Finding a possible replacement for Rafael Leao

We are trying to find the best possible replacements for Rafael Leao, a player tempted by the best teams in Europe.

Published:11/10/2022

Established as one of the best forwards in Serie A and the top European leagues, Rafael Leao‘s future at AC Milan is uncertain. His extraordinary growth and the economic power of the clubs that want him, make an exit of the Portuguese forward more and more possible. Finding a replacement would not be easy, but the options on the market are very interesting.

In this analysis we have selected a series of players who fit some basic parameters (age and maximum market value) to cross-reference them with the strictly footballing ones. To do so, we will take into account the profile that Rafael Leao occupies and represents in Pioli’s Milan and which players could carry out a similar role in style and level from the very beginning, which would rule out a very young profile that needs time and experience.

The first important question to take into account is the mixed character between striker and winger that defines Leao, a 1’88m, very powerful player, who starts on the wing and finishes in the box and whose absence would not only leave Milan without almost three dribbles per 90 minutes, but also with a deficit in playmaking, assists, finishing and goals. A complete attacker, he goes where few players in the world can go.

In order to find potential replacements, we have mixed players who would make a career leap after having been close to doing so recently with others who have already shown real performance in Serie A. Among the former we find Cody Gakpo, whose radar is compared, in the photo above, to Leao’s. To be as accurate as possible, we have added the following metrics to the radar to further enhance Leao’s quality:

  • Ball Retention and Ball Retention in Opp. half
  • Expected threat in play (xT)
  • Finishing (percentage of shots on goal that are goals)

    The PSV Eindhoven player is improving on a performance that almost took him to the Premier League but didn’t happen. Gakpo combines all the characteristics present in this mixed profile between a winger with dribbling and speed, increasing his goalscoring ability, a fundamental trait for a Milan team that does not have great goalscorers either (Giroud, Origi or De Ketelaere).
  • Gakpo is the most suitable profile for his speed off the ball, taking into account that, in the short term, Milan would occupy the centre forward position and the right winger by players with little speed, achieving with Gakpo to be able to run alongside Theo Hernandez on the left wing.

  • This profile also fits with the great sensation of Serie A this season, the Georgian Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, a very vertical player with great determination in the final metres, to whom Milan could have access if they receive a large amount of money for Leao’s transfer. The Georgian adds imagination and finishing from the left flank, perfectly fitting the profile required by the Rossoneri.
  • Two different options are Martin Terrier and Matheus Cunha. With the former, Milan can advance the possible replacement of Olivier Giroud and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, knowing that the Frenchman can also play on the left wing, being able to alternate systems with him if the project moves in another direction. Terrier has less dribbling but a great ability to play surrounded by opponents and a lot of goals in the box. For his part, Atlético Madrid’s Brazilian stands out for his versatility, depth and mobility, both close to and away from the box and offering both inside and from the left flank.

We are Driblab, a consultancy specialized in the statistical analysis of players and teams; our work is focused on advising and minimizing risk in professional football decision-making in areas related to talent detection and footballer evaluations. Our database has more than 200,000 players from more than 180 competitions, covering information from all over the world. Here you can learn more about how we work and what we offer.

Autor: Alejandro Arroyo
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