By David Mosse
Former AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic understandably grabbed all the headlines this past week after scoring four times against England for Sweden, including one of the most incredible goals of all time. But the man essentially tasked with filling his void at the San Siro continues to shine as well.
Stephan El Shaarawy scored his first international goal for Italy in a 2-1 friendly defeat to France last Wednesday, and promptly found the back of the net twice over the weekend, as Milan rallied from two goals down to earn a draw away to Napoli. El Shaarawy is the top scorer in Serie A with 10 goals -- the same amount as Ibrahimovic in Ligue 1 -- despite not scoring in the first month of the season.
The 20-year-old has indeed been the only bright for the Rossoneri in this wretched campaign that has seen Massimo Allegri’s side drop six league games already. He clearly needs help, however, and if owner, Silvio Berlusconi has any intention of winning back supporters, there is one player Milan should target when the transfer window opens again in January.
Mario Balotelli’s turbulent time in England appears to be nearing an end. He hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since March, and was left out of the Manchester City squad for the past two games, as City notched victories over Tottenham and Aston Villa. Manager, Roberto Mancini seems eager to move on, which means Balotelli could be available for a cut-rate price, the only way Milan does business these days.
The 22-year-old may no longer be worth the trouble for Manchester City, but he would walk into the Rossoneri starting XI and instantly become the team’s biggest star. It would represent the first time in Balotelli’s career he was afforded regular playing time at a (nominally) big club, and his attitude problems might subside as a result. It is the kind of move that makes sense for all parties involved.
Not surprisingly, Paris Saint-Germain has already been linked with the troubled striker, but Balotelli should steer clear of another club spending a disproportionate amount of its money on attacking talent. He grew up a Milan supporter and has spoken in the past about his desire to someday join the Rossoneri. Balotelli even caused a stir in Italy once during his time with Inter-Milan by wearing a Milan jersey in public. And most neutrals agreed, the jersey fit him quite well.
The 2-2 draw at the San Paolo on Saturday was a bitterly disappointing result for Napoli, which had a chance to leapfrog Inter back into second place in the Serie A standings. Gokhan Inler and Lorenzo Insigne scored in the first half hour, but Walter Mazzarri’s side squandered opportunities to increase its lead and paid the price with Milan pulling a goal back before halftime before equalizing eight minutes from time.
Remarkably, Fiorentina was the only team in the top six entering the weekend to claim full points, as the Viola continued their impressive start to the season with a 4-1 thrashing of 10-man Atalanta. Alberto Aquilani is enjoying a rebirth under the guidance of Vincenzo Montella and found the back of the net twice, while 35-year-old Luca Toni added his fourth league goal of the campaign.
Juventus certainly played well enough to earn a victory at home against Lazio on Saturday, despite the absence of Andrea Pirlo due to suspension, but the league leaders were denied by a stunning performance from goalkeeper Federico Marchetti. Leonardo Bonucci rattled the woodwork in the second half and there were penalty appeals late when a cross struck the arm of Cristian Ledesma, but Juventus was forced to settle for a scoreless draw.
Elsewhere, Udinese played out a second consecutive 2-2 draw, this time at home against Parma and featuring a brilliant goal from Antonio Di Natale. Siena notched a 1-0 home win over Pescara in a battle between two clubs likely to be relegated, while Argentinean midfielder Sergio Almiron returned from injury to score both goals for Catania in a 2-1 victory over Chievo at the Angelo Massimino Stadium.
Some Other Thoughts:
*Following a 10-match winning streak in all competitions that saw Inter seal a place in the next round of the Europa League and move to within one point of Juventus in the Serie A standings, Andrea Stramaccioni’s side is beginning to stumble again. The Nerazzurri were somewhat fortunate to salvage a 2-2 home draw against Cagliari this weekend, benefitting from a bizarre own goal by Davide Astori.
The Rossoblu defender did his best to gift Inter all three points by fouling Andrea Ranocchia inside the box in stoppage time, but referee Piero Giacomelli waved play on. Rodrigo Palacio continued his impressive form, scoring for the 8th time in his last 8 appearances in all competitions, but Diego Milito produced an incredible miss in the second half and Inter struggled mightily at the back.
*Ciro Ferrara lives to coach another day, as Sampdoria claimed a 3-1 home win over Genoa on Sunday. The Blucerchiati had dropped their last seven league games pushing Ferrara to the brink, but Sampdoria need look no further than this past weekend’s opponent for evidence that a managerial change isn’t always the solution. Genoa has lost all five games since Gigi Del Neri replaced Gigi De Canio.
*Alberto Gilardino had not found the back of the net since September, but the former Milan flop scored a stunning goal this weekend, as Bologna picked up a 3-0 victory over Palermo in a match featuring four red cards. Gilardino fired a screamer into the top far corner to help his team climb out of the relegation zone. The Rosanero finished with 8 men and have lost 2 of their last 3 matches.