By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Not 24 hours had passed since Stephan El Shaarawy had bid farewell to his teenage years, and he was once again showing that he is coming of age at AC Milan. His sixth goal of the season sent him joint top of the Capocannoniere charts, marked a 20th birthday to remember, and, more importantly, gave the Rossoneri three desperately needed points against Genoa.
If Milan had not won this game, they may as well have thrown in the towel. The Grifone were playing for new boss Luigi Del Neri for the first time and had to change to a 4-4-1-1 system due to the loss of Marco Borriello, which has left only Ciro Immobile in the shortlist of recognised first-team strikers. Yet the toothless visitors looked set to match the struggling Diavolo for 77 minutes.
But that is where El Shaarawy stepped in. It may only have been a tap-in from a low cross by Ignazio Abate, who looked suspiciously advanced in the build-up, but the Italo-Egyptian forward’s instinct to back up the run over Giampaolo Pazzini paid huge dividends for Milan. Where others are failing to do the basic things right, the young El Shaarawy is doing that and more.
A lack of organisation has been a huge catalyst for the Rossoneri’s nosedive in form this season, but one thing that has remained a constant has been the ex-Padova man’s input. He has scored seven goals in all competitions in the past five weeks. These strikes have come at a time when one of the true giants of the sport has been on its knees, and he has delivered performances to match his goalscoring tally too.
|MATCH FACTS | Milan 1-0 Genoa
However, there is only so much that can be expected of one 20-year-old. For two months now there has been a need for a more familiar, more experienced head to rise above the parapet and take one for the team, but we are still waiting. El Shaarawy has single-handedly kept Massimiliano Allegri in a job over the past five weeks, but he cannot go on doing it.
A 1-0 win over Genoa buys Allegri time, but will not buy him the backing of those who believe he has fallen short in his role as tactician, motivator and trainer – this writer included. For faith to be restored, these three points need to be backed up by further wins against Palermo and Chievo in the coming week. Milan really need to be heading into their fixtures against Fiorentina and Napoli with the boost of three straight wins over the cannon fodder put in front of them. And if that scenario is to develop, then, the rest of the attacking resources need to flex their muscles in the same way that El Shaarawy has done all too readily of late.
Urby Emanuelson has not been helped by his coach’s insistence on playing him on the right despite his sheer inability to use his right foot, but all the same he needs to make better decisions on the ball. Riccardo Montolivo has to stop playing long balls into channels that look nice but produce nothing. Nigel de Jong must show he can adapt to the needs of his new club by delivering a greater selection of passes. Alexandre Pato, though coming back from eight months on the bench and in the stands, needs to show his international class as soon as possible since desperate times call for desperate measures. And Pazzini needs to become more predatory at a time when chances are coming his way less frequently.
Against the likes of Genoa, Palermo and Chievo, the Rossoneri might only need one or two of these elements to fall in their favour in order to collect the full three points, but when Malaga, Fiorentina and Napoli are the adversaries, each of the above will become a near necessity.
That is why the next fortnight is crucial. Any kind of failure between now and Saturday night will only serve to increase the pressure against in-form opposition to come, but three victories in a week could kick-start their faltering campaign.
This could quite possibly be Milan’s biggest week of the season, so now is the time for the rest of the club to follow El Shaarawy’s example and man up.