Milan haven’t exactly had the best of seasons so far this term. Ten years later, the rossoneri faithful will look back on this campaign as one of instability and one that only flattered to bring in a transition to a better style of football. But one way they would look at it is that they signed a potential world-beater in Ismael Bennacer this very season.
The Algerian came to Milan from Empoli after having endured the drop in dramatic circumstances last season. He was immense for Algeria in the African Cup of Nations, winning the Player of the Tournament. The move to San Siro went under the radar largely because he had come to the club for just £14.5 million and because of where he came from.
In what has been a campaign of new changes on a regular basis though, this pocket-sized midfielder has been someone that rossoneri fans can look at and smile. Because he’s been their best player, consistently performing at a level that he should be proud of.
Many had spotted his talent during his time with Empoli. When the Stadio Carlo Castellani-based side had played against Juventus last season, Bennacer had come up with a showing that had left Cristiano Ronaldo dazzled.
As per MilanNews, Ronaldo had told close friends: “I was really impressed by Empoli’s number 10 (Bennacer). He can become a champion in the near future.”
That is a lofty tag, especially when Ronaldo himself gives it. And Bennacer has lived up to that tag, making Arsenal regret their inability to resign him before Milan snapped him up.
Under Marco Giampaolo, Bennacer could make only three starts. The former Sampdoria boss seemed more keen on playing Lucas Biglia in that position, slowly easing Bennacer into the side. It can certainly be argued whether him not playing Bennacer was a reason for his sacking.
Because he was key in their 1-0 win over Brescia. They had to grind for it, as it comes days after an opening day loss to Udinese. But Bennacer’s ability to win the ball back and carry it forward proved key. He won two tackles, making one interception. He also won two aerial duels, completing one dribble.
That is a hallmark of how he’s been. Under Stefano Pioli, the rossoneri did use the 4-3-3 that Giampaolo was almost forced into using. But after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Italian has been using a 4-4-2 shape that has been bringing the best out of many.
It has been allowing Rafael Leao to use his pace centrally. For a side that had a lack of service upfront, this change has helped. Samu Castillejo has been impressive- almost changing overnight. But Bennacer has also benefitted a lot from it.
He’s been given a more box-to-box role like midfielders are in a 4-4-2. It allows him to get on the ball and often drive forward.
In the entertaining 4-2 loss to Inter, Milan did let themselves down in the second half. But Bennacer had a very sound game. He made three interceptions, winning two tackles in midfield. He used his dribbling to full effect, completing four dribbles. Not just that, but Bennacer had the second-best passing tally while completing 58 passes.
He has that fire about himself that does set him apart from others. He had that at Empoli last season too, winning 2.6 tackles per game and making 1.5 interceptions per game. They have been quite the same now, as he continues to grow into the role.
He has had a small number of poor games- particularly the loss to Fiorentina and the humiliating loss to Atalanta. Milan’s midfield was constantly overrun and Bennacer was caught napping multiple times, giving away a penalty against La Viola.
But for a player who is 22, that is natural. He’s had a very good season and in his first campaign for a bigger club, that is a huge sign of promise. He seems to be loving life and now playing a bit more preferred role, he’s thriving and making an impact.
Milan might have made some strange business decisions in the past. But Bennacer isn’t one. He has proved to be a huge bargain for a struggling club. He certainly deserves more recognition than he’s currently getting.