Milan would have welcomed the winter break more than most, after promise turned into disappointment almost from day one. In the early summer, 60,000 turned up to watch the new and most thought improved Milan squad qualify for the Europa League via two preliminary rounds. The enthusiasm would start to drain as results worsened and the players failed to perform. Now on their second Coach of the season, they will be hoping for a better 2018.
Vincenzo Montella perhaps could be seen as somewhat unlucky. Under the previous regime, the lack of spending meant that he had to cobble together a team with little to no financial backing. The emergence of some bright young things from the Primavera had given Milan an identity again and the Europa League finish last season was an achievement.
This season, however, saw the Rossoneri spend over €220m on almost an entire new line-up and that turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. Montella could not settle on his first-choice XI, nor a formation, and this saw him replaced by Gennaro Gattuso. The fans’ favourite has come with a reputation of being more ‘blood and thunder’ than a tactical maverick, but he will have to prove that he can handle the position in the second half of the season.
In all this turmoil, it has been hard to find many that have stood up and been counted, showed character and pulled the team forward. That is perhaps apart from youngster Patrick Cutrone. The teenager from Como has risen through the ranks so quickly and started to become a fan favourite, being their top scorer with goals in Serie A, the Europa League and the Coppa Italia.
The fact that he is a fan of the club and has an industrious nature has meant that he has stayed close to the hearts of the Curva Sud and, whilst Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic have floundered, passionate Cutrone has done enough to deserve a starting place in the team.
Whilst Cutrone has been winning hearts and minds, Andre Silva has been perplexing the Milan faithful. He has looked like the player they wanted him to be in the Europa League (bagging six goals in 10 games), but has yet to break his duck in Serie A. The hope was that the 22-year-old would be able to mirror his form at Porto, where he netted 20 goals over the league and the Champions League. It would be foolish to write him off just yet, as his confidence is low, and this cannot have been helped by the emergence of Cutrone. Perhaps a goal in Serie A will displace his demons and see him have a better 2018.
Whilst there was not much to write home about for Milan fans this term, they have had some moments of excitement and one of them was thanks to Cutrone. Milan faced Inter in the Coppa Italia game that Gattuso had described as their World Cup Final. At the time Milan had lost three out of their last five matches and sat an incredible eight places below the Nerazzurri in the league. Even in the warm up there were issues, as goalkeeper Marco Storari was injured and replaced by ‘the other Donnarumma’ Antonio. In a game that had everything (other than goals), Cutrone would end up being the hero and scored in extra time to win the game 1-0 and see them march on to the semi-finals.
Whilst the highlights of the first half of the season were few and far between, the disasters were easier to find. Perhaps the lowest point came against Benevento, a team who at the time had zero points on the board and didn’t look likely to change that. Gattuso had taken charge for his first game at the helm in Serie A and was poised to take three points home, as his team led 2-1 well into injury time. From a late set piece, it was none other than Benevento goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli who leapt to head in an equaliser and leave the Rossoneri shell-shocked.
Milan will certainly want to avoid any more incidents like this in the second half of the season and there is still reason to be positive. If Gattuso can settle on a formation, he may be able to give the Rossoneri the stability they need. If Cutrone or any of the other strikers can start providing the goals, then there is still the Coppa Italia and the Europa League that could help salvage something from this very difficult campaign.