Despite the hype surrounding such a capture, life in Milan was never going to be immediately easy for Sandro Tonali.
After plying his trade with Brescia and playing a pivotal role in their promotion to Serie A, Tonali’s quality was once again visible as a team leader throughout 2019/20, although they didn’t. failed to avoid relegation to Serie B.
His performances saw him linked to all the top clubs in Italy, so when Milan were the one to pull off the transfer, there was serious praise from all parties involved.
Tonali could have moved to Juventus or Inter in search of silverware, but opted for the approach of his childhood club which has rebuilt hugely in the past 18 months after a scorching decade of under -performance.
But while the love story seems endlessly romantic on the surface, the 20-year-old has had a huge task trying to find his place in a camp that is home to one of the most underrated double pivots in the world. ‘Europe.
Tonali had left Brescia where he was the team’s Hulk Hogan and joined a Milan side whose rebuilding has been just great so far. And while he helped with that, becoming another exciting youngster on a talented squad, his performance levels weren’t quite there, which was evident.
The usual Milan duo of Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer have proven to be reliable and the choice of Stefano Pioli whenever possible. The pair played a key role in helping the Rossoneri perform at a higher level than other Italian teams after football restarted in 2020, and also contributed to their team’s undefeated run which continued to the end. of the year.
Bennacer’s injuries, however, have seen Pioli cut and change his midfield team throughout the season. Tonali was then tossed in and out of the side with varying success, leading to an overreaction online – because of course he has. You know, when a young player doesn’t immediately win the Ballon d’Or and solve world peace after their first big move, that’s a real concern after all.
Tonali only managed six Serie A starts before Christmas and didn’t really show a prolonged demonstration of his talent. His usual passing range wasn’t quite there, nor was his typically sharp and well-timed tackle and play recycling he had become known for at Brescia. Instead, Tonali looked poorly disciplined and steadily out of rhythm, unable to move forward with the ball and control play.
Since his difficult first half of the season, however, the Italy international has shown marked progress and, as usual, time has been the answer. Time and patience eh, who would have thought?
Coming mainly from being the star man and playing in a three-way midfielder in relegated Brescia, Tonali had to get used to a much more disciplined style of play under Pioli at Milan, teaming up with another midfielder. of land in a double pivot and perfecting itself. the defensive side of the game. His physical traits have since improved, as has his understanding of the system, which is now coming to fruition on the pitch as Bennacer struggles to regain his top form.
Starting as a substitute in just two of Milan’s Europa League games seems to have forced him to get into tune, as has the January arrival of Soualiho Meite, who offers competition as a young midfielder. In recent weeks, the 20-year-old has shown clear signs of progress with more dominant performances in Milan’s victory over Roma in March, and more recently their loss to Napoli.
There were glimpses of his game starting to adapt to Pioli’s style and Milan’s expectations. And while there are of course some aspects that still need work, such as his defensive functions and positioning, and turn into a consistent machine like Kessie – who has set the tone for Milan this season with consistently impressive performances – there is something to be excited about. if he has time.
Injuries to key attacking players, and those like Bennacer, hampered Milan in an otherwise formidable season and kept them from following Inter in the Scudetto race. There are bright spots, however, and the season is by no means over, neither domestically nor in Europe, where eliminating Manchester United would be a huge step towards Europa League success.
Tonali needs to use that final stretch of the season to find consistency in his exciting, but still raw performances. There have been improvements and there’s no denying the talent, but now he must find the consistency to inspire his team and take the pressure off Kessie.