The exit of Mario Balotelli has cast a shadow over Milan, turning the remainder of the transfer window into a rat race, the Rossoneri desperate to fill the gap left behind by the controversial striker.
Although the Diavolo’s efforts are firmly focused on replacing Balotelli with another forward, the 24-year-old’s departure means the burden many expected SuperMario to shoulder will now be carried by the rest of the team.
“When a player leaves, it means all the parties involved took this decision. We are certainly losing a great player, but we gain something more in team spirit and hunger,” Inzaghi told media following Balotelli’s exit.
One player who should perhaps be hungrier than most is Keisuke Honda, who is beginning to show the form that had so many Milan fans excited upon his arrival in January.
Although a small sample size that becomes immediately worthless at the season’s start, Honda was the best player during the Trofeo TIM for Milan, scoring a terrific goal with a hooked finish against Juventus before registering an assist in the following match against Sassuolo.
As the man who gave the former CSKA man the famous No 10 shirt, Adriano Galliani was typically confident in the player’s performance.
“I was certain that Honda would return to being the great player that he has always been,” the CEO told Press. He may have been the only one.
Honda looked out of place last season in Clarence Seedorf’s 4-2-3-1, but the Japanese looks much more comfortable on the right side of Filippo Inzaghi’s 4-3-3, cutting in and delivering accurate passes across the pitch as well as drifting inside the box to cause trouble, as shown by his strike against the Bianconeri.
Milan and Honda will be hoping the new-found comfort in Italy will continue when the games that matter begin, as Honda’s presence as chief creator is much more obvious now that Balotelli is no longer around.
Without Balotelli, who tended to drift wide and deep to pick up the ball before looking to pass to a running mate, Honda’s responsibility to deliver the passes that his former teammate would have has been heightened. With that responsibility however, comes extra space on the pitch for the midfielder to take a primary role. Watching Milan last year, it often felt like Honda and Balotelli were closer to bumping into each other than developing any real chemistry. Without the mercurial forward, that problem no longer exists.
Additionally, the replacement for Balotelli is likely to be a more traditional striker than the former Inter and Manchester City player was. With a player more in the mould of Milan’s new Coach Inzaghi, the 28-year-old may benefit from having a pure finisher to chase through balls and improve the midfielder’s statistics come this season’s end.
With the arrival of a wide player on the backburner as Milan chase Balotelli’s replacement, the likelihood is ever increasing that it will be Honda opposite Stephan El Shaarawy and a yet-to-be-named striker against Lazio on August 31.
Although that situation is not viewed as ideal by the board, Honda could provide a real lift to a squad that has become more bereft of creative talent as each transfer window passes.