offering the highest possible praise for Milan midfielder Adli was a real eye-opener.

Compared to the legendary ‘Zizou’ thanks to his middle name of Zinedine, representing Bordeaux as well as being born in France with Algerian origins, many were full of excitement and optimism to witness a potential new star in the Rossoneri midfield.

Although Zidane’s talent and ability are obviously head and shoulders above Adli having achieved virtually everything in the game, the 23-year-old possesses one of the most critical traits: a great attitude.

Arriving at Milanello at the end of the 2021 season, the Frenchman was loaned out to the same club in an attempt to further enhance his experience and qualities. It proved to be the right call, as Milan went on to win the Scudetto with a midfield of Franck Kessié, Sandro Tonali, Ismaël Bennacer and Rade Krunić.

Hyped as a player with incredible technical ability and creativity on the ball, surely the end of his loan spell would signal the beginning of a bright adventure in red and black? Sadly, it was more of a dark nightmare.

Six appearances totalling 140 minutes caused the greatest mystery last season as to why Adli was not in Stefano Pioli’s plans. To make matters even worse, he wasn’t even included on the bench for 32 games during the same campaign.

Throughout the summer, it became brutally clear that there was zero possibility of Adli remaining at Milan, with the hope of reaching a deal with potential European suitors for his services.

That’s where the trait of having a great attitude paid dividends. Simply put, most players would’ve dropped their heads and succumbed to defeat. Luckily for Adli, giving up, or ‘abandonner,’  is not part of his French vocabulary.

Needing an option to turn to in the middle of the park against Cagliari in round three, Pioli gritted his teeth and opted to select Adli from the start in a deep-lying defensive role to cover the back four. Notably, it was previously stressed by Pioli that the former Bordeaux player could only play as a number 10.

Taking some time to release the cobwebs and settle the nerves after being at fault for Cagliari’s opening goal, Adli could do no wrong. The way he controlled the game on a string made all of the fanfare and build-up start to make sense.

After the match in Sardinia, Adli spoke to the media about the struggles he faced in preseason and the strength needed to conquer adversity.

“The first day I spoke to Pioli and he told me that we would change the way we play and that I wasn’t in the plans. Tomori asked me what I would do and I told him: I’ll stay here and you’ll see how I play,” he said.

You see, regardless of whether a player is a world-beater or simply average; above and beyond all, Milan supporters respect a warrior who fights tooth and nail for the shirt, just like Patrick Cutrone for example who wasn’t the most talented player. The difference here is that Adli has the best of both worlds.

The raving reviews on social media and the Italian papers forced Pioli to eat his fair share of humble pie, who doubted Adli’s versatility and talent more than anything else.

He was then rewarded with three starts in the next four outings, displaying much of the same positive attributes he demonstrated against Cagliari to add a sense of calmness to the midfield.

Suddenly, Adli was dropped to the bench for the next five consecutive games in all competitions without little explanation, causing a real mystery.

Looking back, what did Pioli conclude from his analysis around Adli’s last starts before coming to a decision to go with other alternatives?

Those other options include Rade Krunić and Tommaso Pobega who, with all due respect, are not up to the standard required at this level of the game, let alone representing one of the biggest clubs in world football. When they have both been plugged into the system, the team looks short of ideas, creativity, and an ounce of energy to combine both in defence and attack.

When Adli is both with and without possession, his movement and reading of the game are exemplary for his young age. Add in his vision and talent to pass into spaces to open up an array of angles is a glimpse of how Andrea Pirlo conducted himself.

Without Adli’s presence from the get-go during that stretch of poor results, the Frenchman’s absence has become more noticeable which has raised serious questions about Pioli’s tactics and judgement.

Hence, shock reports circulated on the eve of Milan’s Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund that Adli would finally get the nod in a midfield trident alongside Tiijani Reijnders and Ruben Loftus-Cheek after yet another underwhelming showing against Fiorentina. Those rumours turned out to be accurate.

The first half in particular was a confident display from Adli who didn’t shy away from the momentous occasion; always getting involved in the build-up play and dictating the tempo of the match to a well-refined pace. He may take a gamble at times with some of the risky passes he attempts to pull off, but that fearlessness is exactly what’s been missing.

A devastating 3-1 defeat to the German giants witnessed nothing short of a capitulation in the second 45 minutes. Will Adli be the scapegoat for Pioli this time around? Perhaps, the blame needs to be thrown onto the shoulders of the 58-year-old for deciding to throw Adli in the deep end where the pressure was at its peak.

Injuries have been treated Milan in the cruellest way imaginable this season, but Adli’s frustrating reality of being forced to fight for his place every single week as if the management is waiting for him to fail is quite confusing.

The fans have warmed to Adli with open arms and his teammates are rooting for his success with the challenging obstacles he has been forced to overcome which have been nothing short of inspirational.

At the end of the day, what separates him from the elite-level players is the opportunity to build consistency on the pitch to be allowed to gel and connect, allowing for continual growth to help blossom what is already a uniquely gifted talent.

