On Tuesday night, AC Milan secured a crucial 1-0 victory against Tottenham in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16.
It was a game that was largely forgettable, with neither team producing any real moments of quality, but Rafael Leao‘s presence on the pitch ensured that at least the neutrals were kept interested.
The Portuguese forward was a constant menace to the Tottenham defence, showcasing his remarkable skill and ability to run at defenders with the ball.
Leao’s 7.8-rated performance in the match was truly mesmerizing, with the young forward consistently teasing Spurs with his quick feet and tricky dribbling. He completed a staggering 9 dribbles, the same amount as every other player on the pitch combine! This is a feat that no player has accomplished in a single Champions League game this season.
His unpredictability kept the Tottenham defence on their toes, always wondering when something special would happen if he was on the ball.
Despite taking more risks than most, Leao hardly lost the ball. The London club only managed to dispossess him twice, despite his attempt at a match-high 12 dribbles, which is double the amount of the next closest player. Leao’s large frame also came into play, allowing him to win an impressive 13 duels, the most by any player on the pitch that night.
Leao was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch last night and was integral to Milan‘s victory.
This was exemplified in a few big moments during the game where Leao provided something special. Leao would have found himself on the stat sheet as he produced a sensational cross that found Malick Thiaw in the box, but unfortunately, Thiaw could only divert his header wide of the post. It was a perfect cross that should have been converted into a goal.
Leao was involved in two more chances that Milan could have scored. The first was when he delivered an incredible cross into the box that Olivier Giroud managed to win with his head, setting up the Belgian forward De Ketelaere. However, the latter failed to connect properly with his header, missing a golden opportunity to double Milan’s lead. In the very next minute, Leao once again put in a great delivery that found Messias in a prime position to score from point-blank range, but the striker missed the target by inches.
For what it is worth, Leao showed he deserves a wage that he would consider indicative of his role at Milan since contract negotiations continue in secret at San Siro.
Leao’s current contract expires in 2024, and while negotiations continue, a number of Premier League teams are keeping an eye on his status in the hope that he may become available. AC Milan director Paolo Maldini claimed in September that Chelsea had a £62 million verbal offer for the player rejected last summer, and the Blues might renew their interest at the conclusion of the season.
After last night’s performance, Jermaine Jenas, a TV pundit, gave his two cents, saying that Leao is worth a gamble for any team since he possesses all of the characteristics necessary to win at the highest level –
I saw enough to know that I would buy him…100 per cent, he’s young. He just glides by people. He doesn’t even look like he’s running, he’s just gone.
Rio Ferdinand also agreed, saying –
There’s enough to work with, isn’t there?
Jenas then continued –
On the end product, we could be sitting here saying he’s got two assists today if two of his teammates could head it.
It is no surprise that Leao is attracting interest from Premier League clubs, as he has the potential to be a star player for years to come. He has been in good form this season, scoring 8 goals in 25 appearances in Serie A, and his performance against Tottenham was further proof of his immense talent.
For Milan, Leao’s form is a major boost as they aim to secure Champions League qualification for next season. The Italian giants are currently second in Serie A, and Leao’s performances will be crucial in the remainder of the season as they look to secure their place in the top four.