AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri backed striker Stephen El Shaarawy despite his lack of goals in 2013 ahead of Sunday's encounter with Fiorentina, and believes that only Lionel Messi has the ability to score 50-plus goals per season.
The 20-year-old led the Serie A scoring charts at one point earlier in the season but has seen the goals dry up after only netting twice in his last 13 appearances.
His barren run has coincided with the purple patch enjoyed by winter signing Mario Balotelli, prompting claims that he is being overshadowed by the imperious form of the ex-Manchester City man, a theory Allegri has utterly rejected.
"There’s only one player who scores 40 to 50 goals a season and he plays for Barcelona [in reference to Lionel Messi]," he told assembled reporters before the match. "El Shaarawy has scored 16 goals in the first half of the season and it’s normal now that other players will start scoring.
"Mario Balotelli is a 22-year-old and he has potential that even he doesn’t know about yet. His objective should be to become one of the top five players in the world.
"The forwards are all scoring well and we hope the defenders can add to that tally as well."
Despite claiming the result of the upcoming match would not be ultimately decisive in the race for Champions League qualification next season, Allegri urged his men to keep up their guard against Vincenzo Montella's Viola.
"Montella did well in Catania and now he’s doing well for Fiorentina. He’s a good coach who plays good football and tomorrow will be a tough game.
"We need a good performance but the league does not end tomorrow. There are still eight games. If we get a positive result tomorrow the chances of finishing second or third will be higher.
"This will have been a good season as the team has been rebuilt well by the club and has a great future of it. We should be able to fight for the title next season."
The San Siro outfit presently sits six points clear of fourth-placed Fiorentina.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mario Balotelli
- Lionel Messi