Pazzini's immediate impact inspires new belief in Milan title tilt

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RESULTS Sat 1 Sept Bologna 1-3 AC Milan, Torino 3-0 Pescara Sun 2 Sept Cagliari 1-1 Atalanta, Catania 3-2 Genoa, Inter 1-3 AS Roma, Lazio 3-0 Palermo, Napoli 2-1 Fiorentina, Parma 2-0 Chievo, Sampdoria 2-1 Siena, Udinese 1-4 Juventus.

AC Milan had made it clear to Massimiliano Allegri that he needed to stop playing down the team’s title chances and turned to the business of ensuring that the Rossoneri returned to wrestling the title away from Juventus.

Club chief executive Adriano Galliani had not taken too kindly to the coach more or less conceding that a top-three finish would be the height of it this year. The team, after all, had seen the old guard move on, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva also sold to off-lay the spiralling debts.

The new arrivals did not inspire great confidence that Milan would regain their Serie A crown of two seasons ago. Nigel De Jong arrived on the final day of the transfer window for an undisclosed fee from Manchester City to take over the in holding role, while Bojan Krkic will act as cover for the perennially injured Alexandre Pato, having been loaned from AS Roma.

Untried French youngster M’Baye Niang, who has been compared to a young Thierry Henry, slipped in under the radar, but there was at least one intriguing move that could yet see the former champions have a say in the outcome of the championship.

When Antonio Cassano’s complaints that the team were not competitive enough and he deserved a better contract became too much to suffer for Galliani the seed of a swap deal with Inter involving Giampaolo Pazzini was born.

The striker had already had a public spat with Inter when it became clear he didn't figure in their plans, so the move was a mere formality given the two clubs had have a very civil relationship when it comes to the transfer market, despite their on-field rivalry.

In the relatively recent past, the likes of Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo have made the switch across town, while Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo and Christian Vieri played in both team colours. In the grand scheme of things, it was not particularly ground-breaking news that the clubs should be discussing another deal.

The move certainly cleared the Milan dressing room of a potentially disruptive influence and ensured that Allegri could set out his tactics to fit the changing make-up of his playing staff, while also dampening fears he would be without a proven striker inside the area.

Pazzo - which, being the Italian for crazy, would perhaps be a better moniker for Cassano - was an Italy international as recently as five months ago, and throughout his career had found the net with regularity until he hit the rails at Inter, where he struggled to dovetail with Diego Milito. Even during this relatively barren period, he still managed to rustle up 19 goals over a season and a half.

Under Allegri, he would be given the freedom to play as the main striker, flanked by the speedy Stephan El Shaarawy, tricky Robinho – or Pato if he ever got fit long enough to last more than one game.

After a false start in their opening match at home to Sampdoria which saw team look completely disjointed and out of sorts, the pressure was on Allegri to obtain a positive result at Bologna.

With Kevin Prince Boateng the only foreigner in the starting line-up, there was at least no breakdown in communication on or off the pitch. Pazzini was given his first start and made an instant impact; a hat-trick reminiscent of the way Filippo Inzaghi used find the net - by any means possible.

He won a very soft penalty for the opener, dispatching the spot-kick with confidence before adding two more in true predatory style inside the area. He reacted quickly to lash home the ball after goalkeeper Federico Agliardi had fumbled a high cross, the nabbed his third when he stuck out a foot to defect home Antonio Nocerino’s mishit shot.

An excellent start then for the new man, who won an instant recall to Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad, and one to raise confidence within the camp although Allegri claimed that self-belief had never been an issue despite all the turmoil of the summer.

“If did not believe in my players then I would have walked away,” he told reporters on the eve of the Bologna match. 

Pazzini has certainly brought back the impetuous in attack, but there are still questions marks over the midfield and defence, and there will certainly be much tougher tests than a very weak-looking Bologna.

With Riccardo Montolivo limping off with a Pato Special - the thigh strain – and Boateng fracturing his hand, Allegri will be hoping Niang and De Jong, who was booked on his debut, adjust to the Italian game quickly, as Milan will need their whole squad in top form to target a Champions League place, never mind the title.