Serie A has another Maldini: Daniel Maldini, the 18-year-old son of AC Milan icon Paolo Maldini and grandson of the late Italian national coach Cesare Maldini has already made his debut in Italy’s top league. In the Milan jersey, which his father had worn in 647 Serie A games between 1985 and 2009, the teenager came on as a substitute against Hellas Verona in the 90th minute. “My dream has come true. The Serie A debut was my goal, I hope I can continue,” said Maldini, who has a contract with the Rossoneri until 2024 and is a product of the Milan youth academy.
In four other Serie A matches, the Italian youngster was in the matchday squad. The first half of the season, Maldini played in Milan´s U19. As you will see in this tactical analysis, he showed good performances. During this and the next season, Maldini will establish his own entity more and more for every game he plays.
Role in the system
He has been one of the most impactful players in the Primavera this season, where he has taken on the role of an offensive orchestrator mainly from his central offensive midfield position in the 4-3-1-2 formation.
As opposed to last season when he played mostly on either wing, coach Federico Giunti has maximised Maldini a lot more this season by playing him centrally. He definitely likes to be fielded in a free role as an attacking midfielder, where he is given space to roam the pitch. As you can see on his heatmap, the formation still allows him to shift to the wings during the game.
The results are a testament to this: in 15 games across all competitions this season, he has scored 9 goals and assisted 5. These are already more goal contributions than last year, except he has played 11 games less. He has been a standout player and a star for the Primavera with an average of 0,67 goals per game.
As you will see in this analysis, his skill set lies mostly in his eye for the game and touch on the ball as an advanced playmaker. That is the key reason as to why he gets more out of his game this season compared to last season.
Instead of focusing on the likes of 1-vs.-1 duels, crossing, and relying on limited speed, he gets more time with the ball in a central role and he can focus on playmaking, creating spaces for his teammates and shooting.
Often, Maldini´s overview benefits the game of the whole team. In the following image, Maldini has not much space and no time to make a decision. Nevertheless, he creates a dangerous goal-scoring opportunity by laying off the ball to a free-standing teammate.
His ability to play perfect-timed long-range passes in addition to his overview is an outstanding feature in Maldini´s playing style. That is why he can help the defence with the build-up play by using the whole width of the pitch. Therefore, he is well-known for his fast direction shifts in possession and vision to make through passes to his teammates. By using these, he provides dynamism to the team’s offensive third plays.
In the image below, Maldini drops deep to receive the ball and to shift the point of the attack. By doing this, he breaks the attacking and the midfield line of Venezia´s U19.
Another example: Maldini is in the midfield area with not much space looking for an efficient exit. Smartly, he uses the width of the whole pitch. Therefore, he plays a long pass out wide to Milan´s right fullback who has lots of space in front of him.
Creativity & Intelligence
It is not only his numbers which set Maldini apart from most of the Primavera team, but it is also his maturity in decision-making both on and off the ball, his way of thinking about football and his technical skills.
His decision-making within the box is maybe one of Maldini´s biggest strengths. He always has an eye for a free-standing teammate in a better position. That is why, the young Italian is a particularly good goal-scorer, but also an exceptionally good assister.
In the next image, Maldini is the initiator of the attack. He plays a clever one-two pass with Milan´s number seven. Standing in a central position, Maldini passes the ball to Milan´s left-back who easily can score a goal from five meters.
The next image shows Maldini´s technical ability paired with his intelligence. Even though he has his back to the goal, he knows how to react quickly. He turns with just one contact and assists a teammate to another goal.
Down below, Maldini has the goal in his back again. Receiving a pass, he reacts quickly and sets up his teammate with a back-heeled pass. In this situation, his technical ability, his decision-making, his creativity, and his intelligence let him shine at one and the same time.
One element is essential when it comes to Maldini´s creativity. To know what to do next, he must be aware of the opponents next steps. Therefore, before receiving the ball, Maldini turns his head to check the space around him. He checks how much space he has, where his teammates are positioned and where the opponents are positioned. Then, he can decide which move he will do next. By receiving the ball, Maldini already knows his next step. Even if this element is an essential of many world-class midfielders, not many young players have this ability at the beginning of their career.
As already mentioned, Maldini has an outstanding technique. Even more important is that he knows how to use it wisely. He displays his natural technique to take fast decisions in tight spaces as he is a press-resistant player.
Often, the youngster attracts multiple opponents. Because of his technique, he can leave them behind. Afterwards, he has lots of options to pass the ball to a free-standing man who has lots of space. Because of his good overview, he can set them up anytime.
In the next image, Maldini is surrounded by two opponents. He has little space but by keeping his head up, he can see lots of space in the midfield area. He plays the ball to one teammate in this area, who then can use the space.
In the following example, Maldini receives the ball and again, he has to push through two opponents. By using his technical ability, he slides past the defenders and creates lots of space for himself and three of his teammates.
Another example: Maldini wins the ball back and is ready to counterattack. He is surrounded by five opponents. But, he is able to pass the ball to a free-standing teammate by shifting to the side.
