When AC Milan purchased Lucas Paquetà prior to January 2019, it seemed that Milan had sewn up another future building block. The initial comparison for Paquetà was Kaká. While this comparison is faulty, Milan was expecting to get an offensively minded midfielder. When Paquetà arrived, the Milan coaching staff realized that Paquetà fit better deeper in the field. Initially, Paquetà showed his offensive prowess with a goal and assist in his first four games. Since then, Paquetà has not produced any end product (goals and assists). Now, the twenty-two year old is at a crossroads in his career. Paquetà has featured in seventeen of Milan’s twenty-six matches but did not play in the last two matches and has only one start since December. The question is what to do with Paquetà. Is he worth trying to develop or is it better to move on?
Understanding the Template:
Paquetà has played 878 minutes this year and played at least a half in nine games. His best performances during the season were against SPAL, U.S. Sassuolo Calcio, and Juventus FC (he played well against FC Internazionale as well but it was only fifteen minutes). He is listed by Wyscout as midfielder and not as an attacking midfielder/winger category.
So what does Paquetà do? He dribbles and progresses the ball on the ground like a madman. Paquetà does have an issue with attempting un-necessarily audacious skill moves and then immediately dueling to make up for his mistakes. He is one of the better midfielders at dueling. His success rate speaks to his tacking ability and his tendency to enter duels. His defensive ability does interest me and may allow him to play in different areas across the pitch, but he seems better suited in the middle of the field. In a midfield three, he would function as the more offensive of the three midfielders. In a midfield diamond, he would play as the attacking midfielder. These are unusual positions or roles for a player that I just praised for defensive acumen and I will get to this later.
Much like Ismaël Bennacer, Paquetà progresses the ball more through his on-the-ball movement and less with his passing. Paquetà generally collects the ball either deep in the field and personally runs it forward, or he receives it while he is already in the final third. He does produce good xA rates and passes well into the penalty area. Paquetà makes incisive passes into the box, and while he can be a bit careless, there is a direct intent that other Milan players lack. His willingness to be inventive with passing helps Milan defeat defensive blocks.
Paquetà helps create a second line of a press. Milan’s press was the sixth most intense in Serie A before the season pause. Paquetà can duel opponents’ defensive midfielders and make them unable to progress the ball. If Ante Rebić and Samu Castillejo fail in their pressing attempts, then Paquetà has the ability to stop any breakout from the opposition. It is one of his better attributes.
How to Make Paquetà the best Paquetà:
I am deviating from my normal structure because there is a larger question that needs to be answered at the end of this profile.
First off, I would play Paquetà in a three-man midfield or as an attacking midfielder. In a three-man midfield, Bennacer and Franck Kessié can provide support for Paquetà’s advanced position. Paquetà can function as a mezzala and advance into the box. He has the ability to support a striker in a press and then provide a quick pass back towards an attacker. This is not gegenpressing, but it has the same outcome. Playing Paquetà in this role would give him the freedom to attack and support strikers while maintaining the defensive responsibilities he seems prepared to take on.
If Milan is trying to play with an attacking midfielder in the space behind one or two strikers then Paquetà could be used as an anti-ten. I have brought this up before, but I am now reintroducing the idea. An anti-ten sits behind the striker(s) and activates if the press is broken. Paquetà assignment is the deepest midfielder of the opposition. He would almost man-mark these players and make it harder for an opposition backline to connect with their midfield. His defensive actions allow other players to press more aggressively or be more experimental in the attack. The defensiveness of the anti-ten allows wingers or fullbacks the opportunity to overlap or attack more freely. Paquetà would be perfect in this role. He is already an adept dueler and pushing him forward to help the press and pass into more dangerous positions would take maximum advantage of his strengths. Milan should focus on doing this if he is part of the future of the team. This brings us to the last question.
The Future of Paquetà:
My personal opinion is that Milan should keep Paquetà. The instability of Milan over the past five years has not lent itself to healthy development of players. Also, I believe that Milan gives up on young players far too quickly (M’baye Niang, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Manuel Locatelli). Finding a way to help Paquetà fit into the squad and spending time to understand who the player is, is crucial. There is a possibility that he simply does not fit within the Milan system. If that is the case, then at least Milan tried. However, deciding that Paquetà does not fit Milan after a season with two different managers and a rumored structural change does not bode well for any player’s development. Bennacer’s ability to develop during this instability has been spectacular, but should not be seen as expected (if anything he is the outlier). I would give Paqueta playing time over Hakan Çalhanoğlu, as Hakan does not particularly do much and is wasteful, to see if Paquetà can make a name for himself at Milan. The formation is already in place, it simply needs to see Paquetà receive actual game time.
Some Forecasting for Paquetà:
I do think the possibility of Paquetà becoming a valuable mezzala or an anti-ten is not out of the question. He has the tools to function well within a midfield trio or diamond. His wastefulness when he tries skill moves for the sake of skill moves is frustrating, but it is something that can be coached out of him. I would like to see more production from him in terms of goals and assists.. I do not think that Paquetà will become a primary starter for the Brazillian National team or become a consistent team of the season player in FIFA (video game), however, I think he will produce (I also really do not care about the FIFA team of the season). Milan hiring a manager who will understand what he does and how he can positively impact a team is crucial. Gennaro Gattuso seemed to understand Paquetà, Stefano Pioli has obviously struggled. I believe that the two need to come to an understanding.
However, if someone were to pay close to the original purchase price, unlikely during any transfer period any time soon, I would consider accepting. I would not be happy about doing so.
I like Paquetà. I think Milan needs to understand that players take time to grow. I know there are some controversial opinions here, but I am happy to defend them (M’baye Niang is good- spicy take right?). I hope that Milan does not panic sell another young player, just to watch them blossom away from San Siro.
During this difficult time, I want to express my solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the protests against the murder of George Floyd. I stand firmly against racism in any form and against brutality that comes from racism. I hope we will achieve justice for the people and families affected by decades of marginalization. This is a structural problem and we must act together to overcome it.
Black Lives Matter.