Alessio Romagnoli’s rapid ascendancy continues with Milan

The irony of life was certainly most encapsulated when Alessio Romagnoli stepped up to bury his spot-kick and send Lazio crashing out of the Coppa Italia.

Ideally, the irony laid in the centre-back’s confession in an interview before the game that he was a boyhood Lazio fan, though ardent followers of Calcio would know this.

This was because the 23-year-old; who was formerly a Roma player in 2015 earned the vitriol of the Roma fans by foolishly posting a picture of himself in a Lazio jersey ahead of his €25 million move to Milan.

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Folly of youth aside, the youngster who was one of the final purchases from the Silvio Berlusconi era, has since then matured and is now an important pillar of a revitalised Rossneri team.

Against the Biancocelesti, the defender made crucial interceptions and blocks, thwarting an in-form Ciro Immobile and a potent Lazio attack.

However his last-ditch tackle in extra-time to deny Milinković-Savić who had clearly gotten the better of Leonardo Bonucci stood out above the rest as without that tackle, Milan’s fortunes could have easily been altered.

It was that sort of well-timed tackle that had made him one of Italy’s brightest footballing prospects while earning him comparisons to Milan and Lazio legend Alessandro Nesta.

Those comparisons however will have to take a backseat as the youngster is still developing. And developing he is especially with him being at the heart of Il Diavolo’s newfound defensive solidity.

Moreover, the statistics further illustrates his immaculate performances as the Milanese giants have now kept six clean sheets in a row for the first time since 2003.

All of these seemed as unthinkable as Nikola Kalinic scoring a goal and, in particular during Vicenzo Montella’s tenure whereby his constant tinkering of the formation caused Milan’s defensive woes.

When Montella decided to play with a back-three, Romagnoli was caught out defensively and wasn’t able to influence the game, highlighted by his red card against lowly placed Benevento.

Since Gennaro Gattuso introduced the 4-3-3 system, he has firmly found his feet displaying innate calmness and showcasing his talent as a modern ball-playing defender.

Beside the experienced Bonucci; who himself has improved, the duo now represent the bedrock on which this Milan side is being built.

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Furthermore a bold claim can be made that at times, Romagnoli has outshone his captain markedly in one on one duels.

His distribution this season has seen him made fewer passes (52.8): but with his aforementioned ball-playing skills he has found his intended target with a career-high 90.4% completion rate.

What’s even more remarkable is the fact that he is able to deliver under pressure evident by his winning penalty to book his side’s place in the final despite the jeers of 40,000 Lazio fans.

With such sought-after qualities, it definitely won’t be long before he becomes a mainstay of the Azzurri although he will have to compete for a spot against Daniele Rugani of Juventus and Mattia Caldara of Atalanta; another two talented defenders in their own right.

Sunday’s clash with Inter will be another test of his credentials. It will be a passionate and hotly contested affair, an epitome of one of Europe’s most anticipated derbies.

If Gattuso and his men are to further burnish their reputation as a rising force, this is the platform to do it.

However, should they feel the pressure, they might want to take a few notes from their number 13 if they are to come out triumphant.

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Alif Chandra

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