When AC Milan brought players such as Leonardo Bonucci, Andre Silva, Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodriguez to the squad over the summer, a signing that went very under-the radar was the signing of Fabio Borini from Sunderland on loan. There were even questions about the move for the Italian striker, due to a lack of success in Italy and abroad.
He did not seem to have a true role given the newly revamped Rossoneri lineup, and seemed like a depth signing more than anything else. As the season started, Borini was given more time than many expected by Vincenzo Montella. He was started at striker alongside Silva or Patrick Cutrone. Borini also saw time at winger, on the right or the left side, depending on the injury status of Giacomo Bonaventura, given the lack of another left-sided-winger on the team. As the season progressed, it became clear that Borini, while not bad at those forward positions due to his speed and work rate, was not the best in those positions. Next thing Milan knew, they had a major injury to Andrea Conti, the starting right-wing-back, and needed to make a change.
To replace Conti in the lineup, Milan had the likes of Davide Calabria and Ignazio Abate. Montella also had the issue of Bonucci earning a suspension, and for a time before that had Alessio Romagnoli injured. He, in response, moved Rodriguez to center-back, and used Borini as a left-wing-back in a three-at-the-back formation (whether a 3-4-3 or a 3-5-2).
In addition to being used as a left-wing-back, Borini saw some time at the same position on the right due to a combination of tinkering by Montella, squad rotation, and an injury to Davide Calabria. It is here that Borini has had an unexpected level of success, putting forward consistently solid performances and even proving himself, as the least expensive and certainly least heralded out of all the summer signings (outside of Antonio Donnarumma), valuable to the lineup.
In the wing-back position, Borini is afforded the space to move forward along the flank and use his speed and work rate to beat out defenders, and either pick someone like Suso or a striker out with a pass, or he can cross the ball into the box. He can also cut inside and try to beat defenders himself, and has done that to get a shot on goal and even score early in the season.
His crosses have proven effective and dangerous through the course of the season so far, and his speed is invaluable going forward and back in defense. On the defensive end, he is able to keep up with almost anyone, and does not get beat often. He keeps his feet and keeps the ball in front of him, despite not being a natural defender. Even when he has put himself forward to cross and the opposing team is on the counter, Borini has the hustle to get back in defense, and the speed to make it there. This allows the center-backs to stay in position and mark their men, and even though Milan’s defense has not been exceptional or that solid to start this season, that is not attributable to the likes of Borini.
While Fabio Borini, over the summer, was likely not brought in to be a starter in a total revamp of AC Milan’s team, he was brought in to play a role in a team with high expectations. Now, due to circumstances including injuries, suspensions, and some altering in lackluster performances, Borini has found unexpected success and even a starting role in the wing-back position, he has proven himself to be the choice at the position moving forward. Against Juventus, he played on the left. Against Inter, he played on the right. His versatility and work rate have made him more valuable than anyone expected, and has certainly justified his price tag.