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In Search of a Strike Partnership


When selecting a formation or system to fit a team, there are lots of things to consider. Like whatever formation your team’s owner tells you to play. When a Milan coach is told that he must use the 4-3-1-2, it is not always a bad thing. But one of the key elements of that formation is the two strikers up front, who must form a strike partnership. Over the summer, Milan bought two very good strikers, seemingly in hopes of finding that partnership. Then they also brought back Balotelli, giving us three players without longterm injuries to build a partnership of two strikers for our starting eleven. But despite having undeniable talent and skills, so far, we have not seen the goals or assists we want from them. Therefore, we are still in search of a strike partnership.

Very skilled, but can he work as a partner?

Let’s look at the players individually, beginning with Carlos “Chewie” Bacca. Chewie has three goals in six starts and one substitution in the league so far. He is fast and smart, he rarely gets called for offside and often surprises his opponents by finding ways to slip through the defenders. He is also excellent at dribbling, and we have seen him outrun defenders with the ball. His passing is excellent, and his finishing is, too. I believe he had the highest percentage of goals out of shots taken last year in La Liga. (Yes, even better than Messi and Ronaldo.) He has adapted well to the Serie A defenders and is learning how to take their fouls and get back up again.

Luiz Adriano is another quality striker. So far, he has one goal and one assist in Serie A. He is very strong and is fantastic at holding off defenders for his teammates. He plays well defensively, too, and sometimes plays all the way back, but has no problems using his strength to push defenders off of him as he makes those runs for the ball. He’s brilliant in the air, always looking for that longball or set piece to convert. He works hard, he is always moving and looking to create space for plays.

He knows how to use his head, but can he put his head together with someone else's?

Mario Balotelli does it all. He is massive both in size and talent, and could be his own strike partnership if he just had another set of legs. In two starts and two substitutions, he has one goal in the league this season. He is lethal on set pieces and can shoot from practically anywhere but is particularly skilled at shooting from distance. He is also surprisingly nimble for such a big man and thus dribbles and generally handles the ball very well. He is particularly adept at shooting or passing with one or more defenders literally hanging off of him. But he is equally massive when it comes to defending as deep as necessary, let alone drawing defenders like a magnet and creating space for his teammates.

They sound fantastic, right? And individually, they are. But to find the last time any of them linked up, you would have to go back to the second game of the season, vs. Empoli when Chewie scored after Adriano sent a ball forward from the other half for him. That’s One link-up. In seven games. That is not a partnership. And it’s not just the success, which it would nice to see a lot more of (and more goals in general,) they are still playing as individuals more often than not.

He stayed cool under pressure in the Derby, but can he handle the pressure of a partnership?

We discussed the trequartista issue briefly last month, and it’s true that whichever two strikers are on the pitch at any given time need more support and service from the midfield and the rest of the team. That alone costs us goals and goalscoring opportunites. Both Bacca and Adriano have averaged 1.4 shots per game, while Balotelli has averaged 2.5 shots per game thus far. That’s not enough shots to get the goals we want. But even with a well-organized midfield that was supplying a lot of balls to the forwards, there is something missing when any two of these three play together: chemistry.

They all have qualities that can compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. And they are all excellent strikers in their own right. But it takes time and learning how to play together to develop a true partnership. Learning when to run, when to pass, and to anticipate what the other person will do. Often, with Bacca and Adriano, it has seemed like they were tripping over each other, two people trying to do the same job without communicating. That communication and learning to play together is hard enough to develop when you have a functional team. But with this severely dysfunctional Milan, it may just be impossible.

"Hey, I've seen you around the pitch. My name's Luiz. What's yours?"

I like to believe that we will see one or more partnerships develop over the season. But they may not. Each of these players have strengths which could compliment each other, or they may act like polarized magnets and push each other away. One thing is for certain, right now we are still definitely in search of a strike partnership.


This post inspired by the music of Danny Elfman


Our next match is
Torino vs. Milan
Saturday, October 17 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pmEDT)