Derby defeat caps off miserable half-season for Milan

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Goalkeeper Christian Abbiati is helpless as the flick from Rodrigo Palacio (8) tickles into the net.GettyImagesGoalkeeper Christian Abbiati is helpless as the flick from Rodrigo Palacio (8) tickles into the net.

The buildup had been slightly muted given circumstances off the pitch, while the quality of the current versions of these two giants of Italian football was also questioned given the Derby della Madonnina’s prestige and history.

As it was, Rodrigo Palacio’s late goal ultimately sealed a 1-0 win for the Nerazzurri and resulted in a bitterly disappointing end to the year from a Milan perspective.

The pre-match embrace between Javier Zanetti and Kaka -- club legends and current captains of Inter and Milan, respectively -- was touching but perhaps further drove home the point of how the Derby has regressed. Nevertheless, it was still a battle between two teams desperate for three points.

Massimiliano Allegri caused a stir with the selection of Riccardo Saponara in his starting lineup, with the inexperienced youngster handed his first Serie A start since joining the club from Empoli in the summer.

There were flashes of what the attacking midfielder, who turned 22 on Saturday, could offer, which fed optimism surrounding his future with Milan, but given his lack of match fitness and the impending January arrival of Keisuke Honda, it remains to be seen whether or not he is given another opportunity to impress after a, possibly unfair, first audition.

Nevertheless, Saponara's performance epitomised the entire display from the Rossoneri, who showed glimpses of what they were capable of but failed to implement it throughout the game. While they looked in control for extended periods, their lack of ambition in midfield and a lack of cutting edge up front ultimately cost them.

Much of what has been said about Mario Balotelli this season has been negative, which is in stark contrast to his first six months at the club, when his influence was nothing but positive.

Claudio Villa/Getty ImagesMario Balotelli could not save Massimiliano Allegri's side from derby defeat.

And, despite the expectancy that the setting on Sunday night would fire him up to deliver a display full of leadership and desire, Balotelli failed to match the level shown by some of his teammates, which is unacceptable if he wants to become a cornerstone of the current squad.

There is no questioning Milan’s work rate and their determination to do well. Indeed, their high pressing through the first half and most of the second demonstrated how desperate they were to obtain a positive result.

However, the lesson that is being learned is that effort alone doesn't necessarily garner results and with a midfield starved of creativity and quality, Milan's problems were evident again as they continue to languish in the bottom half of the table heading into the winter break.

Without the suspended Riccardo Montolivo, Allegri deployed a midfield trio consisting of practically three defensive destroyers: Nigel de Jong, Sulley Muntari and Andrea Poli. The trio did little to add to the spectacle and only served to increase the frustration surrounding the players and coach. Milan’s style of play could be much improved.

In addition, Allegri afterward conceded that he felt as though his team did well for the opening hour but suffered thereafter, which may again stir up criticism of his tactics and game plan, which saw the Rossoneri struggle in the closing stages after arguably overexerting themselves too soon.

There are positives to take from the performance, as defensively Milan looked more sound and resolute than in recent times, while the desire could not be questioned.

However, the seasonal objective of securing a place in the top three is now perhaps an unrealistic target and it is the lack of attacking quality that is perhaps the biggest pain for Milan supporters who have to endure further disappointment. They will hope for a more successful year in 2014.

What did you make of the Derby defeat? Allegri suggested Balotelli performed well on Sunday night, do you agree?

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

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