It all goes back to Paulo Sousa stressing the most important factor in developing Adli’s game: “He needs consistency.”

If only Pioli could understand.

Tags AC Milan Yacine Adli


  1. Honestly I thought that he did well in the first half and in segments of the second half. Let’s be honest, in terms of long balls, he is second to none in the team (aside from Bennacer perhaps). I do also like the way he carries the ball, covers it.
    Now the second Dortmund goal was definetly his fault (and also Mike), but again, if we gonna slaughter a player for individual mistakes, then there is a lot that come before him.
    Also bear in mind, this is a man who didn’t play last season, and played only a few games this one. You can’t say that you believe a player can improve but at the same time not see his potential.
    I hope he won’t get sanctionned again by Pioli and forced to be a benchwarmer for the next several games.

    1. If the player is trying to organise attacks and actually trying to do something on our attacking play like Adli, it is normal that he sometimes make a mistake and lose the ball, what i can’t stand is that he put krunic ,who is all defensive,passing to the nearest player on field,and he still make a mistake but pioli forgive him while he bench adli for minor mistakes.

  2. Adli looks better when compared to Krunic playing regista, but that isn’t saying much. Many called for his inclusion, but if you watched the BVB game you can clearly tell he isn’t a regista. He will play it because that’s apparently the only way he will see the field, but it doesn’t mean he’s any good at it.

    He just doesn’t seem to have a function in Pioli’s system. He won’t displace Reijnders for a starting spot (barring injuries), nor will he see much of the field once Bennacer starts playing, making him a depth piece at best?

    Even though it probably won’t be a priority, but I would love another proper regista in the summer, because with Benny gone, it was painfully obvious we didn’t have anyone to fill his shoes. And given our injury crisis, Bennacer will have to play A LOT of games.

    1. Defensive duties don’t seem to be his speciality, at least at the moment. But I admit he is a bit of an enigma, he is good, but no defensively sound enough to play as a pivot (in either a single pivot or a double pivot system), he has a good vision and good passing abilities, but I think he’s a bit too slow to be a n°10. But again, he still can improve.
      Personally, I think the priority for the summer is a striker and a TRUE defensive midfielder (one that can actually defend and stop the opposition play).

  3. Personal opinion, I have watched Pioli, observed his system and tactics, celebrated like any other fan or faithful where he thrived, we were delighted with the scudetto after so many years, but we have reached the end of his era. If Milan must go beyond this level, we need a new manager. His inability to harness and develop talents like Adili and De Ketelare is particularly worriiesome. It has become a trend which we best discard. We need a manager that can match the competitive standard of top flight football, win games, bring the best out of established players, and develop future talent.

    1. I don’t want to take Pioli’s part but there are a lot of managers that couldn’t help certain players or make them give their best.

      Kaka and Mourinho for example!?j
      Shevchenko and Mourinho?
      Ibrahimovic and Pep?
      Benitez | Zidane with James Rodriguez?
      Villas Boas, Benitez, Di Matteo, Mourinho with Torres?
      Yaya Toure – ruined 2 times by Pep (City and Barca)
      Ozil and Arteta
      Bale and Zidane

      Don’t worry, the team’s problem is not only one side and nothing is just black and white, there are a lot of cracks in there but at least we are better than let’s say for example 5-6-7-8 years ago.
      I would like to see Pioli gone but we should hire a better manager, maybe one with some good experience, not Motta or God knows who. I just don’t want to hire another experiment and after one year to be here again crying on the same thing.

  4. Adli is good imao, but he doesnt have the right set of players around him.. They all like to go forward, what he needs is someone to cover for him and pick up his slack and he does leave a lot of slack in def

    1. Exactly. Thanks for this
      Adli is good, but the system doesn’t fit him. He needs someone to do the dirty work for him while he plays his game. I personally believe with time and guidance he can develop his overall game well.

      As for doing that under the current coaching management, that’s another story.

  5. If you read the article and never seen him play, you would think he reminds of Zidane or is close to that level. I think Zidane was better at 15, than Adli is today. Average player with a few world class traits. Not a complete player. His positioning in defense is horrible, even worse than that. The comment about him being able to play only no. 10 sounds reasonable.

    Ok, player, but he is as incomplete as Pobega is, just looks better with the ball in his feet. But Pobega would stop him 10 out of 10 times, he is way better when defending. And so on…

    1. “Perhaps, the blame needs to be thrown onto the shoulders of the 58-year-old for deciding to throw Adli in the deep end where the pressure was at its peak.”

      Wait wait, we should blame Pioli for playing Adli deep in midfield and he can’t handle pressing? This is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. Yes, that is Piolis fault, Adli is a complete player but Pioli is giving him wrong instructions.🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

      1. “Wait wait, we should blame Pioli for playing Adli deep in midfield and he can’t handle pressing? This is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. Yes, that is Piolis fault, Adli is a complete player but Pioli is giving him wrong instructions.🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣”

        STFU already. You are embarrassing yourself again.

