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Why Milan star Rafael Leao's form has dramatically dropped and how Kylian Mbappe's future could impact his

Why Milan star Rafael Leao's form has dramatically dropped and how Kylian Mbappe's future could impact his
Rafael Leao
, Milan's prominent player, is going through a rather underwhelming season with the Italian club. Hailing from Portugal, Leao is often touted as one of the foremost talented forwards in the Italian Serie A. Leao became part of the Rossoneri in the summer of 2019, after transferring from Lille. Since then, he has netted 49 goals across 190 games and even clinched the 2021-22 Serie A title as the season's MVP. Despite a lackluster Serie A campaign last season, he was instrumental for the club, leading them to the Champions League semifinals. Unfortunately, his current season has not been quite as triumphant.
Looking at his stats, Leao brought in six goals and contributed eight assists in 27 games played in all competitions, with only three scored in the Italian Serie A. In the domestic league, the striker has registered just nine shots on target and created 37 opportunities in 20 games, falling short of two per game. When compared to his numbers from the previous season, the chance creation (49 total last season in Italian Serie A) does not vary significantly. However, there is a profound disparity in terms of goals scored (15 total last season) and shots delivered on target (29 in 35 games last season).
So, why is his involvement in the attack diminishing and his goal tally dropping?

When AC Milan signed wingers Christian Pulisic from Chelsea and Samuel Chukwueze from Villarreal in the last summer, the principal goal was to alleviate some pressure off Leao and provide additional options to coach Stefano Pioli. Unlike past seasons when the team's performance largely hinged on Leao, this season tells a different tale. This season, Pioli has more options, he can now rope in Pulisic for the same position if needed. Oddly enough, this strategy doesn't seem to be aiding Leao.
How Milan plays has undergone transformation, increasing reliance on attacking plays on the right side, particularly involving Pulisic. The wingman from the USMNT has emerged as one of the team's best assets, scoring seven goals in all competitions, more than double Leao's tally. Pioli and the team now have a broader scope of options, and while in the past the attacks focused primarily on the left side of the pitch, this season has seen more flexibility.

This curtailed role for Leao has cast uncertainty over his future with the club. The Portuguese player penned a new long-term contract until the summer of 2028, a few days before club legend and former director Paolo Maldini left the Italian side. In a recent interview with Italian TV show "Che Tempo Che Fa", Leao declared, "Maldini was the first person who helped me at Milan. He has a strong personality, he's demanding and has helped me to grow as a person. I miss him." Maldini's departure has had a substantial influence on Leao.
Within the new agreement with the club, a €175 million release clause was stipulated, that could potentially be activated by any club wishing to sign him in future. At this point, there are no definitive indications of a possible exit in the summer, but some situations warrant monitoring, particularly PSG's situation with Kylian Mbappe. If Mbappe decides to leave France this summer, as his contract with PSG is due to expire, the European giants will need to scout for a replacement. Leao might be one of the contenders considered to join them next season, also bearing in mind that PSG's current transfer head, Luis Campos, had previously engaged with Leao when he was at Lille. It's not far-fetched to presume that Leao could be PSG's top target if Mbappe exits.
However, it is premature to speculate about the summer of 2024, as the current season is still in progress and AC Milan is contending in both the Italian Serie A (where they presently hold the third spot) and the UEFA Europa League (after getting bumped off in the Champions League's group stage).
The outcome of these competitions will likely dictate the future of coach Pioli, but it's not implausible to think that they might impact Leao's future too.
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