Milan win their first game of the season as Pazzini takes his first step toward winning over the doubters.
In the aftermath of AC Milan's 1-0 home defeat in their first game of the season last week, the suspicions that Milan will not be able to contest Lo Scudetto this year were confirmed. Likewise, the ineffectual introduction of Giampaulo Pazzini proved that his was not the signing to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Or so it seemed from the reaction to the game in the media and around the Internet. In reality, of course, nothing is proven in the first few weeks of the season, and even less so the very first game. But to paraphrase the old expression: "What a difference a week makes."
Before the season began, I asked the question of whether Pazzini was really worth Cassano and €7 million, and that question still remains, but what yesterday's defeat of Bologna showed was that, given the chances, Pazzini still knows how to score goals.
Having lost their first home game, Milan went to Bologna knowing they needed to rebuild momentum on the road, and their 3-1 scoreline against a tough Bologna team will certainly help boost confidence. For Pazzini, scoring a hat trick on his full debut was the perfect start and will help to vindicate manager Massimiliano Allegri's decision to part with an Italian international plus cash for "Il Pazzo."
What was key, and what I outlined in my original article, was that the purchase of Pazzini was as much to do with a player who fits into a system as the two players' respective talents. This could not have been more aptly demonstrated than by each of Pazzini's three goals on Sunday.
For his and Milan's first goal, Pazzini latched onto a ball from Kevin Prince Boateng, who, as is becoming increasingly common, was Milan's standout player. But the run that Pazzini made was what gave Boateng the option: It was a typical centre forward's run, from the middle of the pitch out towards the corner of the penalty area, trying to get in behind the defence before Nicolo’ Cherubin's (slight) tug brought him down.
It is not the kind of run a "fantasy" player like Cassano would ever make.
Similarly for goals two and three, they were reliant on positional play. They were opportunistic goals that required fairly simple finishes, but neither would have occurred had Pazzini not been occupying the traditional striker's position on the edge of the six-yard box.
Of course, in the time between last week's defeat to Sampdoria and this week's victory over Bologna, Milan did make some additional improvements to their squad, chief among them the capture of Nigel de Jong from Manchester City. This has, rightly, given Milan fans some additional cause for optimism, even if Riccardo Montolivo's suspected hamstring injury is a worry.
But another interesting occurrence has emerged since my initial article: Cesare Prandelli has announced his latest Italy squad, and Pazzini is present while Cassano is not, a complete role reversal from the positions I outlined at the time.
Milan will remember the similar impact Pazzini had on his debut for Inter, only to fade into a less prominent and unused member of the squad as time went on. But the signs are good that, with the system Alegri is currently favouring, Pazzini could be a valuable member of the new look AC Milan.