    2. I agree that he’s on a similar level to other back ups like Krunic but Pobega would foul Adli on 10/10 tackles. Pobega is so slow and understands positioning so poorly Adli is a better defender by default…

  6. Adli got beat in the second and third goal against BVB and in the 3rd goal in the first game against PSG, he was part of the penalty we conceded against Udinese, he gave up the goal against Cagliari …
    Adli is very hit and miss against the ball, he is not good enough to be a starter until he improves that, especially when Bennacer returns.

      1. Or maybe people think it’s normal for a young player who was basically frozen out from football for a year can make mistakes and actually learn from them.

        And even with all the mistakes he has made, he’s still 100000x more inspiring to watch than Backpass-Krunic who provides nothing for the attacking play. I’d rather watch a 1-1 match with Adli on the pitch than 0-0 with Krunic.

  7. Why he does not play because his is SLOW.
    He is definitely not new Pirlo and even more there are no new Gattuso around
    So Bennacer will play

      1. And neither was Xavi, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos…

        oh, and you know who else was labeled as slow and was even dropped by his national team coach, and later went on to play for the country where he was born instead?

        Zinedine Zidane.

        (no, i’m not comparing Yacine to Zidane)

        Pace isn’t everything. Especially for midfielders.

  8. Players with his passing range and skill on the ball, willingness to carry play forward are few and far between. Players that can break plays and make 5 yard passes while taking no risks because they lack the skill or courage to do so are in abundance.

    He is 23 and spent his last season on the bench. You are actually looking at a player getting his first minutes at elite level soing more good than bad. His weaknesses can be worked on and improved, also compensated for by pretty easy to acquire players that won’t be expensive. Someone that can cover for him, make simple passes and let him find space will allow us to get the best from him. We are watching a young and inexperienced player performing very well given his lack of playing time in the team as well as level of competition. Not being able to create anything against the Inter Milans, being stagnant and passive is what givez teams like them the confidence they can obliterate us. A poayer like Adli keeps them under pressure and honest.

    A pure destroyer infront of defense is useless in today’s game against strong teams. You need to defend against them by keeping the ball and maintaining pressure on opposition. Finding space and passing lanes to create scoring chances. If you think Milan can shell out 60 million for a complete midfielder that is good defensively and on the ball, you are out your bloody minds.

    We will need a team that does things by committee. The issue is, he adds more to the game than he takes away from it.

    The Krunic like players of the world are a hinderance to our rhythm in distribution as well as the team’s overall psychology with their presence. No point making a run and busting a lung when yiu see the ball on Krunic’s foot or Pobega’s, you know you won’t get it at your feet. So players have to stay further from opposing teams net and final third. They can’t trust the build up play, teams know Krunic js a non threat in any sense of the word, so they can mark out other midfielders or forwards because they know he has NO SKILLS TO CREATE AND END PRODUCT IF THEY GIVE HIM SPACE.

    1. Why can’t we play Krunic and Adli in a double pivot or DM/deep lying a 433. One’s strength is literally the other’s weakness. Let Krunic do the defensive work and then look for Adli, to make as you say the guys do their runs etc.

      1. This can work very well. A sorta pirlo and gattuso pairing let someone do the dirty work while Adli is given time to stretch his game.

        While I see Adli’s faults, I certainly to lay heavy blame on him. His youth and MOST IMPORTANTLY LACK OF GAME TIME ACROSS TWO SEASONS, and also slow development under this current coaching management is where I put majority of the blame on.
        Adli is no pirlo or Zidane or mattheus, but he certainly had the talent and could grow of given proper guidance and trust. As to if he would be given that but not punished heavily whenever he makes a gaf like any other player would under a certain head coach leaves to be seen.

        Whenever Yacine makes poor errors he receives very heavy punishment like he is responsible for the entire team.

        1. Yep I agree. The lack of game time afforded to Adli is criminal. I think it was an orphan of a clash between Maldini and Pioli’s ideas or something. But areas he needed to polish and work on can only come with experience 🤷‍♂️

      2. Krunic’s defensive work leaves something to be desired. Just because a player is bad offensively doesn’t automatically mean he’s quality in the defensive phase. Krunic is average top to bottom defensively he’s ok with positioning but a liability in possession. And those turnovers right at the top of the box he’s prone too are not good for defense…

  9. Fans complain our forwards are starved and there is no certifiable creator within the team to make the distribution. Now we have a young, growing player who has been given limited chances over the seasons and is capable of said distribution.
    And yet they still vilify him. Forgetting his youth, lack of playing time, and style of play. 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️
    These times are truly an enigma

    1. People loooooooooove to complain. And funnily enough, the people who are the loudest to defend Krunic seem to be the loudest in bashing Adli. Hypocrisy at its best. 🙂

  10. Aldi is flawed but young, perfect place to be as a backup midfielder. Krunic is in his prime and average, also perfect for a backup midfielder. I don’t think Milan need a midfield overhaul, swap Krunic for a more defensively solid midfielderand I think Milan will have a well balanced and deep midfield. Injuries has exposed certain gaps but there really isn’t but a few teams that can go six deep in their midfield without losing something.

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