By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
On November 11, 2012, AC Milan were humbled 3-1 at home to Fiorentina and slumped to 13th place in Serie A, a full 12 points behind third-placed Napoli. They were just about keeping their heads above water in the Champions League, with a draw against Malaga having put them within one win of progression to the last 16, but Massimiliano Allegri was under huge pressure to turn things around, and quickly.
Fourteen weeks on, Milan set themselves up for Wednesday’s visit of Barcelona by reaching the top three for the first time this season with a 2-1 win over Parma on Friday night. For a side who were struggling so badly so recently, it has been quite the turnaround. Sure, other results this weekend could see them slip back down to fifth by the time the Blaugrana arrive in town, but the very fact they are sitting in a Champions League spot right now deserves huge credit.
Mario Balotelli was once again their match winner. For the third straight game since he first donned his beloved red and black stripes, the Italy striker found the scoresheet, and it was the second successive home match in which he struck the winner. His dipping, curling free kick over the Parma wall and beyond the dive of Nicola Pavarini was worthy of any highlight reel, with Nicola Sansone’s injury-time goal making it a doubly important strike.
Now they just have to show they can continue their rise without Balotelli. Since the controversial frontman’s arrival from Manchester City, no other Milan player has found the net, but it must also be remembered that the Rossoneri renaissance started long before his January transfer.
|MATCH FACTS | Milan 2-1 Parma
That stat appeared something of an anomaly at times against Parma though, as Jonathan Biabiany, Amauri and Gabriel Paletta all ghosted into space in Milan’s defensive third early on. More technically-gifted players may have punished them, and they will face plenty of those on Wednesday, so there is a definite need to ensure that those gaps are squeezed more quickly against Barcelona.
There were also reasonable spells of concerted pressure from the Ducali during the first half in particular, with Roberto Donadoni doing a decent job of promoting his cause for Allegri’s job. His president, Tommaso Ghirardi has claimed in recent days that ‘the Don’ will be Milan coach “within two years”, and his improvement of a poor Parma side certainly doesn’t harm his CV. But for now, Allegri is seemingly doing enough to win over some of his doubters.
A massive bonus for the current boss right now is that confidence is at a season high. Allegri may still have a lot to work on with his side in terms of situational decision-making in possession and collective marking, but he has ensured that Milan head into the clash with Barcelona with a fighting chance, which would have been unthinkable three months ago.
Having to take on the world’s greatest team without their new-found talisman is a huge negative, but there are plenty of positives for Serie A's hottest side to boast right now, and, if they can carry their league form into Wednesday’s fixture, Barcelona could yet have a real game on their hands.