El Shaarawy lifts Milan in Eindhoven

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty ImagesStephan El Shaarawy's first half goal against PSV gives Milan the edge heading to next week's return leg in the San Siro.

The fear prior to kick-off in Eindhoven concerned the potential inability of Milan competing against an exuberant PSV side at an advanced level of match fitness. The hosts caused the Rossoneri numerous problems at the Philips Stadion, but ultimately Massimiliano Allegri was content with both the performance and result.

Milan return to the San Siro next week with an advantage after Stephan El Shaarawy secured a vital away goal in the 1-1 draw. The 20-year-old was visibly relieved to return to the score-sheet in a competitive match, and looked sharp alongside Mario Balotelli throughout.

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"It was my first goal in an official match since the derby and it's also my first header, so it's very satisfying," he told reporters in his post-game interview.

"This is an El Shaarawy who really wants to get going, to score and do well. Now we must focus on the game with Verona and then consider the second leg."

Much was made of the effect Balotelli's arrival in January had on El Shaarawy in particular, with critics suggesting that the talented duo were incompatible.

While there was undoubtedly some truth in that theory, there were other aspects to the problem to consider with fatigue and general loss of form also accounting for a disappointing second half to the season.

After being the subject of intense transfer speculation earlier this summer, the 20-year-old made it clear to the club that he wanted to stay, and his pre-season form has already begun to prove that it was a wise decision.

The Rossoneri are likely to switch from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2 this season with the re-introduction of the trequartista, but while there is still some confusion over who will adopt that role, there should be no uncertainty over Allegri's first choice attacking pair.

Perhaps for the first time since they were brought together at club level, El Shaarawy and Balotelli showed glimpses of what they are capable of as they were played in different positions. By bringing the pair closer together on the pitch as opposed to leaving the former out on the left flank, they showed some good link-up play and looked effective.

In addition, it lessens the burden on El Shaarawy defensively and allows him to be more involved in the final third as demonstrated on Tuesday night where he was a constant threat.

Both Sulley Muntari and Nigel De Jong were also instrumental in the draw, helping to limit the PSV midfield and add some much needed steel as Milan struggled to contain their opponents.

Arguably, the biggest regret from the trip to the Netherlands will have been the inability to have killed off the tie, with both El Shaarawy and Philippe Mexes missing late chances. Nevertheless, PSV were equally as guilty having carved out numerous openings, and a draw was perhaps the fair result.

With the Serie A opener at Verona to come on Saturday, the Rossoneri will be confident of their chances next week as their fitness continues to improve. However, they should not underestimate this PSV team, who will undoubtedly provide a real threat on the counter-attack with their free-flowing attacking football.

Confident Milan can complete the job next week? Has Allegri's slight tactical tweak solved the El Shaarawy-Balotelli "problem" after their improved performance?

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


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