Gonzalo Higuain's all-round play hints he can bring more than just goals to Milan
As part of their massive spending spree last year, AC Milan opted to invest over €60 million in total in Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic to score the goals that would take them back into the top four in Serie A and qualify them for the Champions League.
The pair were signed to offer a combination of experience and future promise, to complement one another and to find the right balance along with youngster Patrick Cutrone to ensure that the Rossoneri competed on multiple fronts.
Kalinic endured a woeful season with just six goals and six assists in 41 appearances in all while Silva added 10 goals and two assists in 40 games, albeit scoring only twice in 24 Serie A appearances.
Both ended up being outshone by their 20-year-old teammate who ended the campaign as the club's top goalscorer with 18 goals, and so evidently something had to change this summer to add a world-class forward to the squad, a feature that has arguably been missing at Milan since Zlatan Ibrahimovic left in 2012.
A deal was struck to bring Gonzalo Higuain to Milan from Juventus as part of the Mattia Caldara-Leonardo Bonucci swap, and while the Argentine ace has yet to open his account for the club, it's already becoming apparent that he could be the missing piece Milan have desperately lacked.
Higuain offered a glimpse of what he will offer in the final preseason outing against Real Madrid last month, scoring a wonderful goal from distance at the Bernabeu to show that he has what it takes to be clinical.
The 30-year-old struggled against Napoli in the season opener for the most part, but the early signs were there that he would do much more than simply be a prolific scorer of goals That was even more evident against Roma in the 2-1 win prior to the international break.
Where Silva, Kalinic, Carlos Bacca and others have failed in recent years, Higuain appears primed to finally answer the call as a lone frontman who can not only score goals, but also drop deep and be a crucial link in building attacks for the side.
With Gennaro Gattuso adopting a more expansive and stylish brand of football so far this season, which involves playing out from the back and building attacks with patience, composure and technical quality, Higuain flourished in the win over the Giallorossi.
From his hold-up play to his ability to drop into space, link up attacks and spread the ball wide effectively, or to offer a threat over the top with his movement, the Argentina showed exactly what Gattuso has been desperate for in that position since he took charge last November.
Given this is a player who has scored 146 goals in 253 games since moving to Italy in 2013, there is little doubt that the goals will come. In the meantime, the experienced striker can continue to put on a clinic as to how to play as the marksman up top in a 4-3-3 system.
Further, there are few better qualified to continue to help with the development of Cutrone. The Italian starlet will be desperate to continue to establish himself as a key figure for Milan moving forward and will be a more willing apprentice than ever with a player of Higuain's credentials in the fold.
Higuain's delightful assist to carve open the chance for his young teammate to score the winning goal against Roma suggested that the pair can even co-exist if Gattuso goes with two up front, and it was just another sign as to how important the summer signing could potentially be this season.
After seeing an effort chalked off against Roma, Higuain will undoubtedly be itching to break his duck and start scoring the goals needed to fire Milan towards achieving their objective this season.
Provided Gattuso can ensure that there is balance in the side so that his star man isn't left isolated in attacking positions, nor is he relied on too heavily, it could be the perfect match. The presence of creative talents such as Hakan Calhanoglu, Suso and Giacomo Bonaventura behind him should be enough to suggest that he'll have plenty of chances this year.
Gattuso is now finally making use of the technical quality in this Milan side and playing a style of football that has long been missing at the San Siro. Should it continue to improve and lead to positive results, it will only build belief in what Milan want to achieve this season and there is no doubt Higuain is going to play a pivotal part in that push.
While Juventus may well have deemed him expendable after Cristiano Ronaldo's arrival, their loss could certainly be a fundamental gain for Milan. He will undoubtedly be judged on his goals, but it's important to acknowledge the impact that he's already having.