Milan have lacked a true quality striker over the past five and a half seasons in which the club failed to qualify for the Champions League. The most goals scored by a single Milan player in a season since 2012-13 is 20 – the number netted by Colombian Carlos Bacca in his debut season with the club. Aside from that, in the 2014-15 season, Jeremy Menez had 16 and for the past two seasons their top scorer managed only 14 goals.
To compare with the stars of Milan’s past, this is just not good enough. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 35 goals in the season before he departed for PSG and Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi had several 28+ campaigns in the early noughties.
When they paid €35m for Krzysztof Piatek, some wondered if it was wasteful to spend on someone with just six months of Serie A football under his belt. It’s easy to score goals at Genoa, they said, with no pressure and an entire team playing only to supply you. It’s safe to say he has silenced those critics very quickly.
Piatek brings an extra dimension to Milan’s attack that was previously not achieved by Gonzalo Higuain and Patrick Cutrone this season, and the likes of Bacca further back. Piatek is fast, perhaps not on the same level as the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Timo Werner, but fast nonetheless. He spearheads Milan’s counter-attacks and his speed allows him to drag defenders around, put himself in the ideal position to score and wait for the supply to come to him.
Piatek has also proven, in his time with Milan so far, that he is the perfect target man as well as a poacher, using his body and his head to help the Rossoneri on more than one occasion. Before his goal against Atalanta, the Diavolo had only one headed Serie A goal all season and hadn’t found the net this way from a corner since Leonardo Bonucci.
Milan have fantastic wingers in their side such as Suso, Hakan Calhanoglu, Lucas Paquetá and Diego Laxalt, all of whom are competent at delivering balls into the box, and having a talented target-man and goal-scorer lurking inside is never a bad thing.
Where Piatek benefits Milan primarily is not through his physical abilities, although they are a certain help, but instead through his intelligence and mental attributes. The Polish forward is very clever in regards to his movement and positioning, always in the right place to receive the ball in a quick break or, alternatively, using his movement to create space for other players when he is being tightly marked or closed down.
His brace against Atalanta provide perfect examples. On the initial volley, Piatek drew Berat Djimsiti out and then cut back to ensure he was in front of the defender, then had no need to look at the goal, as he had his bearings already. With the corner, he got to the ball not by out-jumping Duvan Zapata - which would've been pretty much impossible - but by timing his run perfectly to get in front and attack the ball.
Piatek loves running into space and this gives Milan a perfect outlet to play incisive attacking moves. With the talented midfielders and playmakers the Rossoneri have, it is no wonder that Piatek is succeeding as much as he is.
It is not too much of a stretch then to say that Milan’s revitalisation and subsequent chase of Champions League qualification could be a direct result of Piatek’s signing. Although credit must be given to the whole squad, Gattuso and fellow new boy Paquetá, Piatek has given the fans something to cheer for again and the Pole shows a genuine passion and motivation to return the club to Europe’s biggest competition.