By 90Min
September 30, 2019

AC Milan were 3-0 down at home to Fiorentina on Sunday night. The side were down to ten men after Mateo Musacchio was sent off for an ugly lunge on Franck Ribery, and the crowd had turned against the players. You could see the players were feeling sorry for themselves. They had been well beaten.

Then one man stepped up.

Rafael Leao picked the ball up, still ten yards outside the Fiorentina penalty area, surrounded by opponents. There appeared to be little danger, but he fearlessly drove at the defence, slaloming his way into the box before finding the corner of the net. An outstanding solo goal.

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It did not spark a comeback, with the Rossoneri succumbing to a 3-1 defeat, their third loss in eight days, and fourth already this season. It is their worst start to a campaign since the 1938/39 campaign.

Still, Leao offers the supporters hope. Playing in a team low on confidence, with a new manager that has yet to find his best side nor his best formation, the forward has shone in recent games.

Milan manager Marco Giampaolo has made some strange decisions this season. From playing Fabio Borini in central midfield, to regularly leaving out established internationals such as Lucas Paqueta and Ante Rebic, it has been difficult to understand what Giampaolo's plans are for this side. He even started Andre Silva at the end of August, before allowing the player to leave on a two year loan deal to Eintracht Frankfurt two days later. Frankly bizarre.

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Meanwhile, Leao made just one appearance off the bench in the first three Serie A games of the season, and seemed to only be on the fringes of the side. That was until the first Milan derby of the season. Out of nowhere, he was thrown into the starting lineup to face league leaders Inter. Talk about a baptism of fire.

Yet Leao took it in his stride. Playing from an unfamiliar position on the left, he was up against the experienced Diego Godin. The Uruguayan defender produced a fine display as Inter cantered to a 2-0 win, but Leao had his moments. Enough to earn him another start just five days later against Torino.

Again, Milan lost that match. Again, Leao was one of the only positives on the night. He won the penalty which gave Milan a first half lead, which they threw away after the break. 

The side were a shambles on Sunday night. Ismael Bennacer gave away two penalties, Hakan Calhanoglu gifted possession to the visitors for the opening goal, and Musacchio had a night he would like to forget.

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Then you have the other two attackers in the front line alongside Leao. Suso, so often the creator in the team, was putting in hopeful crosses, whilst Krzysztof Piatek's hold-up play was non-existent.

Amid the chaos, Leao had to deliver for his side. He did just that. 

Giampaolo deserves credit for playing the youngster. Now he must start playing Leao in his best position. 

Leao is a striker being played on the left wing. Yet it is already clear to see that his main success has come when he has drifted inside. It allowed him to score his goal on Sunday, and it caused Torino's defence to panic and bring him down for a penalty last week. 

Giampaolo has a decision to make. Does he drop Piatek for Leao, or does he play the pair together and revert to his favoured 4-3-1-2 formation?  He must do one or the other, as his current formula is not working.

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Leao has only been in the side for just over a week, but he is fast becoming indispensable. 

The fans have been desperate for players who can make them believe that Milan's miserable season can be turned around. In Leao, they may just have found one.

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