With Milan traveling to take on Genoa at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Italy manager Antonio Conte observed from the stands. The former Juventus boss watched the Rossoneri fall 1-0 to the Rossoblu, giving Conte few positives to take home
Siniša Mihajlović and his men traveled to Genoa sitting on a two-match win streak with wins against Palermo and Udinese. Despite earning all six possible points, the club did not lock down each match with ease. The Rossoneri had to hold on for dear life against Palermo last week despite a brace by Carlos Bacca and in this past week’s fixture against Udinese, they nearly let a 3-0 lead slip through their fingers.
Azzurri manager Antonio Conte attended the early Sunday fixture between Milan and Genoa, hoping to sort out some questions he may have on some key players for his squad.
Mihajlović started Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia De Sciglio, Riccardo Montolivo, Andrea Bertolacci, Giacomo Bonaventura and Mario Balotelli. It certainly was a perfect opportunity for the former Juventus manager to survey some his players while also seeing who he should consider adding for the next international break.
Montolivo started in front of the defense, a position usually occupied by Nigel de Jong. He has been playing better as of late but today, as was the case for others, wasn’t his best performance. The 30-year old midfielder has stepped into a deeper role but has given Milan a bit more of a creative presence than the Dutch international.
Alessio Romagnoli has been playing for the U-21 side but it does not mean that he shouldn’t be trying to impress Conte. A solid campaign with Sampdoria last season, Romagnoli has been everything Milan could have hoped for when they shelled out a staggering 25 million euros for the young Italian defender. Against Genoa, it wasn’t his best performance as he was sent off after receiving a second yellow before the first half whistle sounded.
Bertolacci returned from injury and started from the jump for Milan. For the Italian, it was much of the same. Despite a stronger second half for the former Genoa midfielder in a more forward role, Mihajlović, Conte and the fans needed to see more consistency or else there is no reason for him to suit up for his country. Last season, Bertolacci performed extremely well which forced Milan’s hand to pay Roma 20 million euros in hopes of bringing that dynamic ability to a lackluster midfield. Moving forward, Bertolacci may be best playing in a more advanced role behind the strikers which could solve some of the creativity issues.
With the way Bonaventura is performing, it will be difficult for Mihajlović to pull the former Atalanta man from the playmaker role. “Jack” has been an invaluable asset this season, playing anywhere and everywhere when called upon. He was tried earlier in the season in the midfield but we have seen him shine behind the attackers. He shows great movement and looks composed on the ball. With Honda struggling to lock down the trequartista role, Bonaventura has proven that he is more than worthy of taking it for himself.
Mattia De Sciglio got the nod to start once again. The former Milan youth product didn’t do much to effect his role with Italy. He has been playing better this season which is encouraging but most think that there is another level he can reach in his game. Conte has shown that he knows who his primary fullbacks are in Darmian and De Sciglio based off his lineups over the last month against Malta and Bulgaria. The former Bianconeri manager would love to see the 22-year old take that leap forward and lock down a fullback position longterm.
Perhaps the most watched player on Sunday against Genoa was the Italian striker, Mario Balotelli. The former Liverpool flop had been ousted by Conte since his move back to England last summer, but has been given another chance to reclaim the number 9 kit for his country by moving back to Milan. The 25-year old has made a clear commitment to an improved attitude both on and off the pitch but Conte needs to see if Balotelli truly wants to change as a man through his play.
Conte looked on from the stands as Balotelli started in place of Bacca. The entire squad struggled so for Mario, he didnt get many chances in front of the goal to impress. His best opportunity came from a corner which he got his head on, unfortunately landing wide of the goal. But if you were to ask Antonio Conte what he really wanted to see from the former Inter striker, you can bet it was his body language, attitude and demeanor.
Balotelli has been tested often this season by the opposition, receiving knock after knock, but remaining composed. We have seen a different Mario on the pitch which is mutually beneficial to Milan and Italy as his attitude has always been the biggest concern with his game. Now that Balotelli appears to be maturing and allowing his performance speak for itself, there is no doubt Conte will be thinking hard about including the striker in his next call-up.
Against Genoa, Conte did not see the best of Milan. They struggled to handle a below average side on the road and several players did not show the Azzurri coach enough. However, we can assume that Bonaventura and Balotelli will be strongly considered for the next international round of fixtures. Both Bertolacci and Montolivo remain question marks for Italy while De Sciglio will have no issues of his own getting the call next month when Italy takes on Azerbaijan and Norway in the two final Euro Qualifying matches.