Thiaw becomes crucial for AC Milan: How important has his presence been for the Rossoneri in recent weeks?

Many fans may have forgotten that AC Milan signed Malick Thiaw in the summer, but the switch to a back three has seen him burst onto the scene right when Stefano Pioli needed him.

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German defender Malick Thiaw has become a new revelation in the AC Milan backline as Rossoneri coach Stefano Pioli has switched to a three-man defence. The 21-year-old was used sparingly in the first half of the 2022/23 campaign, but a poor start to the new year from Milan prompted Pioli to ditch his tried-and-trusted 4-2-3-1 and implement back three formations, which have resulted in three consecutive 1-0 victories in competitive matches for the outgoing Italian champions.

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the AC Milan tactician would have preferred more goals, especially in the 1-0 win against Tottenham in the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie. However, Pioli has been satisfied with the way the back three has been playing, and particularly how Thiaw has started to adapt.

Malick Thiaw in action. (@acmilan)

AC Milan slump prompts Thiaw inclusion

Thiaw arrived at AC Milan in the summer of 2022 from Schalke for €7 million and he made just four Serie A appearances before the league campaign came to a halt because of the 2022 World Cup being held in Qatar.

After heavy defeats to Sassuolo and Lazio in the new year, Pioli came to the realisation that the 4-2-3-1 formation which played a part in the Rossoneri winning the 2021/22 scudetto was no longer functioning.

With Danish veteran Simon Kjaer not being able to sustain his fitness over the course of a season and Matteo Gabbia looking increasingly out of his depth, the AC Milan coach decided to give the German starlet more opportunities to play and the 21-year-old has certainly taken them.

Stefano Pioli. (Photo: AC Milan)

Thiaw demonstrates ability to halt a variety of opponents

Pioli can rely on a back three consisting of Pierre Kalulu, Fikayo Tomori, and Thiaw to ensure a watertight AC Milan defence, and the German youngster has shown his ability to nullify the attacking threats of different types of opponents.

He played on the left side of the defensive trio against Tottenham and he was able to limit Dejan Kulusevski’s space to create chances for Spurs. When the Rossoneri faced Monza in Serie A, Thiaw was placed in the middle of the back three, and he was able to cope with the physicality of Andrea Petagna.

After taking Petagna off, Brianzoli coach Raffaele Palladino put the pacy Dany Mota and then the tall centre-forward Christian Gytkjaer on Thiaw, but they could not beat the 194 cm tall defender and the Rossoneri held on for a 1-0 win.

The assurance that the German starlet brings to the defence should mean that Pioli can have more faith in his backline to negate the attacking forays from the opposition. Now the Rossoneri tactician can focus on how to get his own attack firing again.

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