Milan is in the top four in Serie A for now, as the Rossoneri held on to defeat Udinese 3-2 on the road in the first match of the fifth round Tuesday.
The visitors took a 3-0 lead into halftime, but Udinese struck twice in the first 15 minutes of the second half to put the pressure on Milan. This cannot happen, especially against a team like Udinese, which has struggled since defeating Juventus to start the season.
Perhaps it was a mistake for Sinisa Mihajlovic to remove Davide Calabria from the match in the 49th minute. Milan is low on options at fullback; both Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli were out for the match, leaving Milan with just Calabria and Mattia De Sciglio. Calabria was replaced by Alex, moving Cristian Zapata to the outside.
What purpose does that serve? Calabria was playing well in his second straight appearance for Milan. When Zapata moved to the outside, it broke up what has been a fantastic center-back pairing for Milan. Zapata and Alessio Romagnoli have been playing so well together, and they continued their excellent form in the first half. When they got broken up, Udinese seemed to cut through Milan's defense like a hot knife through butter. Romagnoli and Alex had not played together yet – Tuesday was Alex's first Serie A appearance of the season. There was bound to be issues, so why do that? Why move a center back to right back? Why break up a great pairing in the middle of defense? None of it makes sense.
The issues in defense made it difficult for Milan to move forward in the second half, not that that was the strategy. The Rossoneri needed to sit back and defend, and with the poor play in the back, the midfield needed to help as much as possible. Good thing Milan got those three goals in the first half.
Milan's first-half display was something special, albeit a tad lackluster. Zapata, Giacomo Bonaventura and Mario Balotelli scored well-executed goals, putting on a display that made it look like Milan has a breathtaking attack.
Bonaventura and Zapata linked up on the third goal, a well-placed corner kick from Bonaventura. All Zapata had to do was redirect it toward goal.
On Milan's previous goal, Bonaventura had an easy task, as well. All he had to do was run forward and get on the end of the pass. Riccardo Montolivo put a precision pass over the defense onto Bonaventura's foot. It was simple. It was perfect.
Bonaventura's performance was fantastic, but Balotelli was the man of the match. As he did in his first two matches with Milan, Balotelli held up play wonderfully, creating multiple chances going forward. Maybe even more impressive was the way he played after his yellow card in the 15th minute. He did not get dragged into skirmishes with Udinese players. Actually, when a player would try to harass him, Balotelli did a great job of drawing a foul, and usually a yellow card.
Of course, the highlight of Balotelli's performance was his fantastic free kick in the fifth minute to open the scoring. He had come close to scoring in his first two appearances off the bench, but Balotelli finally re-opened his Milan scoring account, freezing Milan goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
It is only a matter of time before Balotelli and Carlos Bacca are the official strike force of Milan. The two of them fared well together, even after Bacca took a bit of a knock on a foul.
Milan gets a bit of reprieve in the schedule Sunday, when it visits Genoa. Rather, it should be a reprieve, but given the second-half performance, there is no guarantee. Genoa will be the easiest opponent the Rossoneri sees in October. After Genoa, a four-match stretch against Torino, Napoli, Sassuolo and Chievo is on the schedule.