Nothing was going right for Milan Coach Vincenzo Montella. Going into Monday evening’s fixture with Lazio, the Rossoneri had taken just four points from their last five outings. This run included defeats to Sampdoria, Udinese and Napoli as his side slid further down the table into seventh place.
Suffering a defensive emergency, the former Fiorentina boss had to do without the injured Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia De Sciglio, Luca Antonelli and Davide Calabria, in addition to Gabriel Paletta who was missing through suspension. Juraj Kucka, used as a makeshift full-back against Bologna, was also banned. With no other options available, he called academy products Raul Zucchetti and Mattia El Hilali to the squad.
Added to this were rumours in the morning Press that notoriously impatient President Silvio Berlusconi was unhappy with Montella’s tactics, the 80-year-old no stranger to putting his own opposing ideas forward in the public forum. Rumours of a move to China for Carlos Bacca had also resurfaced, after a reported rift with the Coach rumbled on due to a lack of playing time.
As the match kicked off, there was no let-up for L’Aeroplanino, his side facing the most shots (16) and the most shots on target (8) of any Serie A first half this term. On the stroke of half-time, Lazio finally took a deserved lead, Lucas Biglia converting the spot kick after Ciro Immobile was fouled.
But just as the Rossoneri left it extremely late to conquer Bologna with just nine men last weekend, Montella’s men fought against adversity and never gave up. After Manuel Locatelli was guilty of too many sidewards passes, Jose Sosa was brought on to replace him on 53 minutes, and it proved to be an inspired substitution indeed.
Completing 20 out of 27 passes in the attacking third, Sosa also provided the assist for Suso to fire in an equaliser after 85 minutes. With Bacca on the bench and some awful recent Sosa performances, it was not the obvious substitution to have made, but it was the right one by Montella.
Whilst he has taken a lot of flak over the past few weeks, the Coach has instilled a sense of resilience into the squad, having started at the beginning of the campaign by shoring up the defence that had shipped so many goals under his predecessors.
Back then he was being hailed for taking the Rossoneri back into the top three with extremely limited resources and even pulled off a victory in the Italian Super Cup with Juventus. It was inevitable though, that such a paper-thin squad was always going to struggle when injuries hit.
However through the criticism, lack of funds, and injuries, Milan have pulled themselves out of trouble with late comebacks time and time again this term. Montella’s side have scored four of their last eight Serie A goals after the 85th minute.
This suggests that the Coach has the faith of those who matter the most: the players. With his strength in getting the most from what he has available, he has been able to inspire those who wear the shirt to adopt this never-say-die philosophy.
This is sure to keep Milan going through turbulent waters ahead, if he is given enough time to see the job through.