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AC Milan expert offers inside track on Villarreal’s new loan signing Matteo Gabbia

The Yellows have a new centre-back

Matteo Gabbia of Villarreal and AC Milan
Gabbia has joined on loan
Villarreal CF

Villarreal’s loan signing of Matteo Gabbia slipped under the radar amid another high profile exit, but here we give you an inside look at the new signing.

Much of this summer’s conversation has surrounded exits at Villarreal, with Nicolas Jackson, Pau Torres and Samuel Chukwueze all moving on to pastures new, while incoming signings have been few and far between.

Chukwueze was the most recent exit, moving on to AC Milan in a deal worth up to 28 million euros, but as a sweetener to that deal, AC Milan sent defender Gabbia to Castellon on a season-long loan deal.

Gabbia has made 37 league appearances for Milan after coming through the youth setup, and he is still only 23 years of age. He could now form a key part of Quique Setién’s back-line for the new season, and perhaps even beyond.

To get a better idea of what to expect from the former Italy under-21 international, we spoke to Sempre Milan’s Oli Fisher.

Q. What kind of player is Gabbia? What can he offer Villarreal?

Oli: Gabbia is what you would probably consider to be a more old-school style of centre-back, relying on his height and his physicality which has kept him down the pecking order compared to his more aggressive and ‘modern’ colleagues Fikayo Tomori and Pierre Kalulu.

Stefano Pioli’s switch to playing a higher line, plus the presence of other quality and more experienced defenders, has limited his playing time, but Gabbia has done well when called upon.

He has a good reading of the game and has always demonstrated solid positioning and awareness, while as mentioned his height is an important factor when he is paired with a complementary profile.

His weaknesses are exposed more in isolation. He had a particularly bad time against Dusan Vlahovic when he was at Fiorentina, for example. If left one on one against a quicker and/or more skilful opponent, his lack of pace and agility are easy to target.

Q. Why have AC Milan let him go? Is it a case of getting him more experience, or was it to sweeten the Chukwueze deal?

Oli: Gabbia is a Primavera (youth sector) graduate which means he has an attachment to the club and was probably happy to have a bit-part role over the past two or three seasons, and he always did well when filling in during times of difficulty.

However, I think all parties have realised this is the right time for him to go out on loan and (hopefully) get some consistent minutes. He needs that at 23 to accelerate his development and see what he can really become, with some skills to refine.

Sporting CP v Villarreal CF - Cinco Violinos Trophy
Gabbia has already featured in pre-season
Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images

It was always reported that it was separate to the Samuel Chukwueze deal but we are not naive enough to think they weren’t spoken about in parallel, so it likely did have an effect on Villarreal eventually wilting to the pressure for Samuel.

Q. What’s the score with his Milan future? Can Villarreal expect to have a chance of signing him permanently if things go well?

Oli: I think signing him permanently is a real possibility if things go well. It could be a case of it being an excellent fit for all parties, while any sale would generate a pure capital gain for Milan who always have an eye on their accounts.

Despite this, it is also equally possible that this is seen as an evaluation period for Milan. They will see how he does in LaLiga and if he impresses, he could come back and become a more prominent feature in the plans moving forward. He’s at that age where it really could go either way.