Tag Archives: Balotelli

Napoli v Milan Post-Match Comments

Let’s begin with the match, and move onto the implications of “a failed test”. In the days leading up to this match, Clarence Seedorf referred to it as a test, an examination. And seeing as it was a test, I thought I’d break it down into the simplest method possible (and a lovely way to reduce a lot into a little – let’s call it a formation grade card) pass/fail.

To the results –

Abbiati – fail

Abate  – fail

De Sciglio – pass

Rami – pass

Mexes – fail

Emanuelson – fail

Essien – pass

De Jong – fail

Taarabt – pass

Robinho – fail

Balotelli – fail

Substitutes –

Pazzini – n/a

Kaka – fail

Montolivo – fail


Thing is: I assessed these players around the 80th minute. Something awful happened after that in which De Sciglio, Mexes, Rami and Abate were again turned into a schoolboy defense as Napoli rounded the back four, squared to an open Higuain and left with another 3-1 scoreline. For that, everyone in defense failed. This leaves two passing grades, which I will talk about briefly.

Taarabt started excellently, doing a great job covering for Emanuelson in the defensive phase while breaking out for an excellent debut goal. After that he faded significantly, although his dribbling remained quality – he had 4 successful dribbles: the most of any player in the match (seconded by Essien’s 3) and also completed over 85% of his passes, a very successful debut especially considering the player switched from the English Championship to a match against the team who amassed 12 points in the group of death.

But the player I really want to talk about is Michael Essien, who in my opinion was Milan’s most successful player in this match. The general consensus of those I spoke with after the match was negative, in particular against “slow and broken knee” Essien. By contrast, I felt he provided the most important role on the Milan side, performed his duty better than his competitor, and if he had a better supporting performer in Nigel De Jong, may have been able to change the shape of the match.

Essien was matched up against Gokan Inler, who had a solid match by all standards (WhoScored placed him as MoTM after a goal and an assist, but compared with Essien, his stats line looks incredibly similar. 88% passes to 89%. 76 touches to 75 touches. The difference being Inler looked to intercept and tackle (4 and 3 respectively) while Essien looked to launch more attacks from the base of the Rossoneri midfield. Inler’s job was in essence split between Essien and De Jong, which is a redundancy that needs to be avoided. I don’t believe Nigel De Jong can fit in this formation in a long-term scenario but that’s for another day.

I’d like to break down Essien’s passing a little bit more, not because breaking down passing patterns provides any sort of long-term analysis but it does give you a clue into the role and the function that the player is looking to exploit at a given time. Knowing that Clarence Seedorf is aware of the problem of Milan’s engine and how there isn’t a hard-working player in the holding pair, Muntari and Essien have recently been deployed, which shows a recognition of the problem, at the very least. The question is how Essien has chosen to interpret this role, and that’s where the passing will be useful.


Firstly, I want to break down the passes Essien received, which formed two distinct groups, those passes from his own half, which were positive passes forward, and balls he received in the opposition half, which were traditionally back passes. That being said, overwhelmingly, the passes Essien received seem to be lateral or at least close to square passes.


From there, we look at what Essien did with the ball. He completed 3 successful dribbled according to WhoScored, the second most in the match, indicating he looked to drive the ball forward (several examples on film of this). What did Essien do when he didn’t dribble? He attempted only one shot, so the rest of his contribution was through passing, of which his was overwhelmingly lateral – looking to spread play out wide.

Abate (#2) positioning strange due to switching from RW -> LWB

Abate (#2) positioning strange due to switching from RW -> LWB

The one last thing I want to delineate about Essien’s role is how it deferred from De Jong’s (a more traditional holding player). Most importantly, positionally, Essien started in front of De Jong, and despite the fact they played as a holding pair, they were very rarely laterally positioned directly next to each other (it’s far too easy to bypass a lateral pair than a staggered one).

ndj -> essien

And one final point on Nigel and Essien’s combination play, is that Nigel’s passes to and from Essien tell you about the relationship between the two players. Essien received more passes from Nigel De Jong, who passed to him 16 times, than any other player.  12 of these 16 passes were forward passes to Essien (not coincidentally, and a fore bearer of the issues NdJ has as a player, all four of his passes to Essien in the opposion half were negative), indicating that he’s sitting deeper behind the Ghanaian.

essien -> ndj

Winding down on the discussion of Essien, his passes were not meant to be negative unless he was retaining possession in the opposition half, and as a result, he often played square balls wide to De Sciglio and Emanuelson, who were his favorite targets (10 passes to Abate + MdS and 9 to Emanuelson) – spreading play again.

