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The Biggest Loser

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AC Milan may have benefited from a highly dubious decision on Sunday against Udinese, but the confidence Mario Balotelli displayed in slotting home a stoppage time penalty to give the Rossoneri a 2-1 victory was that of a player with a new lease on life. A change of scenery can indeed make an enormous difference sometimes, which is why Kaka was so eager for a return to Italy.  

The Brazilian did everything short of urinating on Jose Mourinho’s lawn over the past month to force his way out of Madrid. He agreed to lower his wages substantially, publicly expressed a desire to leave, and even travelled to Milan for part of January to spend time with his former teammates. His efforts went for naught, however, when the Spanish giants were unwilling to lower their asking price.

Real Madrid was reportedly demanding 18 million euros, and with the Rossoneri unwilling to splurge on two different players, there’s no question Milan chose wisely in opting for Balotelli. The 22-year-old was a late inclusion in the first XI this weekend after Giampaolo Pazzini suffered a muscular injury in warm-ups, but is likely to start regularly moving forward, which was never the case at Manchester City.

Balotelli is ineligible to play against Barcelona later this month, but figures to feast on Italian defenses, quite possibly helping Milan claim a Champions League spot, which seemed impossible in late October when Massimo Allegri’s side sat in 15th place with five defeats from its first eight league games. The Rossoneri are now level on points with Inter for fourth, and just three points behind Lazio.

But if Milan and Balotelli belong on any shortlist of the biggest winners in this January transfer window, Kaka is no doubt the biggest loser. He remains in an untenable situation at Real Madrid, having started only one league match all season and now routinely left out of the squad altogether. The former World Player of the Year hasn’t stepped on the field since being sent off against Osasuna on January 12.  

Kaka’s future with Brazil is also very much in doubt after he was excluded from Luiz Felipe Scolari’s roster to face England this week, despite impressing in three friendlies under previous manager Mano Menezes late last year. The question is whether the 30-year-old feels abandoned by his former club or understands the financial restraints the Rossoneri have been under for the past several seasons.

Milan chief Adriano Galliani made it clear he wants to revisit the issue this summer, and Galliani showed off his negotiating skills by bringing down the price considerably on Balotelli. The Rossoneri still lack creativity from the midfield and have been forced to employ strikers in withdrawn positions to fill that void. A reunion is still very much possible, but for now Kaka must sit and watch Balotelli have all the fun.

Stephan El Shaarawy played a part in both Milan goals on Sunday, but failed to find the back of the net himself and still trails Edinson Cavani in the Capocannoniere race. The Uruguayan was also shut out in Napoli’s 2-0 home win over Catania, which temporarily moved the Azzurri level on points with Juventus. Marek Hamsik and Paolo Cannavaro were on target, as Napoli upped its unbeaten streak to six games.

Juventus promptly answered with a 2-1 victory away to Chievo, overcoming the absence of Antonio Conte who is serving another touch-line ban, this time for insulting the referee following last week’s 1-1 draw with Genoa. Alessandro Matri and Stephan Lichtsteiner supplied the goals for the Bianconeri who were without the suspended Mirko Vucinic and newcomer Nicolas Anelka.

Elsewhere, Roma continued its downward slide with a 4-2 home defeat to Cagliari. The Giallorossi have conceded the second most goals in Serie A (42) behind only relegation threatened Pescara. Fiorentina finally celebrated its first victory of the calendar year, knocking off Parma 2-0 with Luca Toni and Stevan Jovetic supplying the goals, while Atalanta claimed a 2-1 win away to Palermo.  

Some Other Thoughts:

*Lazio dropped its second straight league match this past weekend, but sandwiched in between defeats to Chievo and Genoa was a rousing 2-1 victory over Juventus in the Coppa Italia semifinal 2nd leg. The Biancocelesti await the winner of the other semifinal tie between Roma and Inter-Milan, which inexplicably won’t be decided until April 17. Roma claimed a 2-1 home win in the first leg.

*Juventus was dealt a blow this past weekend when Ghana reached the semifinals of the African Cup of Nations thanks to a 2-0 victory over Cape Verde. The Bianconeri have not looked the same since the departure of Kwadwo Asamoah who was enjoying a strong first season with the club after joining from Udinese. Ghana is in action again on Wednesday against Burkina Faso.

*Another disappointing weekend on the field for Inter-Milan, which fell 3-1 away to Siena, but the Nerazzurri concluded some interesting business before the end of the transfer window with the acquisitions of Mateo Kovacic, Ezequiel Schelotto and Zdravko Kuzmanovic. The 18-year-old Kovacic was the only one not to start against Siena, but came on in the second half and looks to be a potential star.