Push Notification
Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Ismaël Bennacer: What makes him AC Milan’s unsung hero this season? – scout report

Each season there are players that go under the spotlight and are described as “key” for their teams, and there are players who are crucial, but no one really talks about. AC Milan’s best performers have been widely discussed, especially after their Scudetto-winning 2021/22 season. However, there are players that have been pivotal in their success that are not as widely recognised as their teammates. One of them is Ismaël Bennacer.

The Rossoneri midfielder has played a pivotal role in their tactics and has helped them maintain consistency to be able to get back to the Serie A leading positions despite the limited playing minutes he got last season. While there were concerns over the team’s midfield performance after Hakan Çalhanoğlu’s and Franck Kessié’s departures, they have managed to keep the high level of discipline thanks to Bennacer.

The Algerian’s passing abilities and movement help for a cohesive performance in possession and create a balance between the lines which is key for their success in attack.

His impact out of possession shouldn’t be underestimated as well as he supports the team’s pressing efforts successfully and frequently prevents them from conceding dangerous attacks.

In this scout report, we use tactical analysis to examine his importance to Stefano Pioli’s side and explain what makes him one of the most underestimated yet important players in the squad.

Bennacer’s role in Milan’s tactics

Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report
His heatmap shows his box-to-box movement

Milan achieved a balanced-out performance under Pioli over the last few years. The team stick to their 4-2-3-1 formation and rely on high intensity in attack. They aim to have more of the ball and frequently threaten the goal through a lot of movement and individual skill from players like Theo Hernández and Rafael Leão who have been praised for their attacking contributions.

However, to succeed with their actions in possession, they have relied on Bennacer who fulfils the role of a regista for the team. Being deployed in a defensive midfield position allows the team to use his passing to progress the ball efficiently and his smart movement to add more bodies in the advanced areas and create havoc.

His ability to distribute the ball to quality areas and support his teammates’ movement is extremely valuable for the team. That’s why he is highly involved in building up from the back and combining with the defenders with the aim to bypass the press and advance the ball.

While he is very active in possession, his deep-lying position requires high awareness and concentration defensively. He is responsible for providing support to the defensive line and helping with ball interceptions, covering the depth and pressing the opposition. His ball recovery ability is one of his strongest assets which is key for Milan’s defensive performance as he often moves to the opposition’s half where he tries to recover possession.

Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report tactical analysis tactics
Not only the Algerian follows his marked tightly, but he also covers depth for Hernandez who moves out of his position to cover the ball carrier.

His role suggests that he has to be confident in direct challenges and have a good understanding of the game to be able to anticipate the opposition’s movement.

Bennacer’s contribution in possession

The Algerian’s contribution to Milan’s actions in possession is defined by his passing abilities. Using his deep position to support building up from the back and help with ball progression has allowed his teammates more freedom to move forward.

He would usually stay close to the backline so he can receive the ball and then try to progress it. While his position requires him to stay mainly in the deeper areas, Bennacer often moves out of Milan’s half to help with ball progression and bypassing the press.

That’s where he combines his strong positioning with meticulous passing which he uses to either spread the ball out wide or to break the opposition lines centrally. His 2022/23 passing map shows the frequency of his passes along with the areas he distributes in. His deliveries are key not only for retaining possession and ball progression but also for creating attacking opportunities. The map shows that he rarely sends the ball back and he always aims to provide forward passes and to the ball out of the defence.

Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report
2022/23 passing map

As it also suggests, he often goes for long balls trying to dismiss the opposition’s press and deliver the ball behind the defence. Bennacer often initiates switches of play, which helps the team in breaking through different defensive structures.

Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report tactical analysis tactics
Bennacer’s vision is demonstrated by a long ball behind the defence. He frequently moves into such advanced positions to support the attacking actions.

Bennacer averages two through balls per 90 which support his attacking teammates’ movement.

His partnership with Sandro Tonali as a double pivot grew on Pioli and he started relying on them both more frequently. The Algerian is responsible for orchestrating play through his 89.8% pass completion rate and composure while providing Tonali with more time and space to cover ground and support his team whenever needed. The Algerian also supports the team’s counter-attacking actions. Milan

His impact off the ball 

Bennacer’s defensive impact is impressive as well. While he does focus on forward playing and creating opportunities for the team in possession, his discipline and concentration off the ball make him an even more valuable addition to the team.

The 24-year-old’s tactical intelligence and anticipation skills allow him to use his positioning to successfully block opposition attacks, while his well-timed interventions make him successful in 1vs1 situations.

His positioning is key for covering depth as the defenders often have ball-playing functions and move out of their positions. The midfielder can successfully identify attacking movements and action upon it either through pressing or diving into direct challenges.

He is particularly efficient in his pressing efforts and averages 11.47 ball recoveries per 90, supporting the team out of possession and often stopping dangerous attacks early on. Impressively, despite his considerably deep position, 57.6% of his recoveries are done in the opposition half. This allows Milan to employ their high press strategy and helps them in gaining back possession in the advanced areas where they can quickly make a turnover and create a goalscoring opportunity.

Bennacer’s actions directly impact the team’s time on the ball and increase their possession rate.

Ismael Bennacer at Milan - scout report
Map of his 2022/23 high regains.

As the map above suggests, he frequently regains possession in the advanced area, especially through his counter-pressing actions. This is extremely valuable for the Rossoneri and often helps them to keep the momentum and stay in attacking positions.

He has also contributed to five shots through his recoveries as his recovery of possession has resulted in threatening the goal within 20 seconds afterwards.

The Algerian is involved in 8.6 defensive duels on average with a 60.9% success rate, making him a reliable player during defensive transitions. His high awareness and anticipation skills also allow him to gain possession after loose-ball duel situations.

Conclusion

As our analysis shows, Ismael Bennacer is a complex player who can impact the play both in an out of possession and bring the team the needed confidence during transitions. He is expected to be a crucial figure in Milan’s title-defending season and in their UEFA Champions League adventure as well.