Most players would simply have thrashed a shot at goal, but Giacomo Bonaventura had other ideas.
Off-balance and with Palermo defenders rushing towards him, the 26-year-old demonstrated remarkable composure to flick the ball to Carlos Bacca, who hit a fine finish into the top corner with the outside of his foot to give Milan the lead. Palermo gave the Rossoneri a few scares for the remainder of the match, but Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side ultimately deserved all three points as they held on for a victory that lifted them into the top half of the Serie A table.
Bonaventura, who grabbed his team’s second goal in their 3-2 win with a sumptuous free-kick just before half time, was the best player on the San Siro pitch. If Milan are to return to the top three this season and the Champions League next, they will need to keep the Italy international fit and firing over the next eight months.
Signed from Atalanta for €7 million on the final day of last summer’s transfer window, Bonaventura enjoyed a positive debut campaign in the red-and-black stripes of Milan; alongside Nigel De Jong, Jeremy Menez and Diego Lopez, Bonaventura was one of only a handful of players to emerge with any credit following a disastrous season for the 18-time Italian champions, who finished 35 points adrift of top spot and just 18 ahead of the relegation zone in tenth place.
There has been a concerted effort to ensure that a repeat of such a miserable year is avoided this term, with €86.5 million spent on new additions in the summer. Bacca, Luiz Adriano, Juraj Kucka and Alessio Romagnoli have all already shown they will add something to this team, but strong and consistent displays from some of the club’s existing stars will be needed if Milan are to win their battle with the likes of Napoli, Inter, Lazio and Fiorentina and break back into the top three.
Fielded next to Kucka in a midfield diamond – with Ricardo Montolivo at the base and Keisuke Honda at the tip – Bonaventura provided a vital link between defence and attack, picking up the ball in central areas and moving it forward via either a pass or a dribble. His distribution was incisive and intelligent as he combined well with both Montolivo and Honda, as well as slipping accurate balls towards strike duo Bacca and Adriano.
An excellent technical player, Bonaventura also showed his willingness to track back and get stuck in. Milan were certainly the better team against the Sicilians, yet still required some manful defending to preserve their lead late on, a cause that Bonaventura was more than happy to support.
The Italy international – Bonaventura has only been capped twice by his country to date but will be hoping to play his way into contention for a spot in Antonio Conte’s European Championship squad next year – can still be inconsistent, but he has the ability to make a big impact on Milan and Serie A this season. Mihajlovic will be hoping that he continues to perform as he did against Palermo under the San Siro floodlights on Saturday night.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.