5 AC Milan players who have improved since Stefano Pioli's arrival | Serie A 2019-20

The biggest beneficiaries of Stefano Pioli
The biggest beneficiaries of Stefano Pioli's appointment
Sachin Bhat
Modified 15 Mar 2020

AC Milan are having another topsy-turvy campaign. Seventh in the table and 12 points off Champions League spots, the Rossoneri continue to struggle in the Serie A once again.

They even had a managerial change, the seventh since Massimiliano Allegri in 2014, as Marco Giampaolo was sacked after only seven games into the season for former Inter Milan boss Stefano Pioli.

Even though there haven't been seismic changes to Milan since his appointment, improvements are visible. They appear to be like a team with character and more importantly, spine.

Several first-teamers too have revived themselves under his tutelage, but none more so than these five players.

5. Matteo Gabbia

Gabbia has shown he deserves more chances
Gabbia has shown he deserves more chances

After spending 22 excruciating games on the bench, Matteo Gabbia was finally liberated by Stefano Pioli, who turned towards him when Milan were decimated with injuries, including that of Simon Kjaer and Mateo Mussachio. This was earlier in January in the 1-0 win over Torino, and since then, he's gone on to play three more games, including his first full 90 minutes in the loss to Genoa.

The 20-year old has duly repaid the manager's faith as he made an instant impact. He's been solid at the back, and impressed with his ball-winning ability too. Gabbia took no time to develop an understanding with his defensive counterpart Alessio Romagnoli, as he has already shown qualities to become a regular choice in the coming days.

4. Ismael Bennacer

The Algerian has been a valuable addition to Milan
The Algerian has been a valuable addition to Milan

Ismael Bennacer's arrival whipped up a frenzy in the red half of Milan, after all, he was coming off the back of a successful AFCON Cup with Algeria where he was also crowned the tournament's best player, and also cost a reasonably hefty sum of $16 million. He did show promises earlier on in the season, but has certainly elevated his game by a notch or two under the tutelage of the ex-Inter Milan boss.

The 22-year old is dynamic, elegant and more importantly, confident. He's adept in making recoveries and also drives forward when opportunities present itself. Bennacer's partnership with Franck Kessie is worth mentioning too, as he has developed a powerful pairing with the Ivorian in the centre of the park. With 12 yellow cards and two red cards, both of which are highest in the league, his poor disciplinary record might be the only factor that deters him from consideration among the best signings of the season.

3. Theo Hernandez

Hernandez has put his Real Madrid struggles behind him
Hernandez has put his Real Madrid struggles behind him

The French international has breathed new life with AC Milan, impressing to the hilt with his talismanic performances. He has clocked more minutes in the league than anyone in the squad and also set up Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his first goal since returning. From day one, Hernandez has shone bright, but more so since Pioli took charge.

This is mainly due to the carte blanche that's afforded to him due to the team's movements. The manager's tactical ploy has allowed him to flourish while making forays, whilst also contributing in the midfield as well as the defence without ever compromising with his marauding runs.

2. Samu Castillejo

Castillejo was on the brink of an exit, but he
Castillejo was on the brink of an exit, but he's now an important part of Milan

The Spaniard has been around since the start of 2018/19 season, but only in this term has he lived up to his potential and then some. Castillejo's series of good performances displaced Suso from the starting spot, and eventually from the squad as his counterpart left for Sevilla in January. Such is the impact he's had.

The ex-Villarreal man is now an indispensable member of the line-up, and has added an additional layer to Milan's attack with his menacing runs forward. Pioli's 4-2-3-1 seems to have unlocked an extra level in his game, and has created the most chances since the turn of 2020 than anyone in Europe's top five leagues with 31.

1. Ante Rebic

Rebic has hit the throttle finally
Rebic has hit the throttle finally

The Croat, who joined the Rossoneri on deadline day in August, looked like a pale shadow of his rip-roaring self who impressed with the Blazers at the 2018 World Cup. He barely featured until the start of the new year and was clearly unhappy with his substitute role. Pioli regardless reinstalled his faith and Rebic finally broke the deadlock on matchday 20 with a brace against Udinese, before going on to add four more to that tally.

He's hit a purple patch now which has made the left-wing spot his own, successfully fighting off challenges from Hakan Calhanoglu as well as Rafael Leao. Rebic's hot run means he has scored the most goals in this calendar year in Serie A after only Ciro Immobile and Cristiano Ronaldo, who have seven each. There are rumours now that Milan are considering to tie him down permanently this summer with a longer contract.

Published 15 Mar 2020
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