Milan’s summer loan signing from Real Madrid has impressed on quite a few occasions this season. However, few Milan fans would have suggested that the former Manchester City player had shown enough to warrant a starting spot. To everyone’s surprise, Stefano Pioli started Brahim Diaz against Juventus in what was quite possibly the biggest game of the season. The starting XI raised many eyebrows, but the coach got his tactics spot on, with Brahim Diaz being one of the stand-out performers, scoring the all-important opening goal – a superb strike which seemed to float into the top corner of Szczesny’s net. With this goal, the Spaniard became the youngest player to ever score for Milan in Juve’s stadium (21 years, 279 days).
Hakan Calhanoglu has been one of the first names on the team sheet for Stefano Pioli throughout the season, whenever fully fit, the Turkish play-maker starts. Whilst he has received quite a lot of criticism at times this year, and with an expiring contract – he has certainly been a point of interest, and even controversy. Calhanoglu’s problem has never been lack of talent, only his consistency of output. His shooting technique is arguably second-to-none, and his vision and ability to make things happen render him an extremely useful player when on form. However, he does have a few shortcomings – notably, his first touch can often leave a lot to be desired. Brahim Diaz on the other hand, offers something different from the Turkish playmaker – he has a low centre of gravity, can dribble in tight spaces and create chances – when he has the ball at the feet, it almost appears as if it’s sewn to his shoes!
Brahim’s only real shortcomings are his physicality (he can often go missing in games if he’s coming up against physically imposing teams) and his end-product – both aspects can be worked on, and at the tender age of 21 – he has ample time to do so. Much like Calhanoglu, his talent is there for all to see.
Stefano Pioli has tried playing Diaz and Calhanoglu on the field at the same time before the Juventus game, but crucially, he opted to put the Spanish talent on the left-wing and the former Bayer Leverkus attacking midfielder through the middle. This has been met with a mixed reception. However, he switched the pair against Il Bianconeri and the difference was profound.
The question remains, going forward (at least until the end of the season) – should Brahim Diaz be a starter? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s season possibly over with a knee injury, it’s likely that Pioli will start Ante Rebic in his place or fellow Croatian Mario Mandzukic. Of course, Rafael Leao remains an option for this position, although the Portuguese U-21 international has generally impressed more often as a left-winger than a striker. This means that if Pioli indeed opts for Rebic, (who played this position to great effect from the bench against Juventus) it could mean that an attacking midfield position opens up and if Pioli prefers to use Calhanoglu as a left-winger instead of through the middle, perhaps Brahim Diaz could finally have a run in the team. And after his impressive display in Piedmont, few would suggest he doesn’t deserve a chance.
It should be noted that Milan is yet to lose a Serie A match in which Diaz has played from the start, whether this is seen as simply a convenient stat that doesn’t tell the full story or an important piece of information that highlights the need for the 21-year-old Real Madrid loanee to start being used more often, is open to interpretation. However, at face value – it is quite an impressive statistic, with 9 wins in 12 games with the young Spanish talent playing from minute one. It does also show that he has the ability to step up in big games – which is crucial. AC Milan needs players who step up in big games, and Brahim has the potential to become one such player.
It’s unclear what the player’s future will be, it’s doubtful that Real Madrid will sell such a talent on the cheap (especially after they let Milan poach Theo Hernandez for 20 million euros only for the Frenchman to go on to become one of the best full-backs in Serie A and one of the Rossoneri’s most impressive signings in hindsight), and it’s debatable whether the Spaniard has shown enough to warrant a permanent deal just yet. It could be that the clubs settle on another loan spell with an option to buy, but that remains to be seen. Brahim Diaz hasn’t had a lot of chances to prove himself on the pitch this season, but he might as well have a few in the coming final and most important games in the campaign.