Milan 1-1 Cagliari: 6 Things We Learned
After the controversy and confusion that made this one of the more talked about matches heading into the weekend, it looked like Cagliari were on their way to a famous win, having not defeated the Rossoneri since 1998.
This is the kind of match that you want to box up and never talk about again. But before we seal it up, here are some thoughts to discuss about the match.
Riccardo Montolivo's Importance Cannot Be Overlooked
A yellow card suspension kept Riccardo Montolivo out of the Milan lineup on Sunday, and his absence was duly noted.
Not to say he is Andrea Pirlo, but Montolivo has that kind of creative vibe to his game that makes him vital to the Milan squad. When he is in the match, the game seems to flow through him. When he's not, well you get matches like the one that just took place at the Is Arenas.
Milan went with Massimo Ambrosini, Mathieu Flamini and Sulley Muntari in the midfield on Sunday. Of the three, Flamini was the most productive, and his performance was hardly inspiring.
Luckily, Montolivo will be back for the Parma match on Friday, which means there should be some sort of connection from the back line to the forwards.
Mario Balotelli, M'Baye Niang Make Milan Multi-Dimensional
Prior to the emergence of M'Baye Niang and the purchase of Mario Balotelli, Milan were a one-dimensional team.
All of the Rossoneri's attack came down the left flank, where Stephan El Shaarawy would burn defenders with his wonderful dribbling skills and his speed.
That made Milan all too predictable.
With the 18-year-old Niang now established on the right wing, Milan can attack from both sides of the pitch with purpose. Against Cagliari, Niang was one of Milan's top performers, showing the ability to get by multiple defenders and create chances from the outside.
Having Balotelli in the lineup makes Milan all the more dangerous. He's a perfect target man and can get to the outsides to help El Shaarawy and Niang, and also showed his unbelievable strength against defenders on multiple occasions on Sunday.
Balotelli could have easily had another goal or two as well, but it was not meant to be on the day.
Typically, this should prove to be a successful trio, but they need to learn to balance out the attack.
The attack came from the right side on too many occasions on Sunday. Cagliari knew that Milan were struggling to get the ball to the left side, and that closing down Niang and right back Ignazio Abate – who was in the attack a lot overlapping with the teenager – would close down Milan's attack.
Milan need to do a better job of distributing the ball across the pitch and getting everyone involved on a regular basis.
Mattia De Sciglio Is Better Than Ignazio Abate
Mattia De Sciglio is one of the key players in the youth project at Milan.
Born and raised in Milan, and a member of the club since he was 10, De Sciglio is a true homegrown player that has raised excitement about his progress for the past several seasons.
At last during this rebuilding season, he has been given a chance to shine.
Most impressively, he has proven that at 20 years old, he is better than Ignazio Abate.
Abate made a huge stop during the match, making a sliding challenge in the box to stop a sure goal after the rest of the defense got beat. Otherwise, he was relatively invisible, except when he would pop up to make a terrible pass to a Cagliari player or waste a Milan attack.
The 26-year-old may have been better off if a move to Russia had panned out in the winter window, but he is with Milan until the end of the season at least.
Ideally, Abate will have a strong finish to the season so that his value will go up and Milan can cash in. Regardless, it seems like De Sciglio has asserted that he is the top choice at the club.
Cristian Zapata Nearly Cost Milan the Match Too Many Times
It was not a very good performance by any means for anyone wearing the Milan shirt on Sunday, but Cristian Zapata may have been the flop of the match.
The on-loan center back from Villareal nearly cost Milan on far too many occasions, getting beat without any effort to make it look like he had a chance.
Honestly, Zapata looked lost on the pitch, as if he did not know what he was supposed to be doing.
Both Marco Sau and Segundo Ibarro made Zapata their plaything during the match, beating him with ease and putting constant pressure on Christian Abbiati in the back.
Zapata had been in okay form prior to the match, so it is understandable that Massimiliano Allegri went with him in the situation, as Milan's center back woes are a serious concern. But overall, that was a horrifying performance from the Colombian.
Mathieu Flamini Is Actually in Good Form
There are alarm bells going off about Milan's midfield, especially when they have to play without Montolivo, but after long runs of irrelevance, Mathieu Flamini is in a good run of form.
It was not a fantastic game by any standards, but right now, Flamini is one of Milan's top midfield options.
The 28-year-old Frenchman has been playing well for the red and black of late, and continued to be a factor with his aggressive play both defensively and with his ambitious attacking. Flamini found himself with an open run at goal, so the defensive-minded midfielder carried the ball nearly 70 yards before he was closed off.
But that shows the type of determination that has seen Flamini return to relevance. He looks like he will do anything he can to help Milan get a good result, and Allegri needs to make sure he continues to give him looks.
Safety Concerns About the Is Arenas Were for Naught
Earlier this week, the match between Milan and Cagliari was moved to the Stadio Olimpico in Turin amid concerns that the Is Arenas was unsuitable to play in because of safety issues (via ESPN).
However, after much debate and discussion, the match was returned to Cagliari's home ground.
After over half a season, what would have prompted officials to make the decision to move the match so close to Milan's home ground (Turin is in Lombardy, the province in which Milan is the capital)?
Fortunately, the game went on as expected, and no issues came about.
Unfortunately for Milan, who only got one point out of the match, Cagliari did not refuse to play when the match was initially moved. Had they done so, Milan would have received three points and a 3-0 win.
However, after a match like Sunday's the Rossoneri need to take what they got and move on. The good news for Allegri's side is that they stay three points out of third behind Lazio.