In "3 Up, 3 Down" we take a look at three positives and three negative takeaways from the last match. Here are the positives and negatives from Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Inter in the Derby Della Madonnina.
1) Mario Balotelli
Despite only playing around 30 minutes Sunday night, Mario Balotelli was the best player on the pitch for Milan. The controversial striker made his season debut replacing Carlos Bacca, and he provided an instant spark. Balotelli hit the post from outside the box after side stepping a couple of Nerazzuro shirts, delivered a few dangerous dead balls, drew multiple fouls and refused to engage the likes of Felipe Melo and Fredy Guarin in their attempts to provoke him. If this version of Mario Balotelli is here to stay, Milanisti will be very pleased.
2) Milan's Defense
On Sunday night Milan's defense looked about as stable as it has in a couple of years. Cristian Zapata and Alessio Romagnoli hardly put a foot wrong, while Mattia De Sciglio turned in his best performance of an already impressive season. Abate was the clear weak link, but he didn't make any egregious errors. Inter's goal was the result of a counterattack after Milan sent too many men forward to press Inter's back line, this was a team error rather than a defensive error. As a whole, the defense only allowed one premium chance, the lob from Stevan Jovetic to Mauro Icardi, which led to a miracle save by Diego Lopez. Milan's defense was steady overall, and if it continues this way, it can prove to be a real strength of this team.
3) Juraj Kucka
Milan's forgotten summer signing got his first start for the Rossoneri Sunday and was the best midfielder on the night. Kucka made some good decisions going forward, and he did an admirable job covering for the struggling Abate on the flank. Kucka's energy and drive going forward were elements Milan's midfield was lacking in the first two matches. If his form continues, Kucka could be a pleasant surprise for the Rossoneri.
1) Keisuke Honda
Without a doubt, Honda was the worst player on the pitch against Inter. The Japanese trequartista was wasteful in possession, physically dominated and routinely out of position. It seemed as though every time Honda had the ball, he didn't do anything positive with it. Throughout the match Honda was bullied by the likes of Melo, Guarin and Geoffrey Kondogbia, and lost the ball far too many times. Most alarming, however, was how lost he looked when Balotelli came on. Honda looked confused as to where to be as Balotelli dropped deep into the space which Honda likes to operate. As a result Honda was playing with his back to goal in front of Inter's defense and never put himself in the right position to receive the ball. He was mercifully subbed off for the equally wasteful Alessio Cerci with 10 minutes to go.
2) Milan's Finishing
For the first time in a long time, Milan actually out-chanced a good team. The problem is Milan was unable to connect on any of these well worked chances. Luiz Adriano deservedly received most of the blame because of his inability to find the back of the net when in on Samir Handanovic, but he was not the only one culpable. Romagnoli wasted a free header off a corner kick, and Giacomo Bonaventura was unable to get any of his myriad of shots on target. As a team, Milan's finishing needs improvement if they are to get results against the better teams in Serie A.
3) Riccardo Montolivo
While he didn't play all that badly, he was hardly a difference maker. After he attempted two ridiculous long balls within the first five minutes, Montolivo was anonymous for most of the match. He made his fair share of routine passes, but didn't make any that directly led to scoring chances. He had a a couple of promising shots that went wide, but other than that failed to make an impact. For a player who is the club's captain and one of its highest earners, a performance like this in the derby is hugely disappointing.