Gennaro Gattuso and his Milan again entered the season with intentions of qualifying for the Champions League and making an even-deeper run in the Europa League compared to last season, when Arsenal sent them home in the Round of 16. Similarly to last year, the Rossoneri have stumbled out of the gate, labouring to put opponents to bed and turn in a complete 90 minutes. However, during last week’s 4-1 win against Sassuolo, when Gattuso had to cope without his two strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Patrick Cutrone, it forced the rest to step up, sacrifice and finish the match strongly.
In a month loaded with fixtures inside the friendly confines of San Siro, Milan surely must make the most of this set of fixtures and begin positioning themselves amongst their closest rivals in the table for a top-four finish. While many do still consider it to be early in the 2018-19 Serie A campaign, Gattuso knows well enough that his group must show a weekly improvement at this stage of the season and find the form reminiscent to last term, when the gritty Coach took over.
Thursday’s Europa League contest with Olympiacos was yet another test for Milan, not entirely because of the opponents but rather it being a match perhaps used to gauge whether Milan are turning a corner or not.
The Diavolo, unlike at Sassuolo, where they took the lead and added to it, fell behind to the Greek outfit, despite controlling the game. Perhaps this was necessary to humble the Rossoneri and force them into hitting the gas by continuing to push men forward as they trailed at the break. Credit must go to Olympiacos, who did not seem fazed at all by what Milan threw at them and even strung together some decent passing sequences as a means of goal prevention. However, that all changed in the 54th minute, when Gattuso made the required changes by bringing on both Patrick Cutrone and Hakan Calhanoglu.
Gattuso has been criticised for how he’s managed his bench, but the former Italy midfielder realised sooner rather than later that a gaping window presented itself for the two substitutes to have an influence on the outcome.
Cutrone, as opposed to supporting striker Samu Castillejo, provided a real option in the final third to get on the end of crosses, which he did for the equaliser and eventual clincher. Calhanoglu looked more like the playmaker we saw from March onwards; lively on the ball, penetrating the opposing defence with quality balls and service for Higuain to capitalise on for the goal that gave Milan the lead.
Milan held the upper hand and pressed up high throughout the match, but it was the two impact subs who ultimately unlocked the game. It was an encouraging second-half display for the club, who showed they could grab goals quickly and in bunches. But while the result strung together the Diavolo’s first win streak of the season, Gattuso cited a few lingering issues in the background, specifically in midfield and at the back.
Milan still need to sort a few things out defensively in order to rid themselves of the label as the only Serie A side without a clean sheet and be a bit less apprehensive, but the signs are there that Gattuso is slowly beginning to find the right recipe.