The sight of Mario Balotelli in tears on the sidelines after being substituted will create the headlines after Milan's 3-1 loss to Napoli, which had started so brightly with Adel Taarabt scoring his first goal for the club, before the situation gradually deteriorated for the Rossoneri as a Gonzalo Higuain brace secured victory for the hosts.
At the time of writing, it was unclear what had so upset Balotelli, although Clarence Seedorf did address the topic in his post-game interview with Sky Sport Italia:
“We are players and there are times when we express ourselves that way. I see nothing wrong or abnormal in that. I experienced it at times too,” said the Milan coach.
“[Balotelli] too needs to grow in general. He played very well against Cagliari, while tonight perhaps didn’t make the most of the space. These are things we can all improve on and I’m happy he has so many areas to improve, as I can help him through that education.”
Taarabt was arguably the most positive aspect of Milan's display with his well-taken goal which complemented a direct, energetic and generally impressive performance.
The Moroccan clearly has a point to prove having been handed a significant chance to shine, and if he can maintain the level he showed at times moving forward then his popularity will continue to rise.
- Video: Balotelli cries on sub's bench
- Higuain helps Napoli overcome Milan
His impact was unfortunately not shared by Essien who, on his Milan debut, appeared to still be off the pace and lacking in match fitness despite showing glimpses of drive from the heart of the midfield as the game went on.
Giving the former Chelsea midfielder the benefit of the doubt, he will arguably continue to improve with playing time, but his losing battle with Jorginho in the middle of the pitch perhaps said more about the flaws in Milan's transfer strategy rather than his personal struggle.
Napoli's 22-year-old was much sought-after in the January window, with speculation suggesting that Milan were among a whole host of clubs interested in signing him from Hellas Verona.
In addition to offering a combative element in midfield, Jorginho’s vision and passing ability consistently caused problems between the lines for Milan, who were ultimately undone more by individual mistakes and lapses in concentration.
Much to the bewilderment of former Milan great, Zvonimir Boban, in his pre-game assessment on Italian television, Philippe Mexes had been handed the captain’s armband for the night and unfortunately the Frenchman failed to inspire leadership in the team.
Furthermore, the Frenchman was at fault for both of Higuain’s goals, losing sight of the Argentinian for the first before being too slow to react at the edge of the box as his opponent was played in behind him to drill home Napoli’s third.
It is fundamental mistakes such as these that will continue to plague Seedorf, who can do little to eradicate them from the performances aside from continuously changing the line-up.
The new manager was clearly encouraging his players from the sidleine to keep their heads up in the latter stages of the game and to show the fight befitting of the club that they represent. Fortunately, there was a reaction and Milan can feel aggrieved, in that the game could have gone the other way.
While some adjustments were forced upon him, Seedorf made some questionable tactical selections which included playing Ignazio Abate in a more advanced role on the right flank. However, to his credit, he recognised that the decision was not perhaps working in the way he had hoped and made changes throughout in a bid to change the course of the game.
The Dutchman has consistently been quoted asking for time and patience from the supporters and had insisted that Saturday night’s game could not be judged a real examination.
Seedorf will have positive elements of the performance to take away and keep him encouraged but there are still perhaps a number of fundamental issues that he needs to address and help the team to avoid repeating.
What did you make of Milan’s performance both individually and as a collective in the loss to Napoli?