Stephan El Shaarawy is an exciting and gifted second striker, but Mario Balotelli and M’Baye Niang starting together as first strikers could be a lethal strike force for Milan this season.
The trident of Balotelli, Niang, and El Shaarawy works, and Massimiliano Allegri and Milan would be wise to start the trident, unless the tactics against a particular opponent call for choosing either Niang or El Shaarawy to partner with Balotelli up top.
While Balotelli and Niang are excellent dead ball specialists and passers who willingly combine with their teammates, El Shaarawy brings more of a second striker style of play than either Niang or Balotelli who bring an even more advanced element of speed combined with 1v1 abilities, which are off the charts.
If Allegri starts El Shaarawy, Balotelli, and Niang as a trident, Milan’s attack will look like a line of three forwards each inhabiting a certain wide or central area of the field, but really the players will be constantly moving and changing positions with each other to such an extent that their positions on paper won’t matter.
There’s no guarantee that Milan will start this trident up top as Allegri will have to decide which players he wants to start in the midfield. At midfield, Milan has players like Kevin-Prince Boateng, Riccardo Montolivo, Sulley Muntari, Antonio Nocerino, Nigel De Jong, Andrea Poli, and Robinho, who is a winger or second striker, and Allegri will have to find the best combination of these players and others.
Regardless of who starts in midfield and with or without El Shaarawy starting every game, Milan should place a premium on starting both Balotelli and Niang at striker because their combination of world-class speed and dazzling skill is simply too much of a weapon to not take advantage of.
Barcelona has Messi and Neymar in the attack, but Milan has two first strikers in Niang and Balotelli who work together to relentlessly attack the goal with their combination of skill, speed, and size, which is different to the Neymar and Messi combination.
While Niang and Balotelli are unique in their combination of skill, speed, size, and athleticism, there is room for El Shaarawy in the line-up, and Milan should take advantage of these three forwards in order to bring an onslaught of attackers every game.
No team in the world has two strikers with the skill and athleticism of Niang and Balotelli, and Milan needs to start these two strikers together and figure out what other four players are needed to field a balanced and effective midfield and attack.
For all of Balotelli’s individual skill and ability to execute difficult tricks and passes, Niang almost appears to possess better 1v1 dribbling abilities than Balotelli, and Niang just might be faster than Balotelli. This isn’t to say that Niang is better than Balotelli, but his speed and dribbling just might be better.
It’s rare to see soccer players who have the physique, athleticism, skill, and competitive mentality of Niang and Balotelli, but two strikers with these gifts and qualities on the same team is something that no other club or national team can match.
Rather than selecting Balotelli or Niang, Milan should start both strikers to terrorize defenses and dictate the tempo of the game, as it’s doubtful that any defense can truly contain players with Balotelli’s and Niang’s physical gifts and technical skills, especially when they are unleashed on opponents at the same time.