By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Right now, Stephan El Shaarawy is unstoppable. Another two goals against Napoli on Saturday night pulled AC Milan out of their latest hole and earned them arguably their first positive point of the season, while also sending ‘Il Faraone’ clear at the top of the Capocannoniere standings. There is just no putting into words how important he is to the Rossoneri's cause right now, and Christian Abbiati could not be more thankful.
The veteran goalkeeper's fifth-minute howler had gifted Gokhan Inler a goal that very much flattered the Partenopei in the early stages, and while Lorenzo Insigne's second was less clear-cut, a top-class keeper should have been doing better with it. Half an hour in, Milan were two goals behind and staring down the barrel of a seventh league defeat of the season, but their SOS call was answered by El Shaarawy.
The 20-year-old snatched a timely goal shortly before the break with a wonderful sweeping drive into the far top corner from the edge of the area. It marked a personal best: 10 goals in all competitions in a season, but to stop there would have been to deal in half-measures. A true saviour gets the job done, and that's exactly what the ex-Padova man did.With eight minutes to go, he made an excellent run in behind the Napoli defence to meet Robinho's cut-out pass with a confident finish. Milan had snatched a point, and once more it was the Pharaoh who had come through in their time of need. When people questioned the wisdom of Massimiliano Allegri's decision to replace El Shaarawy with the Rossoneri 1-0 down against Malaga earlier in November, it was this kind of performance that was at the forefront of their minds.
|MILAN WITH AND WITHOUT EL SHAARAWY'S GOALS
|With El Shaarawy goals
||Without El Shaarawy goals
Statistically alone, El Shaarawy's goals have accounted for a seven-point swing in Milan's fortunes. Winners against Cagliari and Genoa have been accompanied by match-saving strikes against Parma, Palermo and now Napoli. Without those goals, Milan would be 19th in Serie A. But more than that, he has injected confidence into a side which has been so obviously lacking in that department.
Finally, in Naples they really had the better of a game against one of the superior sides in the league, and on another night they may have won. But the mistakes from Abbiati and the sloppiness of some of their passing in their own half spoke volumes about a side still displaying a soft underbelly and a sometimes weak mentality. And the truth is that if Silvio Berlusconi's promised cash injection is made available in the January transfer window it could be spent to strengthen up to 10 of 11 positions on the pitch. While Riccardo Montolivo is beginning to grow into his role in centre-midfield, only El Shaarawy is indispensable.
Baby steps have been made, but with Anderlecht and Juventus coming up in the next seven days, Milan are going to need to make giant strides in order to get the two results they really need. But with El Shaarawy in this form, the impossible is possible.ELSEWHERE...
Juventus dropped points at home for a second consecutive league game, with their latest show of profligacy against a Lazio side they dominated from start to finish. The Bianconeri recorded their 17th draw under Antonio Conte, and will certainly see it as two points dropped after having 21 shots to Lazio's five, none of which forced Gianluigi Buffon into a save. But in the grand scheme of things, this should not come back to bite them, and if anything it was a missed opportunity to rest a few more players ahead of Tuesday's Champions League clash with Chelsea.
With Andrea Pirlo suspended and Mirko Vucinic injured, only Stephan Lichtsteiner of the regular first XI was rested as Conte once more decided to ignore conventional wisdom by pushing his first-choice players into action. While Paul Pogba was dominant in the first half, other reserves such as Emanuele Giaccherini, Luca Marrone, Alessandro Matri, Paolo De Ceglie, Martin Caceres and Lucio were once again asked to sit and watch as the majority of those who will be picked against Chelsea were expending energy, some after long midweek trips for international fixtures. Not until Tuesday will we know if this was a good decision or a bad one.
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