Youth policy beginning to bear fruit for AC Milan, but rumours about ‘rotten apple’ Mario Balotelli persist

Dylan Fahy
Giampaolo Pazzini 300x225 Youth policy beginning to bear fruit for AC Milan, but rumours about rotten apple Mario Balotelli persist

Giampaolo Pazzini of AC Milan scores his team's second goal during the Serie A match against Bologna

Milan manager Massimiliano Allegri’s recent decision to field an attacking trio with a combined age of 60 against Sampdoria made headlines around Italy. Stephan El Shaarawy, Bojan Krkić and M’Baye Niang led the line for the Rossoneri at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris to little affect. The game ended in a frustrating goalless stalemate, but the club sent out a clear message about its new project.

The fresh-faced forward line has been at the forefront of Milan’s youthful revival in recent weeks. Despite an unacceptable start to the campaign following a mass exodus of talent and experience in the summer, the current batch of players have grown into the storied Rossonero jersey. In their last 13 Serie A games the club has picked up more points then Juventus, and that has proved to be no minor milestone.

Bologna made the journey north to face Allegri’s men on Sunday fresh from hammering Chievo Verona the previous weekend. The general consensus around the peninsula was that the Tuscan tactician needed to make a slight alteration upfront to add that clinical edge. In the end Giampaolo Pazzini returned from suspension to replace Bojan in the middle, while El Shaarawy and Niang remained on the wings.

Pazzini netted a hattrick in the respective fixture in September, and proved his worth from the onset. The former Internazionale man’s presence in the final third allowed fullbacks Kévin Constant and Ignazio Abate to drive down the line, and opened up space for El Shaarawy and Niang to torment the visitor’s defence. Bologna goalkeeper Federico Agliardi was forced into several vital saves to keep his side in the game in the early encounters.

The Rossoblu could not find space for playmaker Alessandro Diamanti to operate, as Riccardo Montolivo and Mathieu Flamini closed out the middle of the park. Kevin-Prince Boateng threated from distance on several occasions alongside top scorer El Shaarawy. Despite not breaking the deadlock, Milan proved exactly why they have the fourth highest passing accuracy percentage in Europe behind Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

After the interval the Rossoneri’s persistent pressure forced a goal when Pazzini’s strike deflected off Mikael Antonsson’s foot to leave Agliardi with no chance. Constant terrorised György Garics throughout the second period, and linked up with the forwards to create several guilt edge chances for the hosts to double their lead. Alberto Gilardino did not enjoy a fruitful return to his former club, and was left without service upfront for Stefano Pioli’s side.

Pazzini completed his brace with a spectacular solo effort in the closing stages of the outing. The 28-year-old flicked the ball over Bologna’s centre backs to volley home in the box. Milan looked to have all but secured the victory, but Philippe Mexès contrived to bundle the ball into his own net when Cristian Pasquato headed the ball across the box in the final minute. In the end, Allegri’s side hung on to a 2-1 win that flattered a struggling Bologna.

The result carries the San Siro residents to sixth in the table, and fixtures elsewhere meant they also leapfrogged a Roma side that convincingly dispatched them before the winter break. The Europa League places are very much a realistic ambition, but Lazio occupy the final Champions League spot with a significant nine-point advantage.

Milan has looked at youthful renewal throughout the month of January. An injury prone Alexandre Pato was the first to depart, while a return for an ageing Kaká has been rebuffed for “fiscal reasons” this week. The signing of attacking midfielder Riccardo Saponara from Empoli looks to be the first step in the right direction, although the 21-year-old does not arrive until June.

Mario Balotelli has also been a dominant figure linked to Milan in recent days. Rossoneri Vice-President Adriano Galliani “ran away” upon hearing Manchester City’s €37m asking price. However, the move cannot be totally ruled out, but President Silvio Berlusconi’s recent apology for calling the striker a “bad apple” has led to many dubbing him the “exotic fruit” the club require.

Mexès’s error on Sunday and several substandard performances by the backline in general should call for a new defender to be the main priority. Galliani insists that the transfer campaign is closed, but with the new direction the club is taking few would rule out two or three last minute moves to strengthen a squad that is continuing to climb.

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  • PaulOnBooks

    guilt edge??? gilt edged, please.

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