Rating Mario Balotelli's Performance for AC Milan vs. Udinese
The former Manchester City striker was rather quiet in the first half, but this was mostly due to the fact that the Isolani were so lively from the first whistle.
Ivan Pulga has transformed Cagliari into a potent force going forward and appears to be bringing out the best of Victor Ibarbo to successfully integrate the Colombians pace and power, something that the Rossoneri failed to deal with in large spells.
Balotelli was left relatively isolated due to M'Baye Niang and Stephan El Shaarawy's tendency to drift on the outside rather than combined through the middle.
Milan's wide players were then contained well by Francesco Pisano and the teenager, Nicola Murru, so Balotelli ventured into the deeper areas to become more involved.
Balotelli displayed a silky touch to hold the play up and distribute to the wings in a bid to give Milan more composure in possession in the absence of Riccardo Montolivo.
The second half was much better from Milan and specifically Balotelli.
The Rossoneri worked themselves a foothold in the game and eventually—and deservedly—drew level, even if it was through a penalty.
Balotelli won it himself by using his strength to place his body between Davide Astori and the ball, forcing the Cagliari centre-back to haul him to the ground. It was a rather theatrical fall from the Italian, but still a penalty.
Balotelli made his biggest impact on the game by continuing his fine record from the penalty spot and calmly rolling the ball into the left side of the goal, having sent Michele Agazzi sprawling to the right.
Something that we have not seen from Balotelli a great deal over the past years has been his deadly accuracy from set pieces.
Although Agazzi was never called upon to make a great save, Balotelli's technique to fizz the ball in low with the ball bouncing shortly before the goalkeeper was present, increasing the possibility of the onrushing Milan players to pounce on a rebound.
Another encouraging sign from Balotelli has been his willingness to play as a genuine No. 9, positioning himself on the shoulder of the deepest defender.
With the minutes elapsing, Bojan Krkic forced Agazzi to parry a fierce strike from distance and it was refreshing to see Balotelli reacting first for any potential rebounds, something that he was never really able to do during his time with Manchester City due to often being played out wide.
It was a game of nearly moments for Balotelli in truth and the biggest of them all came in stoppage time when Ignazio Abate dashed down the right and sent in a deep cross that Robinho did well to head back into the path of Balotelli.
The Azzurri striker acrobatically volleyed the ball in a scissor-kick style into the back of the net in what would have been one of the most dramatic stoppage-time-winning goals of recent years.
The linesman raised his flag to signal that Robinho had in fact pulled the ball back from behind the line, denying Balotelli a second injury-time winner in successive games.
I would give Balotelli a B grade for his performance against Cagliari. It was good in spells, but things appeared to conspire against him this weekend. Three goals in two games is a magnificent start to his career in the Rossoneri shirt.
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