“If there really was a conspiracy to help Milan reach the Champions League, then Mario Balotelli wouldn’t be sitting out a three-match ban.” Massimiliano Allegri’s riposte to Massimo Moratti and his paranoid Inter chums made sense, as Super Mario has been sensational since arriving from Manchester City in January. He has scored seven goals in eight Serie A games and provided two assists, but being forced to do without him might not be such a disaster after all.
Milan are unbeaten in Serie A in 2013 and arguably missed the cup-tied Balotelli in the Champions League capitulation to Barcelona, but the comeback to push for second place did not start with him. Balo made his Rossoneri debut on February 3 with a brace against Udinese, but before that the team had notched up seven wins, two draws and a single defeat. It was not exactly a shoddy selection of results. Since his introduction, they have amassed six wins and three stalemates, so more or less on the same scale.
Great friends they may be, but Stephan El Shaarawy has undoubtedly suffered from being Balotelli’s partner on the pitch. The goals have dried up for the Little Pharaoh, who turned into a supplier of chances rather than someone with the responsibility to finish them off. In the PM era (Pre-Mario), El Shaarawy scored 15 goals in 22 Serie A games, whereas AM he managed just one in eight rounds. Even taking into account natural fluctuations in form and the fact he is still only 20 years old, that is a significant drop.
Factor in that it was El Shaarawy who bagged a brace to complete Milan’s comeback from 2-0 down and hold Napoli at the San Paolo in November, and the scene is set for this Pharaoh to rise again. Whether or not Stephan actually scores, Balotelli’s absence will undoubtedly change the way Milan play. Giampaolo Pazzini is much more of a ‘sit in the box and wait for someone to pass it to me’ kind of a centre-forward. Someone else will also have to take the free kicks, seeing as Balo had called bagsy on every single set-piece. Maybe it will help the rest of the team to remember they were pretty good even before Super Mario strolled in and a head-to-head with Napoli is the ideal confidence-booster. That way when he does return, it’ll be as an added bonus and not the rock they are desperately clinging to.