Rafael Leao’s league goal drought continues, but he is still finding a way to be decisive and his team-mates know how much his contributions count.
As La Gazzetta dello Sport writes, just one sentence from Theo Hernandez after last night’s win against Napoli is enough to sum up more or less everything: “Leao is an incredible player, when he doesn’t score goals he makes assists.”
Leao has not scored in Serie A since September 23 when he netted the winner against Hellas Verona at San Siro, and of course a winger of his quality will always be partly judged on this, but Stefano Pioli is among his defenders.
“This story that hasn’t scored for a long time has been going on for too long. Within our attacking solutions he is a very important point of reference,” he said.
“He is finding other paths, he is more consistent in his work than he was, he gets a lot of assists, I love Rafa. And I also love him in his way of being.
“He is an artist, artists are geniuses, he is a genius and he is someone who listens. Maybe the mistake is that too much is expected of him, every time he gets the ball.”
It’s difficult to find any errors in the coach’s words, especially when the gorgeous through ball to Theo Hernandez last night directly resulted in the winning goal which is destined to have an impact on the race for a Champions League spot.
The fact is that there are always two or three Leao in the same game. There is the one who provides the assists and one who fails to do so, such as a few minutes before the goal when he missed an easier through ball.
There is the Leao with the magnificent right-footed shot which forced Gollini to ‘fly like Tarzan’ and make the save, and there is the Leao who draws groans from the crowd because he sees off a defender but fires a shot way wide/over.
The Portuguese is now on seven league assists for the season, which is only one less than what was recorded in his previous two campaigns in Serie A and there are still 14 games to go.
Pioli explains that Leao is adapting to a somewhat different type of football compared to that of previous seasons, but in reality he gives the impression of playing more or less as always.
He targets the man, he looks for space and, above all, he knows how to raise his head to see his team-mate in a better spot.