Chelsea coped quite comfortably without Diego Costa against Leicester last weekend and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink argued that his former club would be able to sustain their Premier League-leading form without their star striker for a sustained period of time. However, they would have little trouble maintaining their title charge if they replaced the unsettled Brazilian-turned-Spaniard with a younger, better No.9, namely Andrea Belotti.
Arsenal are the English side to have allegedly lodged a bid for one of Europe’s most complete centre-forwards, with Torino claiming earlier this month that they had a rejected a £56 million (€65m) offer from the Gunners, but it is London rivals Chelsea who would prove the perfect fit for a player of Belotti’s many attributes. Monday’s performance against AC Milan only strengthened that suspicion.
Playing in his usual position in the centre of Torino’s attacking triumvirate, he terrorised the Rossoneri back four right from the first whistle. Exploiting the space in between the centre-halves to great effect, he threatened twice inside the opening five minutes alone.
On the first occasion, Paletta was on hand to clear after Gianluigi Donnarumma had misjudged a bouncing ball in behind the backline. Moments later, the teenage goalkeeper demonstrated his prodigious shot-stopping skills to keep out a well-struck, first-time drive from Belotti, who had broken the offside trap with a well-timed run.
The 23-year-old attacker was everywhere during the early exchanges, pressing Milan’s defenders high up the pitch, as well as dropping deep to link up with his midfielders and drag his side forward. The goal his energy and industry duly deserved arrived midway through a frantic first half when he exhibited his striker’s instincts by deflecting a wayward shot from Adem Ljajic past Donnarumma from some eight yards out.
Five minutes later, he pounced on a loose ball in the six-yard box, after Donnarumma had been unable to hold Joel Obi’s shot, and calmly teed up he onrushing Iago Falque, whose mishit strike was directed home by a deft flick of Daniele Benassi’s left boot.
Belotti continued to enjoy himself, clearly relishing his dual with Milan’s centre-halves, which never looked like a fair fight, particularly after Alessio Romagnoli was sent off for a second mistimed tackle on his tormentor-in-chief. Indeed, watching Belotti hassle and harry his markers into submission, it was difficult not to imagine the Bergamascan savouring the cut and thrust of the Premier League.