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AC Milan duly got the expected result against Celtic in their Group H bow, two late goals securing three points. However their performance, or lack thereof, left a lot to be desired, and much of the frustration must be pointed in the direction of manager Massimiliano Allegri.
While a number of key players—Stephan El Shaarawy, Kaka, Ignazio Abate, Riccardo Montolivo and Mattia De Sciglio—were all absent, Allegri selected to alter his side's attacking trident, stationing Valter Birsa on the right, Alessandro Matri through the middle and withdrawing Mario Balotelli out to the left.
In itself, it appears to be a way of involving new signing Matri when options appeared slim. But by taking Balotelli away from the No. 9 position where he has looked so at home since his return to Italy in January, and the position from where he had scored 15 goals in 18 games before the Celtic match, Milan's attacking play was lacking.
Since returning to Serie A, the 23-year-old has quickly matured into an outstanding centre-forward who leads the line well, scores goals and brings others into play; in short, he's proven himself an outstanding focal point to this Milan team.
Yet, on Wednesday evening, Balotelli appeared frustrated, while Matri's want to continually run in behind the Celtic defence rather than mix his game and offer short meant that the focal point was missing. It merely added to what was a far less than accomplished display and only served to encourage the Scottish champions.
Additionally, the Rossoneri's lack of speed throughout the side, particularly without their pacy and adventurous full-backs Abate and De Sciglio, hindered them whenever they looked to counter-attack; Zaccardo and Constant simply don't offer the same outlet. However, that is something easily rectified when both missing players return.
It is the Balotelli situation which is most puzzling however. Having spent a sizeable fee on Matri in the summer, perhaps Allegri feels he needs to play regularly. But at the expense of Balotelli and the position where he does his best work, and which seemingly brings out the best in others, it's perhaps something Allegri needs to rethink.