Playmaker Giacomo Bonaventura is the pick of a select few players who have thrived this season despite AC Milan’s ongoing troubles, due in part to his coach’s unequivocal backing.
It’s been a difficult campaign for the Rossoneri under Serb tactician Sinisa Mihajlovic, who often cops flak even when the Milanese giants claim victory.
Their performance during a 2-0 home win over higher-placed rivals Fiorentina in mid-January certainly wasn’t pretty, nor was it particularly entertaining for the expectant crowd, but they got the job done in the end.
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Exactly half of their attacks attempted throughout the first half of that crucial triumph were concentrated down the left flank where the stellar Bonaventura featured, therefore highlighting his increasing importance to the cause.
Yet, they enjoyed only 31 per cent overall possession against the Viola – the second-lowest of any team behind AS Roma when they also faced Paulo Sousa’s men. Milan then followed that up by keeping just 38 per cent of the ball as they disappointingly drew 2-2 at perceived minnows Empoli.
All of which makes it exceedingly impressive that creator-in-chief Bonaventura overtook last term’s personal assist total way back on the first day of November, within an outfit who rarely hog possession, as well as almost doubling the amount of shots he’s dispatched per game compared to 2014-15.
Bonaventura struck seven league goals in his opening season at San Siro, whilst setting up four strikes for others after his switch from Atalanta.
That year spent working with former coach Filippo Inzaghi showcased the undoubted promise he possessed, but there was an overriding feeling that 'Pippo' never fully trusted his signing from Bergamo.
A lot of the credit for his recent explosion in confidence can be laid at the door of beleaguered boss Mihajlovic, who has built Milan’s attacking play around the 26-year-old.
He’s utilised Bonaventura through the middle of midfield and wide on the left; sometimes in a withdrawn role or more advanced on other occasions, dependent upon the fixture in question.
Mihajlovic has shifted him around in order to inflict the highest level of damage possible to lethal effect at times, plus his performance levels have remained consistently high in any given position.
Predecessor Inzaghi extracted something special out of ‘Jack’ Bonaventura infrequently, but his former charge has since progressed on to a much higher plane thanks to the influence of his new mentor.
The Marche native struck his sixth goal across all competitions to ensure a share of the spoils in the recent draw at Empoli; a result that did little to ease the pressure on his boss, but did no harm to his own blossoming reputation.
That effort was his 27th Serie A goal of his career, 18 of which have arrived away from home, thus underlining his threat on the counter.
Additionally, his seven top-flight assists accrued throughout 2015-16 – up to and including that clash on January 23 – is a record only bettered by Napoli star Lorenzo Insigne.
He’s fast, technically-gifted and runs into space expertly in order to deliver a killer pass or hit the back of the net himself, which has seen his status ascend markedly this term.
Mihajlovic placed faith in his maturing playmaker to the tune of 19 league starts from his first 21 Serie A matches at the helm, thus putting him joint-top in the number of starting line-up appearances alongside comrades Carlos Bacca and Alessio Romagnoli.
Forward Bacca has also struck up a fine understanding with Bonaventura, consequently allowing the Colombian penalty-box predator to pounce upon a fair chunk of the 49 goalscoring chances created in Serie A by his outstanding team-mate.
The Diavolo may not be accruing points with the arrogant swagger and incisive style of old, but precious gem Bonaventura regularly bucks that trend by producing that little bit of magic to light up otherwise uninspiring contests.
Former Inter defender Mihajlovic may not be winning many friends on the other side of the city divide, but his utter belief in and clever usage of Italian international Bonaventura is benefitting his club and prized asset alike.