Franck Kessie Highlights His Potential to Contribute for Milan

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AC Milan didn’t exactly start well against Sassuolo. They weren’t awful by any means, and they certainly weren’t being exposed with regularity at the back, but there was a kind of staleness to their play. They could control possession with comfort, but they couldn’t progress. They ended up shifting the ball around in a U-shape, from side to side and up towards the wings, and then back again. In simple terms, there was almost zero penetration to their play, and when you consider how their season has gone up until now, maybe that shouldn’t have been too surprising.

\As it stands, Milan sit in 7th place on the Serie A ladder. They’ve scored 18 times over their 12 games, a figure which isn’t overly impressive given their heavy spending during the summer transfer window. That hints at a lack of creativity in the side, and while there are guys like Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso populating the spaces in between the lines, they aren’t necessarily producing the invention required. This is illustrated by the fact that Milan shoot from range more than any other side in Serie A. The Milanese giants have shot 105 times from outside the area, meaning a massive 53% of their chances have been generated in this fashion.

To make matters worse, they average an impressive 55.3% of possession, good enough for 3rd in the league, and they also produce the 2nd highest number of shots in Serie A. Crucially, however, they only rank 10th for shots inside the area, with 78, meaning that they aren’t necessarily generating the crispest of opportunities in front of goal.

All of those stats, in conjunction, hint at a side who pass the ball around well but run out of ideas in the final third. That then leads to a speculative effort from a low percentage position, the result of which is a distinctive lack of end-product. Against Sassuolo, it looked like the pattern was repeating itself, at least until Franck Kessie propelled himself along the touchline in the closing stages of the first half.

Here, Milan won back possession on the right-hand side, and they launched a quick counter-attack. Kessie led the way, surging up the touchline with speed and power. He eased past a marker, Simone Missiroli, to get into a position to cross, and once he had steadied himself, he hit a precise curler onto the head of Nikola Kalinic. The big striker nodded it at goal, but despite decent connection and a solid degree of placement, Sassuolo goalkeeper Andrea Consigli was on hand to make the save.

He couldn’t do the same from the following corner, however, and Milan took the lead from the set-piece through Alessio Romagnoli. It was a strong effort from the central defender, but it was hard not to look back to Kessie’s run. That made the chance for Milan, and it only took that one piece of inspiration to lift the team. Of course, it didn’t make up for a general lack of invention, but when you consider some of Kessie’s other contributions, it easy to see why Milan agreed to pay so much in order to bring him to the club.

Playing alongside the more conservative Ricardo Montolivo in the centre of midfield, Kessie provided the box-to-box game to complement his partner. He charged forward from midfield wherever possible, collecting four successful dribbles along the way, and his all-action yet astute movement allowed him to get into some good positions in the final third as well. About an hour in, for instance, Milan broke forward through a chain of short passes. Kessie quickly took up a right-of-centre position, using his pace to power into a pocket between the lines, and after receiving the ball from Kalinic, he played a short pass out to Suso on the right.

When the Spaniard found himself unable to cut through the defence, he played the ball back to Kessie, who was now situated on the edge of the area. He had a defender nearby, but with a quick piece of footwork – a backheel to take the ball away from Missiroli – he fashioned the space to shoot. It might’ve been a deflected and ultimately unsuccessful effort, but it showed what Kessie can do for Milan.

He has this knack for arriving in good areas, and due to his running power from central midfield, he can do this regularly. This is the kind of point of difference Milan lacked at times throughout the game against Sassuolo, and once Kessie started to grow into the encounter, he did this kind of thing more and more often. A couple of minutes later, he simply collected the ball in midfield, during a Milan counter-attack, and drove at goal. He assessed his options, hurdling over a defender as he did so, and eventually settled on a shot from just outside the area. He hit it well, and even though Consigli was good enough to save it, it was the kind of purpose that Milan want from their young star.

Suso eventually finished off the contest with a lovely bit of play to make it 2-0, but Kessie might just have been the star of the show. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire for Milan just yet, but the performance that hinted at his potential. He was superb for Atalanta last season, and given Milan’s investment in him, which could total around the £23 million mark, they will have been pleased to see him play with such punch from midfield.

Vincenco Montella has an expensively assembled side at his disposal, and it’s probably the time where the club hierarchy will start to expect more. 7th place in Serie A isn’t exactly excellent, and if Milan are to improve, they’ll need their big players to start coming to the party. Kessie showed that he’s on the way to doing just that, and if he and his teammates hope to truly get things going, he’ll need to play his part.

Put simply, Kessie must build upon his impressive, all-action display against Sassuolo, and with momentum now seemingly on his side, there’s no reason why the dynamic 20-year-old can’t do exactly that.

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