Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Where did El Shaarawy go?

16 December 2012. AC Milan: 4 Pescara: 1. Gameweek 17. Stephan El Shaarawy on the scoresheet for the 14th time of the season, keeping AC Milan hopes of a Champions League berth alive despite a horrible start of the season. Then came the winter break and Stephan scored only twice.

He did ultimately finish top scorer for AC Milan in the 2012-13 season, with 16 goals and 6 assists but ever since that winter break, Stephan seems to have disappeared. Only two goals in the 19 games following the Pescara game. This season, due to a nasty foot injury, he has only played a handful of games, totaling 323 minutes. It includes 2 Champions League playoff games against PSV Einhdoven back in August, when he scored one (vital) goal.

He is about to regain full fitness, and he's expected to be back in the squad sometime in April. But what is worrying is the fact that although they are very good friends off the pitch, Stephan's slump in form coincided with the arrival of Super Mario Balotelli. Was Max Allegri unable to make the most of the two youngsters at the same time, or are they just incompatible?

Looking at their performances with the Squadra Azzurra suggests unfortunately the latter. They played together six times:
  • Twice during the World Cup qualifying phase: once against Malta (no need to spend time on the result) and once against the Czech Republic (0-0). It was an insipid performance from Italy.
  • Four times in friendlies, the most notable one being a prestigious game against the French. This was the first time El Shaa and Balo were about to link up for the Azzurri. It was a promising start as Stephan scored a well played goal thanks to an assist from Montolivo (after a flick from Balotelli), but Italy lost the game 1-2. Three other friendlies followed, against the Netherlands, Brazil and lowly Haiti and they all resulted in draws with no fireworks from the duo.
The Confed Cup came at a bad time for Stephan. Having been out of form for Milan, he spent most of it on the bench, playing 19 minutes against Brazil and the full 120 minutes in the third place playoff against Uruguay.

Allegri is now gone. Berlusconi thought that the best replacement is the untested Clarence Seedorf. The good news for The Pharaoh is that Seedorf likes to use a 4-2-3-1 formation, which should be ideal for him. Allegri and Prandelli never really used this formation. Stephan can play in his favorite position of left winger, and he can track back as much as he wants. One problem though is that he is yet to play with the January recruits Honda or Taarabt, or even the summer recruit Kaka for this matter.

A fully fit El Shaarawy is surely a big boost on paper for the Rossoneri, but will he become match fit quickly enough? Will he adapt in time to his new coach and teammates? Will he be able to finally link up properly with Balotelli?

Time is running out for El Shaa, and with Immobile and Destro putting in solid performances week in week out in the recent months, his trip to Brazil seems like a distant dream...

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