From the very beginning of the Serie A season, the buzz surrounding the retooled Rossoneri was prevalent throughout Europe, and a massively popular club spending north of €200m on fresh talent certainly will leave such a resounding effect on world football.
Besides splashing a ton of money, the purpose of sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli and CEO Marco Fassone’s urgent market activity was to ensure Vincenzo Montella was set up for success early with the luxury of time to forge a winning identity that could instill fear in their opponents.
Yet, as quickly as the success came for the red and black against provincial sides in both the Europa League and Serie A, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio gave them a 4-1 wake-up call which exposed many of the flaws they would go on to have in 2017-18.
Since the defeat to the Aquile that was supposed to help Milan elevate their game, the Lombardy giants have replaced Montella with Gennaro Gattuso, traveled on a turbulent journey to their current seventh place position in the table, and remain a difficult team to read here in February
The inconsistencies of players like Nikola Kalinic, Lucas Biglia, Hakan Calhanoglu and Leonardo Bonucci make Milan unpredictable on any given match-day, although recent weeks have led to optimism. Franck Kessie has been coming to life over the last month with a string of steady performances, and has taken a liking to Gattuso’s ‘grinta-personified’ attitude that seems to be wearing off on several others. But while having the upper-hand in many statistical areas, narrowly defeating clubs like Cagliari and Crotone builds only slight momentum and tends to mislead.
These are lower-table teams Milan should have little problem handling, which is precisely why each must be looked at closely and taken with a grain of salt. Juventus and Napoli have been pushed to the end by provincial sides on several occasions, but the difference is these Scudetto contenders often rise up in bigger matches and give us a clear understanding of how they will turn up each weekend. That is not the case with Milan right now, who are a mixed bag of results.
On the surface, the Italian giants look a more unified group under the former World Cup winner, something Montella’s heavily scrutinized Milan lacked before his dismissal. Most would concede Gattuso’s personality and spirit have created an overall more cohesive unit – and one you get the feeling can show up to play against tougher opponents.
Since Gattuso took the post less than two months ago, Milan have fired the most shots on target in the top-flight, but now it’s capitalising on those chances that will ultimately determine where they end up come May.
Milan emerged undefeated from back-to-back meetings with Lazio in Serie A and the Coppa Italia. These were more than creditable performances against the surprise outfit of the season, but the fact remains the Diavolo sit a long way off a top four finish.
It remains unclear whether or not Milan’s true DNA has been established, as getting an accurate temperature is proving difficult. Are they the flat, uninspiring squad that lost 3-0 to Hellas Verona and succumbed to late-game heroics by Benevento ‘keeper Alberto Brignoli, or the lively Rossoneri we saw weeks ago rise up to beat rivals Inter in the Coppa Italia?