Ismael Bennacer: Giampaolo's new Torreira

05 July at 12:30
AC Milan are on the verge of completing a deal to sign Empoli midfielder Ismael Bennacer, the 21-year-old Franco-Algerian who was a product of Premier League side Arsenal's youth system.

Bennacer has been at Empoli since 2017, when he left London for Italy after making just one appearance in all competitions for the Gunners across two years at the club. Bennacer's deal included a 30% resale clause which means that, if the rumours of an €18m switch to Milan are to be believed, Arsenal will pocket around €6m of this.

Milan had already been linked to a name in the Arsenal sphere this summer, that of Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. Torreira to Milan was a fascinating prospect on the basis that it was new Milan head coach Marco Giampaolo who developed Torreira to the level he is at today, before the midfielder left Sampdoria to join Arsenal last summer. With Milan priced out of a move for Torreira, which would likely have set the club back around 40-50 million euros, the club have searched for an alternative piece for the Giampaolo puzzle. This piece is Ismael Bennacer.

From the image embedded above, we can see that Bennacer's statistical strengths and weaknesses are very similar to those of Torreira in his final season under Marco Giampaolo at Sampdoria in 17/18. The two share very similar passing attributes, with Bennacer slightly stronger with his long passing whilst Torreira's general passing accuracy and expected assists higher than the Algerian midfielder.

From this, we can immediately decipher that Bennacer has not been necessarily signed on the basis of him being the greatest player available to the club but because of his suitably to the role within the tactical system that Giampaolo employs. Within the coach's trademark 4-3-1-2, the Torreira/Bennacer role is slightly deeper than the partnering midfielders in the middle; designed at chasing down the ball and winning back possession, whilst helping ease the transition between defence and attack.

Where Torreira leads Bennacer, however, is in his defensive contribution. In his last season with Sampdoria, Torreira averaged around the 11 mark for ball recoveries per game, whilst Bennacer, for Empoli, has an average of approximately 8.5. Additionally, Torreira won a greater percentage of his defensive duels, in comparison with Bennacer, and also edged the Algerian in regards to interceptions per game.

However, this could be partly down to the varied role that Bennacer played within the Empoli set-up; playing a more advanced role, albeit only slightly, than Torreira's at Sampdoria. Under the right coaching from Giampaolo and effective integration into the system, it would be very surprising if Bennacer's chart did not more closely match that of Torreira come the end of the season, providing he completes the move to Milan as expected.

To conclude, Bennacer is a clever signing for Milan. As aforementioned it isn't necessarily the greatest signing, or a big-name at that, but it shows an increased level of intelligence from the Milan scouting team and one which offers a lot of hope for the future as the club attempt their rebuild in pursuit of a return to the Champions League.
Sam Wilson @snhw_


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