Following Milan’s 3-3 draw Monday against Roma, Stefano Pioli’s squad returned to the European stage with their second Group H match against Sparta Prague.
The Italian boss yet again seized the opportunity to rotate, effectively doing so by sparing the likes of the overworked Theo Hernandez and Franck Kessie from the start.
Aside from those two, the XI Pioli trotted out onto the San Siro pitch was strong and fully adept to fetch the desired result the Rossoneri needed to begin their separation atop the group. As we saw play out, the red and black would achieve just that, putting three past their Czech visitors through a plethora of exceptional performances.
Brahim Díaz, who scored last week vs. Celtic, once again put in a head-turning shift, with his sleek ball control, swift turns into space and creative prowess eventually freeing him for the club’s opening goal.
Starting in the left-back role this time around, Diogo Dalot continued to show immense confidence and steadily built form in relief of the star man Theo Hernandez, supplying an inch-perfect trivela pass to Rafael Leão for the goal before opening up his account shortly after.
In the midfield, Sandro Tonali’s full 90 minutes were more indicative of the player we saw marvel as a Serie A debutant at Brescia last season. Dictating tempo and showing improved crispness in overall play, the 20-year-old Italian enjoyed his best outing in his new colors.
Brahim, Dalot and Tonali rightfully deserve to have their praises sung, but it was the Man of the Match Ismaël Bennacer who, if the stands were packed to the brim, likely would have the Curva Sud shouting for an encore.
Breathing in new life, fresh enthusiasm and quality upon his €16m switch from Empolitwo summers ago, the 22-year-old Bennacer has undertaken a vital role in Pioli’s midfield.
Both shouldering and shrugging off the pressure to emulate his AFCON 2019 Player of the Tournament exploitsfor Algeria, Bennacercontinued to reveal all that he possesses in his locker on Thursday.
On the ball, his efficient and effective circulation of possession is set up by his tidiness and ability to dribble. Among the most successful dribblers in 2019-20, Bennacer is the calibre of midfielder where a dribble is used in both offensive and defensive sequences.
Possessing the grace to skirt out of trouble, he has proven time and time again to be one of Italy’s most press-resistantmidfielders. Alternatively, his quickness and evasive maneuvers in possession allow him to run a midfield, create space and then spray the ball into opportunity zones on the pitch.
Wielding a magic wand of a left foot, the French-born talent surgically prised open Sparta Prague’s defense with numerous penetrating balls that were of a high grade, more specifically when linking up with Dalot. Credit is certainly awarded to the Manchester United loanee for timing his runs perfectly, but Bennacer spotting them and playing him through into space is something Milan fans have not seen in quite some time.
Over 81 minutes, the rising star completed 88% of his passes, released six accurate long balls and completed all five of his dribbles attempts. Beyond anything statistical though, Bennacer is playing at a pace appearing much quicker to the opposition, thus allowing him to be one or two steps ahead in any situation.
Operating as a well-tuned, well-refined machine, Bennacer continues to compile one top performance after the other, and it is this form which has him rapidly ascending into Europe’s top tier.