After months of speculation, the inevitable finally happened. Earlier this week Patrick Cutrone completed his move from Milan to Wolverhampton Wanderers in a deal worth €18m plus bonuses.
The majority of the Rossoneri tifosi might feel that this is a sad ending to a story of a boy that grew up and became a man, wearing the jersey of the club that he loves, before eventually becoming a victim of the cruelty of the modern football world. While this is true to an extent, the Cutrone move also has another dimension, which is related to the purely technical choices of the club.
There is little doubt that Cutrone is a very good finisher, but Krzysztof Piatek is arguably a better one and the arrival of the Pole seriously limited the chances of the Rossoneri youth product for a place in the starting XI. Piatek and Cutrone are also very similar when it comes to the areas of the pitch that they occupy, which makes it hard for any Coach to field both of them at the same time.
While Piatek showed that he has the potential to lead the Rossoneri frontline, his struggles towards the end of last season also showed that Il Pistolero is most effective when he has an attacking partner right next to him.
All this led to Il Diavolo spending a figure close to €35m to get Rafael Leao from Lille, as the 20-year-old impressed during his debut season in Ligue 1, netting eight goals and providing three assists in 26 appearances.
Taking a closer look at the Portuguese’s striker abilities shows that his acquisition actually makes sense for Milan, as Leao is much more flexible, fast and capable with the ball at his feet than Cutrone. Yes, the new Wolverhampton acquisition is undoubtedly a better finisher, but considering that Piatek has already taken that role, Cutrone just doesn’t offer much else.
Standing at 1.88m tall, Leao is also a notable presence in the air, as he won 1.2 aerial duels per game last season in a Lille side that prefers to keep the ball on the ground. However, Rafael’s formidable height is complemented by impressive pace and athleticism, which actually makes him very similar to Genoa’s Christian Kouame when it comes to his physique and characteristics.
Kouame was one of the main reasons for Piatek’s sensational start to life in Italy, as the pair showed impressive cohesion and understanding for Il Grifone during the first half of the campaign.
The Rossoneri’s management had undoubtedly taken this under consideration before bringing in Leao, as it was already clear that Piatek performs best with a fast and athletic striker next to him.
However, Leao’s talents go way beyond his physical characteristics, as the Portuguese U21 international possess impressive dribbling skills and has a natural instinct when it comes to his movement in the attacking third.
While Cutrone was mainly dangerous in the box, which is now Piatek’s area, Leao can open up spaces from any position on the field and is capable of drifting out wide, as well as running behind the opposition’s backline. Leao’s acceleration in such situations can not only cause confusion and open up spaces for his partner, but also makes him extremely dangerous.
All this can work pretty well in Giampaolo’s favoured 4-3-1-2 formation with Lucas Paqueta occupying the trequartista role, Piatek and Leao pairing up front. However, it should be said that the Portuguese is capable of playing out wide as well and can potentially fill in the left wing role in a 4-3-3 setup, as this position proved to be problematic for Milan in the past, with each of Hakan Calhanoglu and Samu Castillejo struggling to perform there.
At first glance, spending almost twice the amount the Rossoneri got from Wolves for Cutrone for bringing in the former Sporting Lisbon prospect looks like a huge gamble for Milan. However, considering that it was already clear that Patrick’s chances at the club would’ve been very limited and that Andre Silva returns from his Sevilla loan, Rafael Leao’s arrival is a risk well worth the taking for the Rossoneri.