Established at the top level and fully embracing his new challenge in Italy, shot-stopper Mike Maignan looks every bit qualified to be Milan’s elite guardian in goal, writes Matt Santangelo.
This past Monday, Milan kicked their league campaign off with a visit away to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to play Sampdoria.
Entering the tie, most of the conversation was centred around the remaining days of the summer window and who else Paolo Maldini would have strolled into Casa Milan before it subsequently closes for business. But for manager Stefano Pioli, the focus was on the first real meaningful test to see how the newcomers integrated themselves into the squad and ultimately showcase all they have to offer their new club, more specifically goalkeeper Mike Maignan.
Walking through the doors of Milanello to replace the departed Gianluigi Donnarumma this summer, Maignan arrived from Ligue 1 champions Lille for an estimated €13m. For the 26-year old Maignan, expectations from the fans were immediately raised.
Considering his homegrown status, prolific play since debuting as a bright-eyed 16-year-old and winning Player of the Tournament for Italy at UEFA Euro 2020 this summer, Donnarumma left some massive shoes to fill on his way out of Milano. Then, there are the countless moments where young Gigio both rescue Milan from the depths of defeat and win matches on his own for the Rossoneri, one of many qualities known of the Italian yet Maignan too can stake claim to himself.
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A former Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year recipient, Maignan’s jaw-dropping 21 clean sheets topped the French first division last year en-route to Lille’s title victory on the final matchday over his former club Paris Saint-Germain.
Without question, the France international’s impressive rise these past few seasons lends credence to an individual confident within himself and his abilities that he is the right man to replace Donnarumma long-term; in the 0-1 win over La Samp, Maignan began to prove it.
Springing into action, Maignan had his number called early as a result of Sampdoria showing a willingness to test the new keeper and give him a proper Calcio welcome, to which he replied by confidently handling every attempt that came his way.
Most notably, it was his double save that rightfully garnered the most praise, but with Maignan, there was a clear intention to demonstrate command of his area and instil confidence in the backline that they were well covered.
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Central pairing Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjaer seemingly picked up right where they left off last year, turning in the same professional performances fans have come to know, love and expect from Pioli’s consensus first-choice options. But there is something to be said about a keeper who takes complete ownership of his box and the impact it can have on defensive organization and the overall play of a backline throughout a match.
Anticipating play, Maignan’s showed he is the kind of keeper to play proactively rather than reactively, with his quickness off the line on set pieces to mitigate any sort of danger while also rushing to close down space in behind the defence.
For how elite Donnarumma had proven to be in virtually every aspect of his job, he often came under criticism for his ability to play effectively out the back and use distribution as a vessel for more than simply clearing his lines.
On multiple occasions, when attempting to initiate an attacking sequence from the back, Maignan’s possessional play to put himself into positions to create chances stood out, notably on Brahim’s goal. Bombing the ball up the right flank, Davide Calabria was able to track down possession and successfully beat his man into a favourable position to cross into the Spaniard who took his chance well.
‘Magic Mike’ was among a handful of standout performers on the evening, putting forth a shift that left fans feeling extremely proud of their new first-choice keeper and secure knowing the goal is in good hands.