24 hours before Gonzalo Higuain endured a Vitality Stadium nightmare in only his second game for Chelsea, Krzysztof Piatek enjoyed a dream full debut for AC Milan. Piatek was, of course, the domino that pushed Higuain towards Chelsea, with the Polish striker taking the place of the Argentinean at San Siro, joining from Genoa for just over £30 million. The early signs are that one got the better deal over the other.
Higuain may well come good for Chelsea. There are serious problems to be ironed out at Stamford Bridge, illustrated by Maurizio Sarri’s remarks in recent weeks, and so the Argentinean might have to go through something of a transitional period before he can find top form. Piatek, on the other hand, hasn’t required such a period.
It took the 23-year-old just 11 minutes to find the net on his first AC Milan start, doubling his tally another 16 minutes later. It was quite the statement of intent from Piatek and his comments after the game hinted at a man ready to make his mark at one of the biggest, most romantic clubs in world football. “I expected a night like this,” he said. “I said that I was ready and I got a brace, but this is just the start.”
The rise of Piatek over the past six months has been astonishing. As recently as May last year, he was playing for Cracovia in the Polish Ekstraklasa division, making the move to Genoa for just €4 million in the summer. His goalscoring burst for the Rossoblu turned him into the most lethal frontman in Serie A, netting 19 times in 21 appearances.
It’s the longevity, or more accurately the lack thereof, of Piatek’s top level career that has led so many to label AC Milan’s move as something of a gamble. Indeed, the sample size on which to judge the forward is modest. The worry is that his recent form will be a flash in the pan and once again AC Milan will be left with an expensive flop.
But there’s just something about Piatek that suggests San Siro will be a natural stage for him. Much of it is intangible. Some players just bed into certain clubs from the very moment they take to the pitch for the first time, and Piatek looks the part as an AC Milan player. He could be the club’s next great forward.
Kalidou Koulibaly can’t have endured many more difficult nights than the one he faced against Piatek on Tuesday. Considered by many to be the best centre back in Serie A, one of the best in all of Europe, the Napoli defender was turned inside and out by Piatek, demonstrated best by the Pole’s second goal – when he stretched the pitch to latch on to a through ball, twisted and turned to create the space for the shot and curled an effort into the far corner of the net.
Ivan Gazidis, AC Milan’s new CEO hired from Arsenal at the end of last year, has placed an emphasis on targeting promising, young players with significant future market upside. Piatek certainly fits that bill. The bet AC Milan have made is that what has been witnessed over the past six months is only just the start for the Polish striker.
Dubbed the new Robert Lewandowski largely due to his roots, Piatek’s movement and positioning is what makes him so valuable. On top of that, he is more physical than his 6ft frame would suggest, posing a threat in the air as well as on the ground. Piatek can stretch the pitch in a matter of seconds. He is an opportunist, but not necessarily a poacher.
AC Milan have endured tough times of late. They are a shadow of the team that achieved greatness over the 1990s and early 2000s. It’s eight years since they were last champions of Italy. A watershed moment may have just passed, though. Piatek presents them with a way back to the top more than Higuain ever did.
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