Thiago Silva's absence speaks volumes about his importance to the AC Milan back line.
AC Milan's makeshift defence is vulnerable without Silva
Sometimes, a footballer's status grows as quickly in his absence as when his performances are being admired week in, week out. AC Milan's Thiago Silva is a pertinent example.
Since the Brazilian limped off the field nine minutes into Milan's match against Roma on March 24, the Serie A champions have turned vulnerable in defence, and their position as firm favourites to win the scudetto been gradually eroded.
The haste with which Massimiliano Allegri, the Milan head coach, had urged Thiago Silva back into action against Roma in spite of his muscular problems appears more understandable with almost every outing. Yet the consequences of aggravating those problems by rushing him back were grave.
Though Milan kept a clean sheet on Tuesday against Chievo, their 1-0 win was their first victory in five games, a makeshift defence still bore what have become familiar symptoms of frailty.
With the veterans Mario Yepes, Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta in the back four, as they were against Chievo, any examination by pace is liable to be challenging, and when Chievo's Luca Rigoni eased past Yepes to fire into the side-netting, Milan sensed they were in for a nervous evening.
In the event, they survived, which permitted Allegri to answer back at recent criticism. "People have been preparing our funeral," he said, "but we are not dead yet."
The last month has been punishing. Elimination from the Champions League by Barcelona featured two penalties given away by defenders and a tough night at Camp Nou for Nesta, who conceded one of them, and for Philippe Mexes, who had, until he picked up a thigh injury, been standing in for the authoritative Thiago Silva.
Poor Mexes is in danger of becoming the emblem of Milan's bad recent run. Caught in possession by Lionel Messi against Barcelona, and again outfoxed when Amauri scored Fiorentina's winning goal against Milan last weekend, almost every one of the Frenchman's recent displays makes milanisti long for the return of Thiago Silva.
And during Milan's Thiago Silva-less period, Juventus - who had the chance last night to regain the leadership of the table at home to Lazio - were busy burnishing an impeccable run.
In their four matches against Fiorentina, Inter Milan, Napoli and Palermo, Juve scored 12 goals and conceded none. Juventus will go to Cesena this weekend with the proud record of having conceded only eight goals on their travels all season.
Milan have let in more than twice as many Serie A goals away from San Siro.
Those sort figures may well count as crucial by the climax of an engrossing title tussle.
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