In "3 Up, 3 Down" we take a look at three positive and three negative takeaways from the last match. Here are the positives and negatives from Milan's 3-2 victory against Udinese.
1) The First Half Performance
That first half from Milan was as flawless a half as Milan could have played. Milan held possession about as well as it has in three years; every pass had a purpose and the ball was constantly moving forward. Mattia De Sciglio and Davide Calabria were pushing forward at will. Giacomo Bonaventura was making purposeful runs. Riccardo Montolivo was pulling the strings. Mario Balotelli was causing havoc for Udinese's backline. Milan was so good in the first half the defense was hardly tested. Diego Lopez could not have had more than five touches. Milan's first-half performance typified everything Sinisa Mihajlovic has been preaching since he arrived at Milanello - that his club has to always be aggressive and relentless in its attacking pressure. It is hard to overlook the second half, but the first-half performance was a sign Mihajlovic is starting to mold this team into his team.
2) Giacomo Bonaventura
Where would Milan be without Bonaventura? It is a scary thought to have when you consider how good he has been this season. Tuesday night was no different, as Bonaventura was at his best. He made a great run from midfield that Montolivo wisely picked out, and then he finished it deftly, doubling Milan's lead early in the first half. As the first half was winding down, Bonaventura whipped in a perfect corner. Cristian Zapata nodded the cross into the net to give Milan a three-goal advantage. Talented and hardworking, Bonaventura is quickly becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
3) Mario Balotelli
What. A. Free. Kick. Seriously, Balotelli's goal could not have been any prettier. De Sciglio made an incredible run down the left flank and passed the ball to Balotelli, who got hacked down a couple yards outside the box on the left side. He stepped up and could not have placed the ball better. Balotelli left one of Serie A's best goalkeepers, Orestis Karnezis, rooted to his spot, as the ball sailed into the top-left corner of the goal. Aside from his wonder goal, Balotelli was doing things Balotelli does when he is on his game, mainly drawing fouls. Balotelli protects the ball so well he basically forces defenders to foul him, and Udinese defenders certainly did. Balotelli was creative, and apart from one dumb foul that led to his yellow card, he was disciplined. It was the Mario Balotelli Milan fans expect to see on a regular basis.
1) The Second Half Performance
When Milan exited the tunnel to start the second half it was like it decided to remind everyone how this team looked at the end of the Massimiliano Allegri tenure and all throughout Filippo Inzaghi's reign. Milan was disjointed, lethargic and looked like a provincial team clinging to a one-goal lead rather than mighty Milan trying to close out a game in which it led by three. Bringing in Alex to replace Calabria was baffling, and although Alex did not play terribly, it is clear the team took that substitution as a cue to ease up and start defending. Mihajlovic certainly has to make sure his team keeps its foot on the accelerator for the full 90 minutes. But at the end of the day, Milan still managed to come away with three points away from home against a pesky opponent.
2) Nigel de Jong
Nigel de Jong had a pretty rough game on Tuesday. Hopefully this doesn't become a "Montolivo vs. De Jong" positional drama the rest of the season. Playing out of position on the right side of the midfield trio, De Jong was ineffective against Udinese. He did not get to unleash the slide tackles and interceptions fans are accustomed to. Instead De Jong was a black hole offensively, and could only produce some routine passes. It seems playing De Jong as a side midfielder neutralizes his strengths and showcases his weaknesses. It might be too early to scrap this experiment, but the early returns are not promising.
3) Keisuke Honda
Honda is starting to establish himself as a regular on the "3 Down" list. Simply put, he was completely anonymous against Udinese. He did not contribute anything positive going forward, and did not create any chances for Carlos Bacca or Balotelli. Honda works hard and seems to be a true pro, but he does not pull his weight offensively to keep getting regular starts. Until Jeremy Menez is 100 percent healthy, it would be nice to see Suso or Bonaventura as the trequartista, because Honda is not doing enough to justify a regular place in the starting 11.