Last Thursday at San Siro, Arsenal put an end to Milan’s 13-match unbeaten run in all competition. The stage appeared too big for many of the younger, inexperienced players in the squad who have never stood toe to toe with a club of the Gunners ilk.
Franck Kessie, Patrick Cutrone and Suso seemed a bit nervy in carrying out their duties, and as a collective unit, were given a reality check in the form of a 2-0 defeat in their yard. Yet, the tricky weekend visit to Liguria against Genoa shaped to be more of a test of their resilience and ability to rebound than anything else.
The Rossoblu’s defence was tidy and organized, and goalkeeper Mattia Perin looked unbeatable by Gennaro Gattuso’s side as the match progressed into the final stages. However, Andre Silva’s thrilling first Serie A goal to lift the weight off his back and win on the final touch of the match gave off this vibe that perhaps Milan are flirting with a bit of destiny in the hunt for Europe.
Since Gattuso stepped in, there has been plenty of positive energy amongst the players in the Milan locker-room. They back their manager in the media, and believe in themselves to show up on any given match-day – an attitude we did not see much of under former Coach Vincenzo Montella.
Because of this mentality shift and Gattuso’s spirit throughout the week, the players are able to play freely to their potential, which bodes well for Milan until the end of the campaign.
The objective since day one has been to qualify for the Champions League, whether it be through a top four finish in Serie A or winning the Europa League. Before Gattuso arrived, and even in the weeks after his appointment, the odds were not stacked in Milan’s favour. However, as we sit here in mid-March, the Diavolo find themselves in proper position to pull off what seemed like an impossible feat just two months ago.
As it stands, Milan are six points off fourth place Lazio, but still hold a game in their pocket after the Derby Della Madonnina was postponed. They have also proven to be adequate in balancing the loaded schedule of three competitions, while still moving from strength to strength in matches against the tougher opponents, beating Roma and Lazio in Serie A as well as reaching the Coppa Italia Final.
But this all begs the question: do they have the will power and wherewithal to maintain this level of form until the end and realise their dream?
The foundation of most successful Italian clubs is a stout defensive unit. Leonardo Bonucci and Alessio Romagnoli have strung together one positive performance after another. Stable, closing down and neutralising danger, the pairing has made life simpler for Gianluigi Donnarumma, who although benefitting greatly from their exploits, has risen to the occasion when called into duty.
The midfield trio of Lucas Biglia, Giacomo Bonaventura and Kessie has stood up well in spite of looking a bit overworked. Cutrone, Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu continue to be Gattuso’s preferred attack, but if one of Nikola Kalinic or Andre Silva can somehow pick up form, it would go a long way from a depth perspective.
The bench has been a glaring concern for Milan, primarily at full-back and in attack. Andrea Conti’s return from injury, as Adriano Galliani would often say, feels like a new addition and one which not only allots support in the back, but also the threat of an attacking presence capable of impacting a match.
Tactically, Gattuso’s deflected doubt amongst members of the media and calcio world by showing the ability to make the necessary changes throughout a match to earn results – something which he was questioned about after stepping into the role. Milan are not an intense attacking unit, possession-based or of the Catenaccio mould, but rather a balanced side who have mustered up styles to win in a variety of ways.
Whether it is in dramatic fashion against Genoa or in a more professional manner over Roma, Milan’s performances have allowed us to carve out some general idea of how they will show up. Time will tell if this can be maintained, but with a relatively favourable schedule, Milan should fancy their chances of making the top four.
Many still believe the cards are stacked against Milan to qualify for the Champions League, but as Gattuso has already defied all odds-makers, maybe it should be embraced.