It is obvious, that Maldini has his biggest strengths on the ball. Nevertheless, his off-the-ball movement is a key feature in Milan´s U19 game too. He is creative with his off-the-ball movements and likes to find the best space to receive the ball with good timings.
As mentioned earlier already, Maldini helps with the build-up play and that is why he is the initiator of lots of attacks. Often, he drops deep between the opponents offensive and midfield line to receive the ball from the own defenders. From this position, he passes the ball on to a teammate. Instead of waiting to see what happens next, he always tries to help during the attack. Therefore, he uses perfect-timed surging runs from the own half into the opponent´s penalty area.
In the image below, Maldini drops deep to participate in Milan´s build-up play. He receives the ball between the opponent´s offensive and midfield line and passes it on to his teammate. Immediately, he starts to run centrally towards the opponent´s box.
Shortly afterwards, Maldini is in a good position while Milan has a goal-scoring opportunity with three attackers against only two defenders.
As you can see above, this method is very efficient during a counterattack. Nevertheless, the procedure is also a weapon to force the defenders to shift and therefore, to create space against deep-lying opponents.
In the example below, Milan is dominant and has lots of possession during the whole match. The opponents are in a very defensive shape trying to leave no space in a dangerous area. With short passes, it is extremely hard to break the defensive line. That is why Maldini uses his off-the-ball movement once again. First, he shifts the point of the attack by playing a pass out wide to the right full-back.
Instantly, he starts a run from deep into the opponent´s penalty area once again. The right full-back has lots of time and space to create a goal-scoring opportunity. Therefore, he has to play a well-timed cross into this area.
Maldini’s level of maturity says a lot given the extra weight he has on him due to simply his surname. The expectations are sky-high in the Rossonero community just by the surname he spots on the back of his shirt. But he seems unfazed by it. Furthermore, Maldini is rather determined to prove that it is what he can offer which makes him special, not the name on his back.
He is not counting on getting chances because he is the son of a former Milan legend and the current technical director. He is working hard to earn his chances, just like the rest of the young guns in the Primavera.
For the Primavera, he is always one of the hardest-working players. He moves around to collect the ball to bring it up the field, he presses with intensity when out of possession, and he works hard in defence. He is always hungry for the ball, to create, and to win.
Therefore, he often helps with defensive work and he does not consider himself too good for a tackle or a defensive 1-vs.-1 duel. Maldini is a well-rounded team player. He uses his intelligence and his ability to read the game in these defensive situations as well. He tries to anticipate the next step of the opponent and can save his legs by cutting passing lines wisely.
In the image below, Maldini is cutting the passing line and goes for a ground-tackle to intercept the opponent´s attack.
But as with every player, there are always areas to improve. In Maldini’s case, there is mainly one: physicality.
Maldini is, as said earlier, his best whilst having the ball at his feet. However, he could improve his body strength to help himself fend off his opponents better. Today, he has tendencies to get knocked off the ball a bit easy. Despite his height of 186 cm he only wins 33,3% of his aerial duels.
His overall game would really benefit from having more muscle. It would help him in both defensive and offensive duels, and it could give him a longer time on the ball if he could hold off his opponents better. Time that in the end could improve the quality in his end product and his offensive orchestrating.
In the three following examples, the opponents can easily cut the ball off from Maldini because of his lack of upper-body strength and balance.
Maldini could also improve his close control in high tempo. He sometimes seems to be stressed and lose control of the ball whilst carrying it up the field – although he has become significantly better at this just since last season. Especially during counterattacks, this issue can be very disappointing for the whole team.
The image below shows Maldini in possession during a counterattack. Running down the wing, he puts the ball in front – but, he cannot reach it afterwards. The match continues with the opponent´s goal kick instead of a goal for Milan.
Another example: This time, Maldini is in the midfield area and in possession. If he uses this possession wisely, Milan could create a goal-scoring opportunity after winning the 3-vs.-3 situation. But, he could not control the ball. That is why he has to stop the attack and loses the 1-vs.-1 because of his lack of physicality.
However, this is something which will improve by itself with game time, training, age, and experience.
Overall, Maldini could be regarded as one of the better talents coming from the Primavera in recent years. Especially now, when he is being utilised in his rightful position. This season he has shown tremendous progress and the fact that he stayed with the first team throughout pre-season, trains with them and has featured on the bench this season is a testament that the coaching staff and management recognised his talent and progress.
The few that are on par with him are striker Luan Capanni and midfielder Marco Brescianini. There is a reason why Maldini has been chosen to feature on the bench with for the first team and train with Stefano Pioli’s, the former Inter manager. He is closing in on being ready, and the transition to the first team has already started as he came on for the final few seconds of the 1-1 draw with Hellas Verona.
After having seen Christian Maldini – the brother of Daniel – leave Milan in 2016, it now seems that the Maldini family’s legacy has a good chance of being continued at Milan. Daniel Maldini is creating his own legacy and is establishing himself apart from the rest of the Maldini’s for every game he plays. Early prediction: there is a bright future ahead for the 18-year-old.