When AC Milan decided to fulfil Club Brugge’s demands last August, handing them a €35 million cheque to put an end to the lengthy pursuit of Charles De Ketelaere, many foresaw a potential loss in playing time for Brahim Diaz.
The Spaniard’s performances weren’t at the level of the rest of the team last season, with the likes of Franck Kessié or Rade Krunic repeatedly taking his spot as number 10 during the final impressive streak that helped the Diavolo clinch the Serie A title.
This is the reason why the Rossoneri decided to prioritise an investment in such a crucial area of the pitch, thinking that it could result in a qualitative leap for the whole team.
Instead, after losing his place in the starting XI for four consecutive Serie A games between September and early October, the Real Madrid loanee made the most of the opportunity he was given against Juventus and has since started all of AC Milan’s last five league matches.
Brahim Diaz is a new tactical weapon for Stefano Pioli
Brahim Diaz only played 72 minutes in his side’s last-gasp 2-1 win over Spezia, and wasn’t there to contribute to those dramatic final minutes that saw the Rossoneri secure all three points through Olivier Giroud‘s acrobatic finish. Nevertheless, his lively display showed why and how he has earned Stefano Pioli‘s trust.
With four goals from 11 Serie A appearances, Diaz is looking like one of AC Milan’s most improved players this season, but his versatility is what really catches the eye from his performances, making him an interesting tactical weapon for his coach.
Against Spezia, the Spaniard was often seen moving as a kind of false nine, running in between Divock Origi and Rafael Leao, but his position was far from a fixed one – the Rossoneri’s number 10 constantly moved between the lines, as he was involved in winning the ball back and could take advantage of his speedy pace to suddenly spark a counter immediately after receiving the ball.
Diaz and De Ketelaere instrumental to AC Milan’s growth
However, as much as Diaz seems to have increased his confidence, which allows him to take initiative much more often than he did before, his decision-making is still looking flawed, as he can frequently waste promising chances by taking an extra touch on the ball or misplacing what looks like an easy pass.
With all his flaws, though, Diaz’s energetic style of play seems the only thing which allows AC Milan to be creative without being entirely reliant upon Theo Hernandez or Rafael Leao, even if for a limited time.
In fact, the Spanish midfielder has never played the full 90 minutes so far this season, also being subbed off at half-time twice in his last four Serie A matches.
When his work rate and clarity of mind decrease as a result of growing fatigue, Pioli is supposed to have better options on the bench, but with De Ketelaere still underperforming the coach is missing his main alternative in a position that should have exhibited the team’s upgrade compared to the last season.
All of this can lead to the kind of confusing final assault that was almost costing the Rossoneri the three points against Spezia before a masterstroke from Olivier Giroud sealed a dramatic victory.
However, Diaz and De Ketelaere play too important of a role in Stefano Pioli’s tactical plan, and their performances and consistency will probably define how much the Rossoneri will struggle against the most stubborn defences of the league and how many more times they’ll need a last-minute goal to salvage a wasteful night.