After the loss of a whole host of experienced players, it is the Rossoneri's bright young protege that is maturing fastest, and his double against Cagliari earned a crucial win
By Kris Voakes at San Siro
All season, AC Milan have been looking for that little bit of composure, energy, and a bright spark in the right areas. And at a time when they are having to come to terms with the dearth of experience now available to them, it was their freshest of faces who showed there is light at the end of the tunnel.
He may still only be 19 years old, but Stephan El Shaarawy is coming across as the coolest head in the Rossoneri squad at a time when there is a pressure cooker feel around Milanello. On Sunday, he hit a stunning equaliser against Udinese which proved to be in vain. But on Wednesday night he went one better to ensure Milan saw off Cagliari and ended the ‘San Zero’ hoodoo once and for all.
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El Shaarawy took his goals very well, slotting in the first from Riccardo Montolivo’s pass after Cagliari failed to clear up a bouncing ball just outside the area. And then sliding home a late clincher with his left foot after ghosting superbly into space in the centre as Massimo Ambrosini waited for a runner to emerge among the forward line.
And it was in the way he made the opportunity for himself for the second goal that highlighted just what he is adding to the Milan side at this moment in time. While others around him are losing the faith of the fans – in some cases through no fault of their own – El Shaarawy is helping to drag the Diavolo through a rough patch.
Nigel de Jong drew whistles from the Curva Sud each time he had to play the ball back towards his own goal to keep possession, while Montolivo lost a lot of possession trying to force passes in midfield. Yet in both cases, it was largely due to a lack of realistic options that they were forced to go to their personal plan B. But in El Shaarawy, they have a team-mate who will invariably be looking to make a clever late run in between the lines that can cause trouble for the opposition.
Cagliari could have done some damage themselves had they made more of the chances they created. Just as in previous games, Milan’s ponderous approach ended up presenting a lot of possession in key areas to the Isolani, but with Mauricio Pinilla in particular having a rotten night in front of goal, El Shaarawy was able to help inspire the home side to three points.
For Massimiliano Allegri, it was a chance to breathe more easily after weeks of disappointment, despite not being at close quarters to witness it thanks to his touchline ban. Mauro Tassotti’s presence on the edge of the technical area may have been a brief one for now, but in all truth the victory did neither man any harm. Allegri now has the chance to build his team’s morale, instilling a belief in them that they are good enough to carry Milan into the Champions League. While for Tassotti, it was an opportunity to state his case for the top job should the former Cagliari boss not be able to build upon this result.ELSEWHERE...
- Palermo's nosedive into oblivion continues after they became the first team to hand over three points to Giovanni Stroppa's Pescara this season. The Rosanero have yet to win themselves, and on top of having the worst record in Serie A, they arguably have one of the worst squads too. With Fabrizio Miccoli currently being overlooked by Gian Piero Gasperini, there is little sheer talent on display, and pacey striker Abel Hernandez has now gone 640 minutes without a goal. Add to the fact that seven of yesterday's starters have suffered relegation in the last three seasons, and it is clear that Gasperini has a mountain the size of the overlooking Monte Pellegrino to climb in order to keep his side in the top flight.
- One former Rosanero is flying extremely high though, as Edinson Cavani's latest hat-trick against Lazio sent Napoli into top spot alongside Juventus. Of his five league trebles for the Partenopei, he now has two against the Biancocelesti, with Milan and Juve among his other victims. The fact that he rises to the big occasions cannot be overlooked, and his 72-goal tally since arriving at the San Paolo in the summer of 2010 is a record to be proud of. But perhaps the moment that speaks most of Cavani's impact in Naples came when he blazed over from the penalty spot late on and yet was still afforded a standing ovation by the crowd. A special mention also goes to Lazio's Miroslav Klose, who scored with his hand at 0-0 before telling the referee to disallow the goal. Who says that honesty pays?
- It was not the best of nights for goalkeepers of Wednesday. Cavani's second goal - hard-struck though it may have been - should have been dealt with by Lazio's Federico Marchetti, a supposed challenger for an Italy squad place. He was not the only fallible one though. Maarten Stekelenburg helped Roma throw away two points by spilling a straight forward shot at goal, gifting Gianni Munari with Sampdoria's equaliser. One man who did get away with it though was Catania's Mariano Andujar. His sloppy pass straight to Maxi Moralez put Atalanta in the ascendancy at the Massimino, but the Argentine was let off the hook when Nicolas Spolli and Pablo Barrientos ensured that the Elefanti collected all three points anyway.