Awkward Milan held as Napoli maintain lead

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Claudio Villa/Getty ImagesMathieu Flamini was both the hero and villain for Milan vs. Napoli.

Over the years there have been some classic games between Milan and Napoli, but sadly the sides failed to add to that memorable collection on Sunday night. The Rossoneri were held to a 1-1 draw at San Siro, in a game that produced more questions than answers.

Massimiliano Allegri raised eyebrows with his selections, deciding to bench Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio in favour of Kevin Constant and a disappointing Robinho. His ‘tactical’ decisions simply didn’t work as the Milan front line lacked both creativity and inspiration.

-Ten-man Milan can't gain on Napoli
-Video: AC Milan 1-1 Napoli (UK and Ireland)

Meanwhile, Mathieu Flamini turned from hero to villain. After his opener was cancelled out almost instantly by Goran Pandev, the Frenchman then came up with a moment of madness after a two-footed challenge ensured he saw red.

Flamini's dismissal didn’t help matters, but it didn’t hide what was a disappointing all-round performance in which Milan lacked direction. The old doubts over Allegri returned for some, but the absence of the focal point of his attack became glaringly obvious.

Without Mario Balotelli, there isn’t a reference point for the Rossoneri. Giampaolo Pazzini can’t be questioned for effort, but Milan’s tactical plan is set up to revolve around a key player leading the line.

Without a player capable of producing a moment of magic or even linking the different strands of attack effectively, there is a sense of struggle to break teams down as the approach becomes predictable and easy to handle.

El Shaarawy was a surprise exclusion. Despite a lack of goals his presence would have been a threat to the Napoli defence whilst also offering a tireless option on the left flank instead of the fleeting performance provided by Robinho.

Allegri justified his decision afterward, saying the youngster is tired, and believes he needs to recover physically as well as mentally. In his defence, the same could be said of the entire team at this stage.

Sky Sport Italia pundit Zvonimir Boban was far more critical in his post-match reaction, saying the problem is the 20-year-old El Shaarawy is too predictable.

The former Milan ace also questioned the team’s fitness, revealing fears that Milan were not aggressive enough and didn’t put enough pressure on Napoli because Milan are physically struggling.

Considering the lack of cohesion and calmness on the ball when moving forward after the interval, he may have a point. It is important for Allegri to manage the likes of El Shaarawy and De Sciglio carefully, and it is would be hard to suggest the former can maintain his high standards throughout the entire season.

“Football is unpredictable, so we will look over our shoulders, but also in front to Napoli. In any case, third place is a great objective considering how we started the season,” Allegri told reporters.

The Rossoneri remain four points adrift of second-place Napoli, while Fiorentina cut the gap between third and fourth to four. With Juventus to come next weekend, it is important Milan use the week ahead to recuperate and regroup for what will undoubtedly be another draining 90 minutes in Turin.

Do you agree with Allegri's decisions? Do Milan look tired or was there another issue on Sunday?

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