Watching Milan try to play through the midfield into the attacking third is infuriating. Three matches in, the Rossoneri have two goals, and they both came in the lone win over Empoli.
There are multiple problems. Up top, the club has lacked a finishing touch. Luiz Adriano had multiple chances—multiple incredible chances—to score against Inter, but they were squandered. In the midfield, there seems to be a lack of connection with the attack. Juraj Kucka and Giacomo Bonaventura played well in the wide midfielder roles, but the attacking midfield position has been a question mark. Whether it is has been Bonaventura or Keisuke Honda, Milan has looked lost trying to get the ball from the midfield, to an attacking midfielder, to the strikers.
Sinisa Mihajlovic has another option. It is unconventional. It has been discussed among fans, and it has often been downplayed. At the least, Milan should consider it.
Mihajlovic could give a look to Mario Balotelli as the attacking midfield option.
The preference, of course, is to play Balotelli as a striker. But with Carlos Bacca and Luiz Adriano in the squad, and especially considering how much money Milan spent to bring them into the club, it is hard to see Mihajlovic justifying putting Balotelli into the starting lineup up top. But his contributions are too important for him to be left on the bench.
That was obvious against Inter. Balotelli only played about 30 minutes, but he was the best player in the squad, by far. He was menacing going forward, and he nearly created multiple goals.
Most of his damage and threatening play came from outside the box. Balotelli has always been excellent at holding the ball up near the top of the box and unleashing fury. Against Inter, he was able to do a multitude of things with the ball from that position. There was one play that stood out. Balotelli got the ball and made a move into the box, heading toward the left post. He beat a defender or two to slip in and get down near the 6-yard box. Another defender lunged in, and Balotelli used his strength and balance to get away and create a scoring chance.
Balotelli also had two remarkable shots from outside the box almost end up in the back of the net. He was only denied by the post and the fingertips of Samir Handanovic.
What really stood out, however, was his passing. He only attempted four, completing two, but they were dangerous. According to Squawka, both of Balotelli's completed passes could be considered key passes, passes that directly lead to a scoring attempt. The average distance on those passes was 28 meters.
Honda and Bonaventura have combined to make eight key passes this season. Bonaventura has averaged 19 meters on his passes, while Honda has averaged 15. Of course, both players have played significantly more minutes than Balotelli, and they have played both in the central midfield and attacking roles, but Balotelli's numbers stand out. They are typical of his ability to see openings and find them.
That vision has been lacking for Milan. There seems to be an imaginary wall holding back Milan's play in the attacking part of the field. The play dies down before it gets to the attacking players.
Balotelli has the vision to make the passes an attacking midfielder needs to make. He has the strength, balance and pace to take on defenders and get into the box. He can shoot from range with precise accuracy.
There are issues with this scenario, of course. Primarily, Milan does not have another option at striker right now. It is Bacca, Adriano and Balotelli. M'Baye Niang is out until November and has yet to make a significant impact. Suso, Alessio Cerci and Jeremy Menez are not necessarily options to play as strikers, either, so having the only three options on the pitch at once is bold and potentially dangerous.
It is a frustrating situation. Balotelli needs to be on the field, as do Bacca and Adriano (at least for now). There are no other options at striker to justify playing the three together. But Milan needs to figure something out. The derby was the club's best showing of the season, but there was still something missing. Kucka was surprisingly a threat out of the midfield. Bonaventura was decent. Honda struggled mightily, however. After he came off the field, Balotelli provided the most threatening play from the area outside the box.
Maybe this is a dream reserved only for late nights playing "FIFA 16." It is an idea, something Mihajlovic needs right now. Nothing has worked. There needs to be a connecting player between the midfielders and the forwards. Maybe Honda or Bonaventura improves. Maybe Suso becomes a revelation. Maybe Milan is playing with whatever it has until Jeremy Menez returns in a few days. It would be great to see Balotelli, a man looking for his place, to get his shot.
In reality, all of this could have been avoided had Milan not sold Riccardo Saponara back to Empoli. Milan is not winning that exchange so far.