In the space of four days Milan have secured deals for Brahim Diaz from Real Madrid and Brescia’s Sandro Tonali, so Rossoneri fans are salivating at the sight of seeing these two talented players wearing the famous Red and Black shirt. While so much was made of Zlatan Ibrahimovic being essential a month from his 39th birthday, the youth movement is largely taking hold of this team.
Both players started getting noticed while representing their nation's youth teams. Brahim during the European Under-21 Championships in 2016 and Tonali at the Euro Under-19s two years ago. Both managed to help their nations reach the final, where interestingly enough, they lost out to Portugal. Both made Team of the Tournament.
Their playing positions and roles are vastly different, but their attributes are much needed in the current Milan team. Brahim Diaz is particularly adept at operating as a Number 10 or out wide. He has excellent technique, with the ability to collect the ball calmly, having a good first touch. His ability to hold on to the ball allows him to attract the attention of opposition defenders, creating space for his teammates.
Tonali, on the hand, is in the true sense of the word a regista. He can dictate the play from sitting in front of the defence, move the ball quickly, either on the ground or over the top. However, don't think the self-confessed Milan fan is all style and flair. He is quite happy to get stuck in and put himself about, putting in tackles and squaring up to the opposition. After all, his idol as a child was one Rino Gattuso, so much that the 20-year old called the midfield legend to get his blessing to wear the No 8 shirt.
Under coach Stefano Pioli, the team has grown in its quick movement off the ball and using the open spaces to unlock defences. Brahim Diaz can utilise his dribbling ability, ball control and slide rule pass to break the lines and push the ball forward to his teammates. Tonali has the vision to play the ball over the top, keep things ticking over at breakneck speed, combining with his teammates with little one-twos and always being readily available. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao must be overjoyed at the thought of these youngsters pinging balls forward to create goals.
Aspects that may not get as many headlines, but both players have in their arsenal, are tenacity and physicality. While sitting in front of the Brescia defence, Tonali was constantly asked to protect the back four and snuff out any danger that may lurk when his team was under pressure. That required the 2019 Serie B Young Player of the Year to stand up to supposedly stronger attacking players and put up a wall.
Brahim Diaz while going on the attack obviously will be the subject of defenders doing their utmost to stop him. One match that sticks out was against Villarreal in 2019. He picked up the ball and dribbled past a couple of defenders, left them in his wake and despite being held, was able to ghost to the edge of the penalty area and eventually draw a foul.
Another aspect where both players can contribute to this current Milan team is in their ability to put pressure on the ball. This is arguably what contributed to the team's improved play after the lockdown. Pioli was clearly seen to be encouraging his players to press the opposition, not allow them to have ‘comfortable possession’ and fully expects them to stifle them.
Brahim in his brief 21 matches with Los Blancos had an innate trait to harass the defenders and win back the ball to start an attack. It's something that Pioli has improved in the likes of Hakan Calhanoglu and Samu Castillejo, with varying degrees of success. Tonali's energetic nature meant he was also able to put pressure on the ball whenever danger was imminent, but he had to pick his moments so as to not leave his team exposed.
Milan will be involved in three competitions in the coming campaign and needed depth to the squad to be able to handle the rigours of such workload. With the additions of Brahim Diaz and Tonali, who are young and eager to prove themselves, the club may have just found players to build their team around for years to come.
Of course, let’s not forget that they are both on loan, and Brahim Diaz doesn’t even have an option to buy negotiated yet. However, Milan have to get back into the Champions League and that means their time is now.