Riccardo Montolivo has moved to downplay the significance of Mario Balotelli's suspension in terms of AC Milan's Champions League aspirations, arguing that the Rossoneri proved long before the striker's arrival at San Siro that they are a quality side.
Balotelli was hit with a mandatory one-game ban after picking up his fifth booking of the season in last weekend's draw at Fiorentina but he was further reprimanded for using offensive language towards the officials at the Artemio Franchi.
The enigmatic but prolific striker will now miss Milan's crucial Serie A clash with second-placed Napoli on Sunday, as well as their subsequent clashes with Juventus and Cagliari, but Montolivo is in no doubt that Massimiliano Allegri's resurgent side can cope.
"Certainly, Balotelli's impact in the league has been crazy," the former Viola captain admitted in an interview with the Corriere dello Sport.
"But, in November, before Mario's arrival, we had already started our run thanks to Giampaolo Pazzini."
Indeed, Montolivo believes that the Rossoneri have the players to challenge for silverware next season which, he freely admits, was precisely why he decided to leave Fiorentina for Milan last summer.
"I would finally like to win something in my career," confessed the Italy international, who was booed upon his return to the Artemio Franchi.
"I spent seven years at Fiorentina, I gave everything I had, we had some exciting seasons and I was also captain, so I'm sorry that I was not welcomed back.
"But I'm only looking forward now. For me, it is a closed story."
Milan's mouth-watering match-up with Napoli will get under way at San Siro at 20:45CET.