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Milan star Rafael Leao is not having his best season at the Italian club, considering also that the Portuguese player is widely evaluated as one of the most talented strikers of the Italian Serie A. Leao joined the Rossoneri in the summer of 2019 from Lille and since then scored 49 goals in 190 games and also won the 2021-22 Serie A title as MVP of the season. Last season, he was also a key player for the club despite a disappointing Serie A campaign, and he was the leading figure that led the club to the Champions League semifinals. This season, things are not going the same way. 

Leao was exceptional for Milan in 2022-23. TruMedia

Looking at his numbers, Leao scored six goals and provided eight assists to his teammates in 27 games played in all competitions, with only three scored in the Italian Serie A. In the domestic league, the striker only has nine shots on target and created 37 chances in 20 games, less than two per match. Comparing his numbers with last season, there is not much difference when it comes to chance created (49 overall last season in the Italian Serie A), but a big difference when it comes to goals scored (15 total last season) and for shots on target (29 in 35 games last season). 

But why is he less involved in the attacking phase and why is he scoring less?

This season, he's not getting as many chances nor getting much into the six-yard box. TruMedia

When AC Milan signed last summer wingers Christian Pulisic from Chelsea and Samuel Chukwueze from Villarreal, the main idea behind those signings was to help Leao, taking some pressure off him and giving more options to coach Stefano Pioli. Unlike recent seasons when the performances of the club depended mainly on Leao, this season things are different. This season, Pioli has more options to rotate and play Pulisic in that position if he wants to. Strangely enough, it seems that this is not helping Leao at all. 

Milan are now playing differently, also relying on the attacking plays on the right side, with Pulisic especially involved. The USMNT winger has been one of the best players on the team, with seven goals scored in all competitions, more than double Leao. Pioli, and the team, have more options, and while in the past they were mainly focusing the attacking phase on the left side of the pitch, this season it's not the same, having flexibility unlike before. 

Because of this reduced role for Leao, his future at the club is not guaranteed. The Portuguese player signed a new long-term deal until summer of 2028 a few days before former club director and Milan legend Paolo Maldini parted ways with the Italian side. In a recent interview with the Italian TV show "Che Tempo Che Fa", Leao said: "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 definitely had a big impact on Leao. 

In the new contract agreed with the club, the parties have agreed to a €175 million release clause that can be triggered by any club that might want to sign him in the future. At the moment, there are no concrete signals of a possible exit in the summer, but there are some situations that need to be monitored, especially the one at PSG with Kylian Mbappe. If Mbappe decides to leave France this summer, as his contract with PSG is set to expire, the European giants will have to look elsewhere to replace their star. Leao can be one of the players discussed internally to join them next season, also considering that the current PSG transfer head is Luis Campos, who already had Leao when he was at Lille. It's easy to connect the dots and think that Leao might become their target number one in case Mbappe leaves. 

However, it's too early to think about the summer of 2024, as the current season is still ongoing and AC Milan need to compete in both the Italian Serie A where they are currently third and also will try to win the UEFA Europa League after they were knocked out in the Champions League's group stage. 

These competitions will likely determine the future of coach Pioli, but it's not impossible to think that they might have an impact on the future of Leao as well.