Clean sheet delight as Milan win

Posted by Sumeet Paul

OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty ImagesValter Birsa scored the game's lone goal as Milan gutted one out against Udinese.

With the international break concluding and the ritiro re-focusing Milan minds, Massimiliano Allegri will have been delighted with the three points in the 1-0 win over Udinese on Saturday night. Valter Birsa hit a magnificent winner to decide the game but there was also a confidence-boosting clean sheet to celebrate.

- Report: Milan 1-0 Udinese

After Christian Abbiati picked up an injury prior to the game, Gabriel was handed his Serie A debut and produced a solid performance with some key saves. The young Brazilian was alert to an Antonio Di Natale free-kick in the second half, but his general display was dominant and assured as he dealt with danger calmly and effectively.

It follows on from a feature post earlier this week discussing the potential of the 21-year-old being the long-term replacement for Abbiati, and he would have done no harm to his chances of establishing himself as a starter.

In addition, Matias Silvestre stepped in to replace the suspended Philippe Mexes and appeared comfortable at the heart of the defence. While it is fair to say that Udinese were largely disappointing and rarely threatened, it was important to see how the Argentinian combined with Cristian Zapata, and initially, it looks a decent partnership.

Generally speaking, it was a positive performance from a defensive standpoint and it is vital that the Rossoneri establish a sense of being hard to beat when they are struggling in the final third of the pitch.

Much of Allegri's tactics revolve around the team being difficult to break down, and while the players delivered a workmanlike performance, it was fortunate that Birsa was able to produce a moment of magic to split the two sides.

In contrast, Alessandro Matri's struggles continue despite the hope that the former Juventus striker would make an immediate impact. However, given his inability to deliver, it will be interesting to see how Allegri manages his squad with Giampaolo Pazzini supposedly set to return in mid-November.

Elsewhere, there were also tactical adjustments with Riccardo Montolivo being restored to the middle of the midfield trio where he arguably excels. The club captain was able to see more of the ball and in turn dictated the tempo of Milan's attacking movements, while Andrea Poli produced another fine display alongside him.

However, Sulley Muntari was largely disappointing and lacked composure on the ball, and it continues to be a failing of Allegri that he doesn't select more dynamic options either side of Montolivo. With Nigel de Jong returning, it should be clear that the Dutchman forms part of the ideal midfield trio alongside his captain and Poli.

Further afield, Kaka showed glimpses of his potential after coming off the bench, but the Udinese match perhaps offered the clearest indication yet that Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy can't return quick enough.

As was the case prior to the international break, there has been a general focus on picking up points at this stage as opposed to the level of performance. The Rossoneri earned three valuable points on Saturday, but there are areas of weakness which have been exploited.

Nevertheless, it was the perfect way to return to Serie A action in terms of the result, and while attention will now switch to the Champions League, it is important that the Rossoneri build on this and continue to improve moving forward.

What did you make of the debuts from Gabriel and Silvestre? Impressed with the performance?

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

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