Former AC Milan and current Torino forward M’Baye Niang has had his share of difficulties in the past couple seasons.
After emerging as a starter and dynamic option for Milan under (now former) manager Siniša Mihajlović in 2015, Niang fell out of the first team when manager Vincenzo Montella was hired to lead the squad.
He started the 2015 season injured with a Metatarsal injury sustained in August, which kept him out of play until the end of October. Once he got into the squad, he scored eight goals between the end of November and February, also providing five assists. He then, however, got in a traffic accident, damaging his capsular ligament and bruising his shoulder, which kept him out of competition until April. By the time he returned, Mihajlović had been sacked, and Niang, along with Milan, stumbled into the summer.
In January 2017, after struggling to stay in the starting XI for Milan and suffering a drop in form, with just three goals and three assists in 18 matches, Niang was loaned for the second half of the season to the English Premier League’s Watford. It was expected that Niang could get plenty of playing time and regain his form that he had found under Mihajlović, but that never quite materialized. Niang scored twice and assisted twice in 16 appearances in England before returning to Milan in the summer. By then, Milan had new ownership, and proceeded to revamp the roster. With the new additions to the squad, Niang was one of the many odd men out, and was loaned to Torino with an obligation to buy.
At Torino, Niang has reunited with the one manager who brought consistency and promise out of a young player. Siniša Mihajlović brought the best out of Niang at Milan, and brought him into Torino for that reason. Niang and Mihajlović have the connection that Niang made Mihajlović’s formation and tactics work, and Mihajlović made put Niang in the best position possible to succeed.
Both now have the chance to do that again.
From a tactical standpoint, Niang fits into the 4-3-1-2 system that Mihajlović deploys. Niang slots in as one of the two strikers up top, and was used alongside Carlos Bacca for Milan. This provided two different strikers and two different threats: Niang has more pace and is more of a center forward, as well as more creative, while Bacca was the better finisher and more of a pure striker. This one-two punch created space up front for Niang to get into, whether it was to pass or shoot, and let Bacca get in the right attacking positions to get the ball from Niang or the number 10 in the formation. Mihajlović sticks with the 4-3-1-2 consistently, from his time at Milan back to his time at Sampdoria, so Niang can plug in and go for Torino in that same spot now.
This is opposed to how Montella attempted, unsuccessfully, to use Niang in a 4-3-3 formation. Niang is not a winger who can play on the edge of the front three, as he needs the space in the center of the pitch to create and use his pace. By extension, he is not a pure striker, and would not excel as the top striker in a 4-3-3. Since Mihajlović has had success with Niang, he knows what his style is, and will play him in the right place and give him a chance to perform, just like he did before.
M’Baye Niang has had lots of inconsistency in his career. After signing for Milan in 2012, he was loaned to Montpellier in 2013, and Genoa in 2014. He had success in 2015 with Milan, while he was healthy, and then fell out of form and favor. He had no luck at Watford, and after having several injuries in his career, has now moved to Torino, to join up with the one man who brought the best out of him. If there is anyone who can help Niang reach his potential and continue to develop as a dynamic center-forward, it is Siniša Mihajlović.
The two clearly have a relationship, as Mihajlović showed confidence in Niang before, and when Niang scored against Inter, he ran right to Mihajlović: the man who stuck with him the whole time. Now Mihajlović can give Niang another opportunity like he did at Milan. Mihajlović can get the best out of Niang, and if he did not have the confidence that he could do just that, he would not have made the move to bring Niang out of Milan. If there’s a man to bring Niang back into the conversation in Serie A, it is Siniša Mihajlović. Now we just have to see it happen.