The Unpredictable Alexis Saelemaekers

Upon his arrival on loan at Milan, no one really knew what to expect from Saelemaekers. Almost two years later, that statement is largely still true. While he has become a little less rash and perhaps more dependable, as Boaz mentioned on the latest podcast, it is not even certain that he knows what he is going to do next. With a name that is surprisingly still unpronounceable (despite him teaching us how,) he is the unpredictable Alexis Saelemaekers.


Unpredictable

Saelemaekers grew up in the Anderlecht youth teams in Belgium, and was promoted to the first team in 2018. After making 57 appearances for the club and scoring two goals, he was sent on loan to Milan in January of 2020. He was largely unknown, and a lot of Milan fans questioned the deal, particularly because they wanted other more high profile players. But he was young, cheap, hungry to win, and willing to learn what it meant to wear the Milan shirt, which is the profile of the players Maldini has wanted all along. Did he have the skills, though?


They took a chance on him

According to WhoScored, his first six months at Milan saw him make six starts and seven substitutions for a total of 682 minutes. He had two yellows and a red in his first half season, although he did score one goal, two weeks after Milan paid to make his deal permanent. But still two yellows and a red in only half a season, as he was often making rash challenges.


His cockiness got old man Sarri sent off, even if Ibrahimović made him apologize

Last season, he was used liberally by Pioli, having started in 29 matches with seven substitutions in all competitions for a total of 2,231 minutes. During that time, he scored two goals, had five assists, but also seven yellow cards and a red card. Despite the rash plays and all of the cards, management were satisfied enough to renew his contract through 2026 near the beginning of this season.


He made his one goal this season count

This season, he has already made 18 starts and seven substitute appearances in all competitions for Milan, totaling 1603 minutes in only the first half of the season. Although he only has the one goal, which he dedicated to Kjaer after his injury, as well as two assists, his liability has decreased significantly, as he only has two yellow cards thus far. 


Less flash, less rash?

He has even begun to be called up regularly for Belgium this year, scoring a goal in their World Cup Qualifiers, and also demonstrated some at least a moment of finesse for us, as well. But he is still quite inconsistent. Having been voted as MVP by the fans in the Empoli match last week, it raises the hopes of more performances like that. However, in that match, he played on the left, which is a position that will definitely be resumed by Leão and Rebić upon their return.


He doesn't do it often, but sometimes, he can jump

His strengths are not in scoring a lot of goals or even taking a lot of shots on target. He is not particularly great with long or even medium passes, and his crosses are as inconsistent as the rest of his play. But he is scrappy and incredibly hard working, tireless defensively and always making short, typically complete passes to move the ball around. He sometimes did well with Calabria on that side, so we will see if he can replicate performances like that when the latter returns from injury.


He fights for every ball

He is neither big nor especially strong, so has a tough time holding onto the ball in physical matchups. But he fights like a dog to get the ball and get it to a teammate who can do something with it. He is difficult to mark because his unpredictability is like trying to figure out where popcorn is going to pop. He is relatively versatile for Pioli, becoming more so this season as he is maturing at all of 22 years old. So even if he has questionable dance moves and his social media posts demonstrate a more than adequate sense of self, at least that belief and determination seems to be helping him to improve on the pitch.


Tenacity is needed, too

Fans are still waiting for a proper right winger, someone with more talent and consistency than any of our other players have been able to offer in a very long time. That includes Saelemaekers, although both Maldini and Pioli seem to have a lot of faith in him. To be fair, not every player can be always be brilliant or put in perfect crosses all the time or even score plenty of goals. Saelemaekers is more like a little terrier, eager and determined. But we need players like this, too. Players who confuse and astound the opponent, like the unpredictable Alexis Saelemaekers.


This post inspired by the music of EMF's "Unforgettable"


The Unpredictable Alexis Saelemaekers The Unpredictable Alexis Saelemaekers Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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