Unfortunate Niang Injury Presents Balotelli and Others with Golden Opportunity

While most Milan supporters were waking up early Monday morning, the unfortunate news struck social media and Italian media outlets everywhere as striker M’Baye Niang had been involved in a car accident on Saturday.

The 21-year old Frenchman, who has been a vital component to the rossoneri’s resurgent run towards Europe, had “sustained a capsular ligament injury in his left ankle and a bruised left shoulder” in the accident, according to the statement from the club’s website. As per ESPNFC.com, the former Montpellier forwards’ car slid off the road in the Legnano area while he was on his way to a night out bowling. The accident – as made clear by Niang himself Monday morning on Twitter –  was not alcohol related, instead caused by wintry conditions.

The club has stated that the proper course of treatment will be decided on in the upcoming days. Regardless, the forward has been left out of the club’s 23-man squad for their important second-leg, semi-final Coppa Italia clash with Alessandria on Tuesday. What’s most important is that Niang is safe and expected to make a full recovery even though his season is likely finished.

With M’Baye Niang on the shelf for an extended period of time, Siniša Mihajlović now has to find his replacement. His options? Luiz Adriano, who nearly completed a deal to play in China, the recently-recovered Jéremy Ménez, and of course, Mario Balotelli. But which striker is most suitable to play alongside top-scorer Carlos Bacca?

Luiz Adriano, who’s move to wealthy Chinese outfit Jiangsu Suning collapsed last month, has been virtually ousted from the club after solidifying his starting job back in August. After having his starting role overtaken by Niang, the Brazilian has found it difficult to get on the pitch and is practically a full-time bench player, with the occasional cameo.

This season, the former Shakhtar Donestsk hitman has managed to score just 5 goals in twenty-one matches in his first stint in Italy. His last goal dates back to December 1st when he found the back of the net in Milan’s extra-time victory over Crotone in the Coppa Italia. Since then, injuries – and the chemistry that existed amongst Bacca and Niang – knocked Luiz Adriano down the pecking order, making him a fall-back option for Mihajlović. When he’s going right, Luiz Adriano can have an impact but it seems that Mihajlović is in need of an attacker who can be more than just a box predator.

Ménez, who made his long awaited debut against Genoa a few weeks ago, still has ways to go before he can be relied upon to cover the absence of Niang. The club’s leading goalscorer from a year ago has just returned from major back surgery, but issues remain about his level of fitness.

The threat he poses as a striker – or free-roaming trequartista -makes him as appealing as anyone to carry the club through the remaining months of the campaign. The 28-year old is so lethal with his burst of acceleration, quickness and creativity, generating goalscoring opportunities for himself. But, while he provides massive upside, his selfish tendencies could stir problems within the Milan camp, which is the last thing this club needs as they launch their pursuit of Champions League qualification.

Last season, Inzaghi pretty much let Ménez dictate play which helped him bag an impressive 16 goals, yet many did not enjoy watching him neglect the open man in favor of him adding to his own goal output. Mihajlović has made it clear that he will not tolerate this type of behavior; this will be interesting when the time comes to consider Ménez.

Finally, we have the gifted – and often misunderstood – striker Mario Balotelli, who is the most appealing option in the squad for obvious reasons. This could essentially be Balotelli’s swan song; his last chance. The Italian striker has off-the-chart ability capable of carrying a side for a prolonged period of time. After moving to Milan for the first stint back in January 2013 from Manchester City, the azzurri forward carried the rossoneri to a Champions League spot, scoring an impressive 12 goals in thirteen league matches. Since leaving the Italian outfit in favor of a Liverpool switch, it’s been all downhill for the ex-nerazzurri star.

Despite a few injuries this season, Balotelli has gotten his share of appearances (14 in all competitions), though he’s collectively only played a total of 491 minutes, via transfermarkt. He’s only started in four of those matches and his last three league appearances have come in the final 5 minutes. As you can see, he hasn’t exactly been given the quality amount of touches to have a major impact this season.

When he has started, the flashes of brilliance have come. In the first Milan Derby this season, Balotelli came on as a sub to play a quality half hour of football, nearly scoring on several attempts.

Yes, he still has work to do with his approach playing under Mihajlović, and his three goal tally isn’t exactly of superstar quality, but when he is given a full 90 minutes, there is great potential in him having an impact on the match. His blend of size, speed, strength and ability from set-pieces gives Mihajlović star-quality at his disposal.

On Tuesday, Milan will look to punch their ticket to the Coppa Italia final as they take on Alessandria. The rossoneri hold tightly a narrow 1-0 lead on aggregate as they head into the second leg of the semi-final round. Mihajlović made it clear that he intends use some of those who haven’t played much at all this season, paving way for Ménez and Balotelli to showcase what they have to offer in a meaningful match.

Which talented forward will make the most of this audition and stamp down a starting spot for the remainder of the season?

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