AC Milan, largely playing its second team, squared off with Valencia on Wednesday as a part of its pre-season tour. The result was an ugly 0-0 draw (Valencia technically won on penalties), but the Rossoneri had several moments of quality and were generally the better side. Here are a few key takeaways from the match that may impact the club moving forward.
1) Sandro Tonali continues to underwhelm
After his 2019/20 campaign with Brescia, Sandro Tonali was considered one of the best young midfielders in the Serie A, but so far the 21-year-old has yet to live up to his billing. Against Valencia, he noticeably struggled to involve himself in build-up play, preferring to find short, horizontal passes instead of looking to exploit space vertically.
Though he is not a defensive holding midfielder like Franck Kessie, Tonali did have a reputation for providing quality backline support at Brescia. His defensive acumen failed to materialize in the friendly, and the midfielder was largely unremarkable on the day. He may need a loan spell to further his development, as Milan are reportedly looking for another midfielder to back up Kessie and Ismael Bennacer.
2) Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao led the attack
Before Milan’s starters took the pitch in the 60th minute, the Rossoneri looked most dangerous when Leao and Diaz were on the ball. The duo showed off a genuine chemistry that sparked a number of chances, including the best of the match, when Leao beat a Valencia defender on the left wing and found Diaz in the box, forcing a great save from goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili.
Leao was agonizingly inconsistent, often failing to find the ball in the first 25 minutes, though he displayed incredible technical ability and hold-up play as the match progressed. The young forward should play significant minutes for Milan, but, like Tonali, he may be better-served to go on loan to a lower-level club where he could be a full-time starter.
Diaz was one of the bright spots for Milan. Like Leao, it took him time to adjust to the rhythm of the match, but he eventually showed off his creativity and was a driving force in the midfield. The 21-year-old is a brilliant dribbler and was able to navigate Valencia’s congested defensive third, creating several chances. Diaz showed great vision and frequently looked to switch the field into space. When he had the ball at his feet, the Milan attack was more cohesive and effective.
3) Fode Ballo-Toure has a high potential
Milan’s big defensive signing of the summer, Fode Balle-Toure, was perhaps Milan’s player of the match. The Senegal international quickly demonstrated his style of play, essentially controlling the left wing, allowing Daniel Maldini to push inside to his preferred attacking midfield position.
Ballo-Toure was heavily involved in Milan’s offense, especially in the first half. He played high up the left side and looked to push the ball up the field while Andrea Conti or Tommaso Pobega held deep as defensive cover. Pioli deployed him essentially as a Theo Hernandez clone: an attacking-minded left back that gives other offensive players more flexibility to rotate and find space.
Despite being beaten down the wing once or twice, Ballo-Toure showed solid defensive ability, winning a handful of crunching tackles. The former Lille and Monaco man is not completely polished, but he should provide a high level of play as Hernandez’s substitute.
4) Milan has quality defensive depth
Milan’s elite defense should be even better this season. With three high caliber centre-backs and two of the best outside-backs in Italy, the Rossoneri should challenge for least goals allowed in the Serie A this year.
Pierre Kalulu, Ballo-Toure and Andrea Conti all had solid performances against Valencia and will be important contributors in the coming season. Milan possesses nine quality defenders, providing great depth that should benefit the club as it navigates the Champions League and league play.
The coming match against Real Madrid will be another tough test that should reveal more about AC Milan’s potential. The club, despite several persisting roster questions, is looking to dethrone Inter and challenge for the Scudetto in 2022.