AC Milan: The Best Formation for Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy
Much was made last season of the effect Mario Balotelli's arrival at AC Milan had on compatriot Stephan El Shaarawy, with critics suggesting that the talented duo were incompatible.
While there may have been some truth to that theory, considering the transition El Shaarawy had to make from being the focal point of the attack to taking a less prominent role, fatigue was also a major factor for the youngster.
Having suffered an alarming dip in form in the second half of the season, transfer speculation over the summer had linked him with an exit from Italy. However, after discussions with vice-President Adriano Galliani, it was decided that he would remain in Milan.
The difference has been noticeable in preseason, with the 20-year-old returning to goal-scoring form and showing promising signs of link-up play with both Balotelli and Andrea Petagna.
It would appear that with the doubt surrounding his future finally cleared up, the Italian international once again feels settled and ready to write his name into the club's history books, an objective he has publicly shared since he first joined the Rossoneri.
Which formation suits the Balotelli-El Shaarawy partnership most?
With the shift from a 4-3-3 to a 4-3-1-2 likely to be implemented this season at the request of owner Silvio Berlusconi, coach Massimiliano Allegri is likely to field the dynamic duo in a two-man attack, with either Kevin-Prince Boateng or Riccardo Saponara deployed in the trequartista role.
It remains to be seen how effective this change is, as there is a chance that Allegri will resort back to the 4-3-3 during the season in order to accommodate the likes of M'Baye Niang and Robinho.
However, the switch to two forwards will arguably allow El Shaarawy to thrive again, as it will put him closer to Balotelli, thus allowing them to work up some chemistry and play off one another.
This is in contrast to how the attacking trident would work, where El Shaarawy would have to tirelessly track-back as well as be alienated on the left flank, as the majority of play would go through the middle with "Super Mario" acting almost as a target-man.
Similarly to how Allegri used Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the Swede's spell at San Siro, the Italian tactician relies on individuals to make the difference in the attacking third.
There is little doubt over Balotelli's ability, and he is expected to build on last season's impressive six months at the club with an even better year ahead.
The 23-year-old is continuing to work his way into the conversation of being regarded amongst the top five strikers in the world, as he responds to responsibility for both club and country in the perfect way.
However, by placing El Shaarawy closer to Balotelli in a two-man front line, it would undoubtedly help both players to enjoy a productive season and fulfill the potential that they have of representing both Milan and the Azzurri for the next decade.
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