Stefano Pioli has rightfully earned plenty of praise in recent weeks, but the Milan boss is arguably mishandling Lucas Paqueta in terms of his role in the side.
The Rossoneri have six games remaining in Serie A this season, and with Roma four points ahead of us in the standings and Napoli just two in front, it’s all to play for still as we continue to battle for Europa League qualification.
In turn, every game matters between now and the end of the campaign and with those encounters being played every three days for the rest of this month, Pioli will need to rotate and call upon his entire squad in order to find the right solutions and keep everyone fresh.
Paqueta had started to make inroads as far as the starting XI was concerned, as off the back of his impressive impact off the bench against Roma, he played a more prominent role against SPAL and Lazio.
However, the 22-year-old Brazilian playmaker has now been hauled off at half-time in our last two games after disappointing efforts, and while he needs to be better and do more when given an opportunity to impress, it’s not helping his cause that he’s played out of position and given an unnatural role in the side.
Defensive assignments lead to struggles
While it was Juan Cuadrado against Juve and Mario Rui at Napoli, Paqueta struggled significantly in carrying out his defensive assignments successfully on both occasions.
The two full-backs in question constantly beat him for pace and power and pushed him further back and away from the final third to take away his attacking threat and make him look entirely uncomfortable and out of place.
In turn, it’s no real surprise that Pioli decided he needed to be replaced in both games. That said, when putting Paqueta in those difficult match-ups, what else was he expecting?
Don’t play Paqueta out wide
The Brazilian ace looks more threatening when playing through the middle as we saw against SPAL in particular, as it allows him to find pockets of space on the edge of the box and have an influence in our attacking play.
No goals and one assist in 26 games this season would suggest that he perhaps doesn’t have the confidence of Pioli to play that role with so much still on the line and with plenty of competition for places, but it’s surely the sensible option if he’s going to play.
Aside from potentially being a genuine goalscoring threat and having the chance to use his flair and technical quality to try and prise teams open, he would have gone up against the likes of Miralem Pjanic and Stanislav Lobotka in the last two games instead. Those are defensive assignments that he could arguably have more success doing as he is tenacious and has shown a good work-rate since joining us, and so he could have been a disruptive presence at least.
With that in mind, it’s hoped that his confidence and belief isn’t shot again after failing to deliver in the last two games, and importantly, if Pioli wants to see more from Paqueta, it starts with him and his decision-making on where he plays as playing out wide simply isn’t working for either the player or the team.