Friday September 11 2020
Breath of fresh air for Milan

Brahim Diaz and Sandro Tonali bring youth, excitement, hunger, but also the characteristics this Milan sorely needed, writes Vijay Rahaman.

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.

Image: @acmilan

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Have your say...
partnerships which formed in that purple patch. And none of them are “next level”. In fact they seem very “same level” as the players we’ve got. Which raises the question: what’s the point? Every signing causes disruption so needs to really add something to a team. When the final bill for this transfer market is counted I would want to know what we would’ve got had we put all that money into one signing. Say a world class RW?
on the 11th September, 2020 at 9:01am
my hesitancy. Why will Tonali be more of a success than Cristante, Biglia and Locatelli? Why will Diaz be more of a success than Suso and the million other players we signed in that position? The only cause for optimism is our run in at end of last season. That showed that many players who were deemed FAILURES like Çalhanoğlu just needed to be played in their correct positions on a semi-regular basis. Now as I’ve previously stated the difficulty with these signings is they disrupt players and
on the 11th September, 2020 at 8:58am
(who is preferred for Italy ahead of our new expensive signing Tonali) and Andre Silva who had a reasonable season with Frankfurt) and, just because I still love them, Cutrone and n El Shaarawy (now linked with a host of top clubs). There’s a bit of theme here? When a club like Milan decides to sell someone because they’re a FAILURE the idea is that the FAILURE should end up playing for a worst club. Otherwise it’s most definitely you not me. So when we talk about these new signings you’ll see
on the 11th September, 2020 at 8:54am
Before we get too excited about Milan’s transfers let me present to you my 1-11 of ex-Milan players who finished higher than Milan last season. Playing 343 Reina, Caldara, Bonucci, Acerbi, De Sciglio, Pašalić, Cristante, Suso, Ocampos, Higuain and Kalinić. All of these were considered various degrees of failures at Milan. It’s embarrassing. There’s also special mentions for Thiago Silva (whose sale alongside of Ibrahimovic we never capitalised on), Bellanova good enough for Atalanta, Locatelli
on the 11th September, 2020 at 8:48am
Exciting prospects for the future. Hope Milan can convert the loans to permanent deals. Looking forward to a Leao/Rebic/Tonali/Diaz/Gigi/Theo/Benna/Kessie core for the next 10years. Something to build on if they get their transfer strategies sorted.
on the 11th September, 2020 at 8:45am
Milans current team is the most intriguing in many years.

I don't think Ibra has more than a season left, we need to find a center striker after that we have a good foundation.
on the 11th September, 2020 at 8:18am
I am ALL for depth of roster this season. 3 competitions will definitely take a toll on the players and rotation will be needed. If I am honest, I'd like to see Gigio sold for 50-60mil and reinvest into more depth: back up LB, RB and another attacker potentially. The Gigio circus will only get worse. No player comes before the team. Mino knows what he is doing well - he always wanted Gigio out of Milan, hence 10mil/year request. Won't keep Gigio forever. Sell and strengthen the squad.
on the 11th September, 2020 at 4:11am

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