Non-Serie A watchers may not exactly know what has been going wrong for Krzysztof Piatek at AC Milan this season. After a scintillating introduction to the Serie A, he has almost fallen off a cliff. That has left many to wonder as to what has brought about this fall from grace. But the most recent link with last season’s Champions League finalists Tottenham could offer him renewed hope.
It is very much possible that hope is all they offer. Harry Kane is out of action until April due to a hamstring ligament issue, meaning Piatek would get regular first-team football. That isn’t the problem though. Piatek would love playing regular football in place of his ‘idol’ Kane, but he isn’t exactly the right fit.
The Pole’s problems this season have been largely down to Milan’s inability to give him service. This season, the rossoneri have created 24.05 XG this season- the 10th-best in the Serie A. The underperforming Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu have not helped. But that is less than struggling Genoa and unstable Fiorentina.
The change in managers at Milan has led to a lack of a proper system. Marco Giampaolo’s possession-based system was settling in before he got the sack. Stefano Pioli is failing to give the side an identity, even though they do have a set 4-3-3 formation.
Having said that, Piatek has underperformed massively on his XG. But it is also worth noting that the lack of service is very much visible.
Last season, Piatek’s tally of 22 goals saw him put away seven goals that had an XG of less than 0.10. He was scoring for fun sometimes, scoring eight in his first Serie A games for Il Diavolo. But in the whole campaign, he also scored five goals from shots that had XGs over 0.50. The highest one’s XG stood at 0.98.
He was scoring goals from close by because Milan and Genoa’s direct styles complimented his ability to be a fox-in-the-box striker. He was getting the service that allowed him to score from close-by. A combination of that and his tendency to rattle in shots that had low-probability of going in made him look like a world-class finisher.
This season, there has been stinking instability at the San Siro. Piatek has just one goal from open-play, scoring thrice from the spot. But his XG data from this season shows that others aren’t helping him.
The most worthy shot he’s had this season had the XG of 0.56. It came in stoppage time in Milan’s 2-1 loss to Walter Mazzarri’s Torino. Those type of shots and attempts on goal came regularly in Piatek’s way last season. This season, they have become a drop in the ocean.
Piatek isn’t enjoying life. He’s snapping at chances that he could’ve scored last season. When he was scoring shots worth very low XGs last term, he is yet to do that even once this season. The only goal from open play this season for the Pole came in Pioli’s first match in-charge. It had a worth of 0.40 XG- something Piatek needs more of to succeed.
Milan’s situation hasn’t exactly been conducive for development, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic now back. The technical demands of Giampaolo’s system didn’t help Piatek either. He’s better being the sort of striker who plays on the shoulder of the opposition defenders. He’s not as good with his back to goal. He isn’t adept at getting involved in play.
Talking of getting involved in play- that is what Kane does for Spurs under Jose Mourinho. He constantly comes deeper into midfield to receive the ball and open up spaces for upfront for Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura. Kane was a lot like Piatek about two seasons ago, but he’s become a more well-rounded player than he was before.
This season, Spurs have created a total XG of 27.17- less than Burnley. It is a little higher than Aston Villa, who too have been linked with Piatek. Despite that, Kane managed to overperform on his XG by 3.10- a heroic achievement, considering where Spurs would’ve been without him.
The England captain is putting away stiff chances, having scored goals with XGs as low as 0.2, 0.7 and 0.8. The goal with highest XG is 0.61- it came in Spurs’ 2-1 defeat to Liverpool. Kane has done all of this by taking only 2.8 shots per game- the lowest tally in a single season of his career.
Considering how Spurs have been in midfield, that is some achievement for the 26-year-old. Christian Eriksen’s situation has seen him get linked with Inter, with the Dane not signing a new deal. There has been a lack of creation from midfield and from the full-backs. Tanguy Ndombele has struggled with injuries, while Giovani Lo Celso is still settling in.
While it is impossible to say if any other striker could’ve overperformed like Kane has, Piatek has been in a similar situation at Milan. But he has been disappointing. The chances of around 0.40 XG that Kane has put away haven’t gone to plan for Piatek.
More than that, it is also about the system. Piatek is the typical centre-forward. He can’t play the role of a number ten that Kane does. Mourinho’s idea to drop Kane deep was a papering over cracks for Spurs’ lack of creativity. But asking Piatek to do that will only worsen Spurs. Because he isn’t the man to do that job.
To bring the most out of Piatek, Mourinho would need to change how his Spurs side plays. Piatek would need to remain on the shoulder of the last man. But the situation Spurs are in, there is limited guarantee he will get enough service too playing that way.
A winter signing of a playmaker can work though. And wringing out the last bits of Eriksen will do wonders. But on paper, Spurs potentially signing Piatek will be a huge gamble. The dynamics of the team will need a drastic change once again.