Defeat to Palermo this weekend proved frustrating for Milan. The team recorded 64 per cent possession, but against Serie A's second worst defence only registered four shots on target, with the first of those coming on 62 minutes. Combined with Palermo's early goal deciding the result and inviting Inter back into the title race ahead of the derby, debate again shifts to the Diavolo's capability in attack without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ibra's start to the campaign, that included five of the club's six goals in September, combined with the team's original teething problems, saw the issue of the Rossoneri's Ibradipendenza first rear its head at the start of October. Concern emanated even from the dressing room that players were too often bypassing tactics and patience in looking to give the ball to the No 11.
Where allegations of a long ball game died down as Allegri developed several tactical variations on a trident attack to develop the team's playing style, the debate of the side's dependency on Ibrahimovic has resurfaced in the wake of the Rosanero result.
Palermo was the second League game the side have struggled in during the League campaign in his absence. Milan came very close to drawing at Cagliari in early January in a game that also saw high possession yield few attempts on goal before Rodney Strasser's late winner.
Allegri has been quick to dismiss the idea of missing Ibra, instead putting focus on picking the wrong starting XI for a second consecutive week: "It is useless to think about Ibrahimovic's absence, we had to do more. Alexandre Pato and Antonio Cassano were not up to their usual level, but it was the first time they played together."
The Coach has indeed generally preferred one or the other, invariably substituting between Cassano and Pato in games. However, although having not started together before Saturday evening, in the 129 minutes the two had both been on the pitch in five previous games, the team had scored five goals.
The current debate over Ibra's influence on the team has taken a different shape to earlier in the season. Where his on-pitch presence was thought to be previously adversely affecting the team until Allegri answered with tactics, Ibra's current absence has highlighted another weakness in the squad – a lack of a physically imposing alternative in the ranks to provide the same centre-back wrestling he can.
Albeit providing goals and/or assists in a squad-high 74 per cent of League appearances, and earning the side 20 of their 62 points so far, the team have attacking talent to rival Ibra. What they missed at the weekend was his ability to create space for the likes of Cassano and Pato, and without it, the team didn't have an answer to Palermo's tactics.
Where Allegri openly plays down the team's reliance on Ibrahimovic, he will be aware the ideally-timed international break needs to be used correctly. It gives the Coach two weeks to prepare the side with the right solutions to beat Inter before Ibrahimovic's absence is cited as the problem.