From Theo to De Ketelaere: The Tops and Flops of Milan in 2022/23

When a club heads into the campaign as the reigning defending champion, the expectations ought to be high. While Milan weren’t the odds-on favorites to retain the Scudetto title in everyone’s book, fans and observers alike expected the team to mount a serious challenge at the very least.

Yet, the Rossoneri were unable to maintain pace with runaways leaders Napoli who clinched their first league title in 33 years by uncrowning the Northern giants, even though Milan had the upper hand in direct encounters, both at the domestic and European level.

At the end of the season, the Diavolo managed to secure their spot in next season’s edition of the Champions League, mostly thanks to Juve’s 10-point deduction, while their promising European campaign ended in a devastating defeat at the hands of their crosstown rivals Inter in the semi-finals.

So it’s time to recognize the best performers as well as the most disappointing in what was a generally underwhelming campaign for Milan.

Flop #3: Pierre Kalulu

First of all, we must reiterate that the “Flops” aren’t necessarily the worst performers among the club’s ranks, but rather those who fell off the mark based on the expectations laid on their shoulders.

Following a brilliant 2021/22 campaign where he cemented himself as one of the best-rising defenders in Italian football, Pierre Kalulu failed to replicate his exploits this term. At times, he seemed to be a shadow of his former self.

While it wasn’t entirely his fault, the 22-year-old took part in some shambolic displays at the back, committing amateurish blunders. Eventually, the Frenchman fell in the pecking order in favor of the aging Simon Kjaer and the young Malick Thiaw.

Top #3: Brahim Diaz

This season, the club’s campaign has been plagued by a series of ill-advised signings, and chief among them is Charles De Ketelaere (more on him later). But luckily for Stefano Pioli, Brahim Diaz took his game up a notch in saving-grace timing.

In his first two campaigns at Milanello, the Spaniard often struggled for consistency. But while he still tends to blow hot and cold, he surely delivered the goods this season, establishing himself as a key figure in the starting lineup and the main source of creativity in the middle of the park.

Finding a decisive agreement with Real Madrid will be essential for Milan who must avoid losing the services of another key player as it’s been the case in recent years.

Flop #2: Yacine Adli

The less we say about this one the better.

This summer, Yacine Adli will most likely leave Milan, whether on a temporary or permanent move, effectively ending a spell that never truly took off the ground.

When the Italian giants signed the young Frenchman, he was considered among the most exciting talents in Ligue 1, but he only managed to amass six Serie A appearances this season, with only one as a starter.

Top Signing: Malick Thiaw

In what turned out to be a disastrous summer transfer campaign for Milan, Malick Thiaw was arguably the lone bright spot. The young German defender remains a raw talent, but he showcased enough promise to collect an adequate amount of playing time in his maiden Serie A campaign.

The 21-year-old is physically imposing and has decent on-the-ball skills for a defender, so he has all the makings of a remarkable modern center-back.

Top #2: Rafael Leao

Last season, Rafael Leao ended the campaign with a Scudetto title and an MVP award. Therefore, his current season pales in comparison with last term. Nonetheless, the Portuguese remains the most influential player in Pioli’s ranks, at times dragging his team over the finish line with superb displays.

With 14 goals and 15 assists across all competitions, the 23-year-old’s numbers speak for themselves, but he misses out on the ultimate Top spot due to a slow start to the season and a forgettable post-World Cup period that saw him dropped from the starting Milan XI.

Flop #1: Charles De Ketelaere

Last summer, Milan directors Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara spent their entire transfer campaign chasing the signature of De Ketelaere.

Eventually they secured the attacking midfielder’s services for almost 40 million euros, but sadly for the club, the young man hasn’t only been the biggest flop at Milan, but arguably in the entire league.

Whether he started matches or came in as a substitute, his impact was little to none. While we shouldn’t entirely rely on stats before passing a judgment, zero goals and one assist across all competitions are telling enough.

At this point, Milan can only maintain the Belgian for another campaign and hope for the best, as they’re unlikely to receive an offer that repays what they spent last summer.

Lost Case: Tiemoué Bakayoko

For arguably the fourth straight year, Tiemoué Bakayoko has endured another forgettable campaign as his playing career remains on a spiral downward.

At this point, the Frenchman doesn’t even qualify as a Flop despite his non-existent campaign, simply because the Rossoneri faithful didn’t place any hopes on his contribution in the first place.

Honorable Mentions: Mike Maignan and Olivier Giroud

While these two weren’t among the Top Three Milan performers of the season, Mike Maignan and Olivier Giroud still deserve some credit for another fine campaign.

The goalkeeper was remarkably solid between the posts whenever available, but his long layoff was a major blow to the club’s campaign, with his replacement Ciprian Tatarusanu unable to fill the void left by his absence.

As for Giroud, the 36-year-old is still proving that age is just a number, as he remains the striker that the team resorts to in razor-tight affairs, with his clinical finish making the difference on several important occasions.

Top #1: Theo Hernandez

Was it Theo’s finest campaign at Milan? Honestly speaking, this one fell short when compared to last term which was absolutely sensational. Yet, the left-back remains arguably the club’s most consistent performer and go-to star when it comes to unlocking defenses.

The Frenchman contributed with four goals and five assists across all competitions, and this includes some marvelous efforts, like his jaw-dropping solo goal against Atalanta.

The 25-year-old hasn’t reached the peak of his career just yet, but he already has a strong claim as the best player in his position on the European scene, and Milan are incredibly fortunate to have a star of his caliber at their disposal.

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