Last week, Milan completed the signing of Portuguese forward Rafael Leao; bringing the 20-year-old to Italy from Ligue 1 side Lille in a deal worth a reported €30m.
With Patrick Cutrone heading to Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers and the Rossoneri‘s continued attempts to offload Portuguese forward Andre Silva, Leao could become a truly vital part of the Milan machine for years to come.
But what can the forward bring to the Serie A club? I have put together some statistical analysis, as well as some player comparisons, to give a comprehensive look into the new Rossoneri front-man.
What kind of player is Leao?
Rafael Leao has a diverse skill-set, one which makes him a valuable and versatile asset for a number of offensive roles. Although primarily a striker, the Portuguese forward can play as a second-striker, as well as on the left-wing. Although he is unlikely to feature in either of these positions for Marco Giampaolo at Milan initially, he will be able to star as a valuable partner to Krzysztof Piatek in the new head coach’s front two.
As you can see, Leao possesses some key statistical strengths for a striker. With a goal conversion percentage of 23.3%, Leao is a clinical forward who, with 2.27 attempts on goal per 90 minutes, picks and chooses his goal-scoring chances; instead of firing many attempts in with a poor accuracy rate.
With a shot accuracy of 61.8%, Leao further demonstrates his clinical nature; an important attribute for a forward who will likely receive less chances each game than Piatek. By this, Leao could be the perfect partner for the Polish striker in Giampaolo’s 4-3-1-2; which is only supported more by his influence in the build-up phase.
Last season, for Lille, Leao registered an xA p/90 of around 0.13, higher than over half of the forwards in Serie A in the 18/19 campaign. Leao’s pass accuracy, although perhaps worrying on face value, is indicative of his preference to attempt riskier passes that have a greater pay-off to them.
Despite attempting few dribbles per 90 minutes, Leao does succeed in over half of those and holds a similar status in regards to his aerial ability. In all, Leao is a quality all-round forward who, at aged 20, possesses the current skill to fight for a place in Giampaolo’s first XI, whilst with plenty of time to develop, learn and grow under the new coach; especially given Giampaolo’s success with developing young players in the past.
How does Leao compare with others?
Rafael Leao has been signed to replace Italian forward Patrick Cutrone, who left Milan to sign for Premier League side Wolves this summer. As Cutrone embarks on a new journey, there have been some questions on whether or not this was a good move. However, Cutrone’s 18/19 campaign suggests that the Rossoneri have made the right decision; the Italian struggling in all fields.
As you can see from the radar chart comparison, Cutrone really struggled to make an impact last season. Compared to other Serie A strikers last season, Cutrone ranked within the bottom 10% for his aerial success, dribble success and attempted shots. Furthermore, he ranked within the lowest 20% for goal conversion % and xG.
As you can see by the chart, despite Leao’s statistics being registered in Ligue 1, he far exceeds the Italian in a range of attributes; with stronger strengths and a greater consistency amongst the various categories. Leao should prove to bolster Milan’s front line and, as aforementioned, be the perfect foil to Piatek in the strikeforce.
The second comparison worth noting is between Leao and Gregoire Defrel; who played the same role for Giampaolo last season that the Portuguese striker will for the coach this campaign. Defrel was the Leao to Giampaolo’s previous Piatek, Fabio Quagliarella. Quagliarella finished the Serie A season as the top scorer and this was, in part, down to the support he received from the rest of the team.
As you can see, the two share some similar strengths; especially when compared with the overlay of Leao and Cutrone’s charts. Although Defrel is more successful with his dribbling, as well as attempting more per 90 minutes, Leao is stronger in the air, as well as registering more attempts on goal and receiving a higher expected goals statistic.
As I mentioned in the thread on my Twitter, Leao is yet another indicator of the smart scouting and recruitment employed by AC Milan this summer. Instead of aiming for big name signings that would cost upwards of 50 million euros each, the Rossoneri have instead targeted those who will be valuable building blocks for the future, as well as possessing the talent, quality and traits to serve as important for the present.
Leao may not be the most well known player, or the most experienced but was deservedly one of the most coveted players this summer; teams from across Europe competing for his signature. He will likely take time to adapt but, in the years to come, could become a vital part of this new Milan era.
You can follow me on Twitter here, where I post all my analysis first and foremost and where you can find many other analysis I have created but are yet to convert to a post – and, if you wish to support me, you can donate just £3, the cost of a price of a cup of coffee, to help me afford all the software I use to produce these charts.