When Gennaro Gattuso was handed an extension until 2021 by Milan’s former ownership in April, the club’s fan base were somewhat divided on the commitment to their ex-midfield enforcer.
In one corner, you had those whose love and affection for ‘Rino’ the player, as well as his initial success in taking over the club from Vincenzo Montella, took precedence and warranted a new deal. Then there were the others, perhaps in the minority, who - despite being infatuated with his ‘grinta’, motivational tactics and spirit in an improbable run at a top four finish last season - feared he was in over his head and felt appointing a Coach like Antonio Conte was of paramount importance to the restoration plan of a fallen giant. As we have seen with the collective group of results thus far in the 2018-19 Serie A season, it seems as though the Rossoneri find themselves in yet another coaching quandary.
Despite Milan picking up more encouraging results heading into the last international break, supporters had raised plenty of doubts about the Italian and his credentials to coach under such pressurised circumstances. The winning mentality to handle provincial teams and put them to the sword is non-existent. Marginal leads are not built on to put fans at ease and convince the rest of the League that a Gattuso-led Milan are a force to be reckoned with. Instead, the seven-time champions of Europe have struggled to forge a true identity in how they wish to perform, leaving them prone to conceding and dropping points in the process.
What seemed liked a turning point for Milan with three straight wins against Sassuolo, Olympiacos and Chievo prior to the break has now become a mirage with the two most recent performances for the club. Disregarding the late winner from Mauro Icardi to give Inter victory in the Derby della Madonnina, Gattuso’s tactics and overall approach were dull and did not transmit desire to chase a win. In a scoreless derby against an arch-rival, a conservative mindset is simply unacceptable and will only bring attention to a distinct lack of a consistent, winning blueprint, which happened to be the case during Thursday’s abysmal 2-1 defeat to Real Betis in front of the home crowd.
Gattuso elected to rotate his starting XI at San Siro but stood by his 4-3-3 formation. And as we quickly learned, it was to be yet another lackluster day at the office for the red and black. Building out from the back has been effective in very brief spurts this season yet induces heart palpitations and moments of both concern and boredom. Certain individuals keep hold of the ball too long and the narrow passing windows shut, before resetting play becomes the only option. The players are not creating the space to open passing lanes to advance play and effectively push forward to break down the opposition. Instead, that was exactly what Betis boss Quique Setien sought to accomplish and succeeded in doing.
Yes, you can pin some of the blame on reserves like Tiemoue Bakayoko, Fabio Borini and Cristian Zapata, who have no business turning out for a Milan team with Champions League aspirations. Yet it is very alarming to see such an inadequate showing against a Real Betis team who, while boasting a few notable talents in Paris Saint-Germain loanee Giovani Lo Celso and one-time Real Madrid starlet Sergio Canales, were by no means expected to control in the manner they did.
Sporting director Leonardo, Paolo Maldini and Elliott Management will continue to back their manager when confronted by the media, but the hot-seat gets hotter with each and every failing performance. If defeat to Inter wasn’t already a loud enough wake-up call for Gattuso then the loss last night should be.