In conclusion on Milan’s new #15: he has much work to go on this role. Essien comes unaware of some of the larger tactical issues that are being wrestled with in Serie A, although his initial impression was positive and showed that he’s not as broken as previously insinuated by his “failed medical”.

The final point I wish to make is on Mario Balotelli, and the response to his emotional outburst – read: tears on the bench caught by cameras. In sport, we look to our athletes as super human, so much so that when they make a mistake, it comes across as such a massive deal. Lebron James publicly apologized for “the decision”, but it’s still one of the first things that come to mind when discussing the King. Balotelli is still known for lighting fireworks in his basement (something his friends did), visiting a ladies prison (which he denied), giving money out to strangers (he won’t comment on every instance but has denied it before) and more. Everything is seen as “crazy Mario” and his off-the-pitch antics.

Mario is a lightning rod for this Milan side, one that is exposed metal ever since Max Allegri departed Milan. Before, Max can be the problem. The tactical imbalance of the side? The players are great, it’s just the manager. But now that the manager has been stripped away, and the other problems of the squad are obvious for the casual observer to see, Mario gets even more flak. He’s not delivering. He’s not performing. He’s getting red cards left and right (none of which are true).

This isn’t to complain about the treatment of Mario, it’s to remind people that he’s a human being, and a very immature one at that. He’s lived in a bubble of privilege his whole life, that gets popped when he visits stadiums full of booing and fans abusing racial insults at him week in and week out (although there are no reports of it happening this weekend, a whole separate issue – by and large this is something the man has to deal with and even if these specific whistles weren’t racially motivated it’s quite easy to see how someone under the kinds of pressure Mario is could interpret it as such).

Balotelli found out he was a father this weekend, to an ex-girlfriend he spent almost a year fighting a battle against denying his daughter was his child. He wanted to dedicate a goal to his new daughter, but instead, continued his poor form in Naples, continuing his streak of never beating Napoli. Oh, by the way, Seedorf hasn’t been able to right the ship in 3 weeks, and as a result everyone is blaming Mario Balotelli (lightning rod) for not carrying the team’s defense, midfield and attack, while also creating and scoring and shutting up and not doing anything off the field.  Seems reasonable right?

So before this becomes too much of a panic button – let me summarize. This was a test – and Milan failed. It’s far from the end of the world, the season was scrapped already. Clarence Seedorf has taken intense interest in the development of Mario Balotelli and he believes in the player. Individual mental and physical development is what needs to happen from this point forward until the end of the season, and it looks like Mario just had a moment where it all hit him and he realized how much better he’s going to need to do. The real question in Milan is not whether he is up to the task, it’s whether his teammates are going to be able to support him when he needs it most. 

After all, when your side tires after 55 minutes and the opposition are still pressing all the way back to the goalkeeper in the 90th minute, a win was never really a realistic option.


Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva

Crisis in Milan

Gino DeBlasio speaks on Milan’s current predicament:

The Italians love the word crisis. Crisi as the natives would say, is an overused word at the best of time. But for this Milan team, time and time again that word has been resplendently usurped by rimmonto (revival). Yes, Milan, last year revived their European hopes, albeit in the most congruous of circumstances.

Take this year, eleven points in twelve games, crisi without rimmonto is looking like an inevitability. You, and I, are left pointing the finger, accusing the club and asking, where did it all go wrong? If you’re looking for a clear definitive answer, I’m sorry, you’re going to be left asking more questions than getting answers.

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Mario to Milan: Winners and Losers

The Balotelli saga is finally over! It has long seemed inevitable that the mercurial Italian international would end up at Milan someday. But with fortunes flagging for both the striker in Manchester and the squad in Italy (though things are looking up), the time was right for the move to happen and with a bit of the old Galliani/Berlusconi magic, Milan’s prodigal son is finally coming home.

But not everyone should be excited about Balotelli’s arrival. Mario leaves equal parts joy and destruction in his wake. Let’s take a closer look at the winners and losers at the start of his new beginning at Milan.

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