This summer, AC Milan completed the signing of Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu for a reported fee of €25 million.
The Turkey international signed a four-year deal at the San Siro and joined Mateo Mussachio, Franck Kessie, Ricardo Rodriguez, Andre Silva and Fabio Borini becoming the sixth signing of the busy Serie A giants off-season spending.
But who is Calhanoglu and what he can add to Vincenzo Montella’s side?
From a technical viewpoint the 23-year-old footballer is an attacking midfielder with good acceleration and highly rewarded ball control.
Dribbling is one of Calhanoglu main strengths. His dribbling style allows him to get past players to beat pressure and drive the ball forward with his aforementioned ball control.
He’s also able to defend the ball well, so it’s hard to make him a pressing trigger for the opponents. His feet also are quick so Calhanoglu’s thought is to contain when he gets ball control.
Add to that the fact Calhanoglu doesn’t hold the ball for too long though, contrary to other dribblers and that’s pivotal to accelerate team play.
Those technical skills are particularly evident looking to Calhanoglu’s ability in combination play where the former Leverkusen player shows his technical accuracy and body movements that help him build passing lines and positional superiority around the ball. He’s very good assisting teammates.
At Leverkusen his playing style was more focused on direct and quick passing moves to move up the pitch so quick players was needed and Calhanoglu was one of them.
Under Roger Schmidt at Leverkusen the Turkish player was regularly lined up as left-winger in a 4-4-2 formation. Schmidt’s side attacked in a 4-2-2-2 with both wingers deployed on their respective half-spaces.
This movement gave Calhanoglu the opportunity to occupy the left half-space looking for possible combinations in the space between the lines and allowed Leverkusen to avoid 4-4-2’s main problem which is the lack of connection between the midfield and attack.
Schmidt solved this problem by freeing the 23-year old Turkish to execute as a phantom ten providing passing options through the half-space.
On Montella’s projected 4-3-3 formation, the former Leverkusen man could act as offensive left-winger. It would give him the chance to operate on his loved left side and cut into the left half-space using his great tactical intelligence.
With Giacomo Bonaventura lined up as left interior midfielder and Calhanoglu as left winger with Ricardo Rodriguez at left-back, Montella could create a lot of possible combinations on Milan’s left side, with former Leverkusen dropping into midfield to receive the ball and Bonaventura overlapping outside.
But Montella could also replicate Napoli’s movements on the left chain with Bonaventura acting as Marek Hamsik, Calhanoglu as Lorenzo Insigne and Rodriguez as Faouzi Ghoulam.
In fact, acting out from a 4-3-3 formation, Napoli overload the left half-space by moving the winger (Insigne) in the half-space just behind the opposition midfield to receive passes into the channels.
This cutting route ran by the winger gives Napoli an overload on the left half-space with both Insigne and the interior left midfielder (Hamsik) acting on the half-space at different height.
In addition, the advancing left-back (Ghoulam) supports this combination providing width on the flank.
Those combinations could allow Milan to obtain numerical or positional superiority n the left side of the pitch.
By the way, there would be some other possible formations as Montella seems ready to switch systems trying for other solutions. For example, there have been rumours about a possible 3-5-2 line up.
With Calhanoglu not suited to playing as a winger in a 3-5-2 (as he just occasionally tracks the runs of full-backs) the Turk could fit as interior midfielder in this formation.
But the former Leverkusen midfielder could also be deployed as attacking midfielders behind the forward should this 3-5-2 formation looking more as a 3-5-1-1.
Calhanoglu could thrive on this No.10 position supporting André Silva or Borini (or Kalinic?). In fact, Calhanoglu’s passing is above average and he’s also a good chances creator.
Otherwise, should Montella see the former Bayer player as an interior midfielder on the aforementioned 3-5-2 line up, a question about how pair Calhanoglu and Bonaventura could raise up as the 23-year old Turkish and former Atalanta would fight for the same starting spot, assuming that Franck Kessié and another central midfielder should occupy the remaining two starting spots in the middle.
Wherever Montella utilises Calhanoglu, the Turk is endowed with good technical skills and he seems ready to make a name for him in Italian football.
The Turk is a set-piece expertise and this could improve Milan efficiency on free kicks and corners.
With these qualities, the next step for Calhanoglu is to establish himself in Serie A and becoming a consistent performer at Milan.