'Mini-tournament' begins for Milan as Balotelli returns

Posted by Sumeet Paul

In a week dominated by transfer speculation and denials over consideration of managerial changes, Milan return to business on Sunday night with plenty to play for. The gap has now been reduced to a solitary point, but the stage is set for the return of "Super Mario".

-Balotelli to play Sunday

Three consecutive draws have seen Milan surrender what was at one time a commanding lead over Fiorentina, with the ambition of finishing second now looking unlikely.

Viola boss Vincenzo Montella declared his team ready for “this mini-tournament” of the season's last five rounds, and are seemingly hitting their stride at just the right time with the pressure undoubtedly on the Rossoneri to maintain their slender lead.

It comes as another test for this group of players, and will ultimately be a real assessment of how they can respond to adversity. Sunday's opponent Catania remain in contention for a place in Europe next season, and will not show up at San Siro with nothing to play for.

There have been distractions throughout the week, some more positive than others. The club announced an operating loss of just 6.9 million euros for 2012, a commendable if predictable achievement considering the sale of two top players in the summer.

Despite the disappointment of losing key components of the squad, considering the club were running with losses of 67 million euros in 2011 and 70 million in 2010, it is a testament to the work being done by the front office to run the club on a sustainable and perhaps even profitable model.

On the pitch, whispers suggested that Luciano Spalletti was being lined up as a replacement for Massimiliano Allegri, should the latter fail in reaching the Champions League. Despite the Zenit boss dismissing speculation on Thursday, doubt still shrouds the future of Milan's incumbent tactician.

Milan vice president Adriano Galliani has made the club's ambitions clear, as he expects them to "fight for the Scudetto" next season. Despite the unwavering support he has provided Allegri over the season, failure to deliver the minimum requirement of a place at Europe’s top table may be enough to see a change.

Rumours aside, the most important thing for both Allegri and the club as a whole will be facing Catania on Sunday. Mario Balotelli returns from his two-game suspension and will undoubtedly play a vital part.

In his absence, the Rossoneri have scored just one goal and registered one point from two games, thus leading to suggestions they are ‘Balotelli-dependent’.

At this stage of the season, it is insignificant as to whether Milan do over-rely on their January signing, with qualification for the Champions League making up the bigger picture.

Granted, his seven goals in eight games have been valuable. Yet to allow him to flourish, the 10 team-mates who accompany him must play their own individual roles to put him in the best position possible to win.

Milan remain in charge of their own destiny, but another slip-up on Sunday could cause irrevocable damage to their Champions League aspirations.

Are Milan guilty of being ‘Balotelli-dependent’? Will they get back on track with a win against Catania?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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