Serie A Star Power Index: Maignan assists AC Milan, Piatek filling in for Fiorentina, Malinovskyi on fire

Welcome to the Serie A Star Power Index: A weekly gauge of the players who are most controlling the buzz around Italy. Inclusion on this list isn’t necessarily a good thing. It simply means you’re capturing the Serie A world’s attention. This is also not a ranking. The players listed are in no particular order as it pertains to the buzz they’re generating. You can watch Serie A’s top players all season long on Paramount+.  

Mike Maignan, AC Milan

When AC Milan appointed Mike Maignan as Gianluigi Donnarumma’s successor between the sticks back in May, only few could imagine the kind of impact the former Lille goalkeeper would have in his first season. For all the chatter around Donnarumma’s departure, Maignan immediately proved his worth on and off the pitch, where he became an idol for the fans just a couple months into his Rossoneri tenure. 

Over the weekend against Sampdoria, he also provided one of the best assists you’ll see a keeper make to his teammate Rafael Leao, who scored the only goal of the match. It’s not the first time the goalkeeper has tried to play the long ball to his attackers, but this time he succeeded. 

The 26-year-old has kept eight clean sheets — which ranks fifth among all Serie A keepers — and his clutch saves have AC Milan atop the table with a one-point advantage over Inter Milan, though the Nerazzurri have played one fewer game. 

“He is a really strong goalkeeper,” AC Milan director Frederic Massara said about Maignan in an interview with DAZN. “Ee are very happy with his adaptation, he managed to integrate immediately and very well in this league. He immediately became a point of reference in the locker room, we are very happy with what he is doing and we are convinced that he still has room to grow. Now we are very happy to have Maignan and we wish Donnarumma all the best, we wish him a bright career.” 

AC Milan are now more convinced than ever that they made the right choice last year, proving that there is always a way to improve and overcome obstacles even after you lose a star in Donnarumma.

Mattia Zaccagni, Lazio

Maurizio Sarri had a hard time counting on Mattia Zaccagni in the first part of the season due an assortment of injuries (hamstring, knee, calf, ankle) that caused him to miss 12 games, but now the ex-Hellas Verona attacking midfielder has finally left his mark in crucial moments at Lazio.

After scoring twice in Verona’s August season opener against Sassuolo, Zaccagni made the jump to Lazio by the end of the summer window and managed to score four goals in the last two months with his new club. Most notably, he put together a 10-minute brace against Bologna on Saturday which was capped off by a fantastic team goal to seal a 3-0 win.

The 26-year-old have put the lengthy injury troubles behind him and  is starting to show his true potential as a scorer off the left wing for Sarri, who’s now made him a permanent fixture to his starting XI week in and week out. The right-footed midfielder is becoming a key player on the left side of the Lazio attack. He’s got four assists to his name (all of which have come since Dec. 5), and that’s because he’s constantly whipping crosses into the box to his teammates, much like he did to Sergej Milinković-Savić a couple weeks ago:

Zaccagni drew plenty of suitors last summer, including interest from Napoli and Inter Milan. However, Lazio were very quick in the negotiations in the final week of the summer transfer business and convinced Hellas Verona to sell him at the end after he proved to be one of the best Serie A players under Ivan Juric last two seasons in Verona. 

He’s fitting really well in Sarri’s idea of playing and has become a fan favorite, as Zaccagni said himself: “Juric and Sarri are two opposite coaches. The first went man against man, Sarri asks for a different job. I am enjoying myself and will always give everything. The love of the fans? A great honor. My journey here started slow due to injuries. I feel good, I can give something and I am happy with the love of the fans.”

Ruslan Malinovskyi, Atalanta

If you already watched the goal Ruslan Malinovskyi scored against Juventus over weekend, then you know we’d be foolish to exclude him from this week’s Star Power Index. 

The Atalanta midfielder showed once again why he’s capable of producing world-class moments from time to time. He’s only missing the consistency to produce them on a weekly basis as opposed to only few times per season. That might be his only true flaw, and one Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini has to find a way to improve. Malinovskyi scored six goals this season — despite the 2.72 xG — in Serie A and managed to provide two assists two his teammates.

Malinovskyi plays a key role for Atalanta, and he’s usually at his best on the right side of the pitch where he has completed 84.7% of his passes and has basically taken the place of Josip Ilicic, who has not played since Jan. 9 and has been absent due to mental health concerns.

Krzysztof Piatek, Fiorentina

When Fiorentina signed Krzysztof Piatek from Hertha Berlin in January, the club didn’t exactly know he would be expected to replace Dusan Vlahović’s production right away. When Vlahović joined Juventus, Fiorentina made a move to sign 23-year-old Brazilian international Arthur Cabral from Basel as well. That said, the 26-year-old Piatek — who’s played three seasons in Serie A, including two at AC Milan — is already on his way to showing Viola boss Vincenzo Italiano why he’s a worthy and experienced choice to replace Vlahović. 

“Piatek played in Italy, he knows the league well and has been with us for longer. Cabral knows how to play, he is smart and shrewd inside the area,” Italiano told DAZN.

The former Genoa and AC Milan striker scored his first goal this season on Monday against Spezia, but also impressed in his first two Coppa Italia appearances, where he scored against Napoli in his debut and against Atalanta last week when Viola won 3-0 away against Gasperini’s side. It’s obviously too early to say if he will be Vlahović’s permanent replacement in terms of goals scored and performance on the pitch, but he’s off to an extremely promising start. 

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