With 24 goals in just 25 appearances, Gonzalo Higuaín seems to be en route to win the Golden Boot at the end of the season over two incredible forwards like Luis Suárez and Cristiano Ronaldo. He is currently one of the most dangerous all-around threats for any defense in the Serie A, looking almost invincible.
However, there's evidence that he's not a superhero and can actually be stopped. During last week's matchup against Juventus, Higuaín had a difficult night against a solid defense guided by Andrea Barzagli, who managed to contain him for the entire match thanks to one of his best performances ever. Let's take a look at his defensive choices against the best striker in the Serie A in order to understand how Milan's defenders should act at the Stadio San Paolo on Monday night.
First: the Bianconeri did a great job of forcing him to play far from their area. Higuaín touched the ball 28 times; only two of those touches were within the opponent's area and the only shot he took - which was not even on target - was a long one. Barzagli provided the perfect example of how a defender should act with the Argentinian striker. Behold this short extract of their battle:
Second, make it a physical duel. Higuaín has the tendency to get nervous quickly, and if is hit hard a couple of times early in the game, it could become easier to contain him. Looking at Milan's roster, Alessio Romagnoli seems to be the perfect player to take care of Napoli's forward. Unfortunately he's unlikely to play on Monday night, so it will be probably Alex's turn to try covering him as he's the most experienced center-back in the Rossoneri's lineup.
As Higuaín is an all-around threat, it's clear that man-to-man coverage won't be enough against him. Massimiliano Allegri prepared his team, who never lost track of his movements, and make sure the midfielders were programmed to help the defensive line when Napoli attacked on the wings.
In this situation, Barzagli opted not to cover his opponent in order to stay in the defensive line, but he never lost eye contact with Higuaín, and called for help from Claudio Marchisio when the Argentinian striker came into the middle of the area, denying any possibility for him to get the ball. Team coverage and communication will be key factors if Milan want to contain Higuaín. Milan's captain, Riccardo Montolivo, will play an important role in this kind of situation as he's the man who will be at defensive midfielder position on Monday night.
Different situation on the other wing, as Juventus' defenders denied the through ball and forced Napoli's midfielder Marek Hamsik to shoot from way outside the area:
Higuaín is quicker than 90% of defenders in the Serie A, so it's really important to cover any situation where he can get a through ball in the middle of the area. Here, Daniele Rugani did a great job in an emergency situation when Barzagli had to leave his position in order to contain Allan on the right, choosing to let Napoli shoot from far rather than make them play the ball towards they goal.
Even if stopping Gonzalo Higuaín is key to Monday night's match, Milan's defenders should keep in mind that he's not their only offensive threat, and they should try to play together as much as they can. It will be interesting watching Siniša Mihajlović's defensive choices against a productive team like Napoli.