AC Milan's clash with Juventus in round 33 of Serie A meant little for the hosts. The Bianconeri had all but tied up their second successive Scudetto before the encounter and had the autopilot set for the closing matches of the season.
For the Rossoneri, however, it was three crucial points allowed to slip away. The 1-0 loss left Massimiliano Allegri's men just a point ahead of Fiorentina, with the two sides soon to meet. Milan had dropped from potential runners-up in the league to fighting for their Champions League spot.
In Turin, it was Milan who looked the better of the two sides, but not for the first time this season—when it mattered most—Allegri's side failed to make it count. Mario Balotelli can change all that.
The prolific front man's abilities are well known, but it's his confidence and star status that the Rossoneri need most in the big games. Super Mario is never short on self belief, and it's that innate conviction in his own abilities that should inspire his teammates and lead them to difficult wins in the long term.
It's an amorphous quality but one that so often defines football's landscape. Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United, for instance, so often look ordinary on paper only to transform into an unstoppable machine when the chips are down. Confidence is key.
With a summer to work with the young Italian, Allegri might also consider a formation change. A lot has been made of Stephan El Shaarawy's shyness in front of goal since Balotelli's arrival, and if the Milan boss wants his team to fulfil its not-inconsiderable potential, he'll need both firing on all cylinders.
El Shaarawy and Balo have both fired Milan up the table at various points of this season, but since the former Inter striker's arrival from Manchester City, the tricky winger has been expected to supply rather than deliver the goals. Whether this suits him or not remains to be seen, but for Milan to challenge, they'll need goals from both young Italy internationals.
Another factor to consider is that it looked like El Shaarawy might already have been running out of steam when Balotelli arrived. Milan relied on the youngster too often—drawing comparisons to their old tendency to depend wholly on Zlatan Ibrahimovic for inspiration and more often than not, salvation, too.
Balotelli allowed il Faraone to take a back seat and catch his breath, but next season it will be interesting to observe their dynamic when both begin the campaign equally rested and prepared.
El Shaarawy's penchant for driving into the centre and Balotelli's roaming style are not necessarily well-suited to one another and could result in them tripping over one another, but if they can work hard and come to some sort of understanding and compromise, the possibilities are tantalising.
The pair are both immensely talented and are said to have a great relationship off the pitch, so in theory it should be easy for Allegri to join the dots and transform them into a lethal partnership.
Another player Allegri will be keen to integrate with Balo will be Giampaolo Pazzini. The 28-year-old international is far too good for the bench, and though it would take a serious tactical shift on the manager's part to play him alongside Balotelli regularly, some compromise will have to be found if Allegri doesn't want to leave serious striking talent wasting away in the dugout.
Players like Riccardo Montolivo and Kevin-Prince Boateng in the midfield will delight in working with Balotelli and his abilities should unlock more in their own.
Against Juventus, Montolivo worked tirelessly but couldn't find an outlet for his creative passing when it mattered most. Likewise, the lively Ignazio Abate was rampant on the wing but was let down by his final ball—and crucially, a lack of targets for said ball to be aimed at. Robinho faded badly and though he worked hard, Pazzini just couldn't find himself the right positions on the night.
Watching, you felt that it might have been different with Balotelli up front to provide the spark. Next season, Super Mario can be this side's lightning rod.
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