For many clubs the international break serves as an opportunity to regroup, rest and recover some injured players.
Juventus Coach Massimiliano Allegri spoke about using the two weeks to nurse Federico Bernardeschi back to full fitness, while Lazio hope to allow Sergej Milinkovic-Savic to recuperate from a knee inflammation. The Serbian could be back in time to face Milan, but the break has been far from kind to the Rossoneri.
Gennaro Gattuso’s squad had already been decimated by injury, with Mattia Caldara, Lucas Biglia, Giacomo Bonaventura and Mateo Musacchio expected to be out until the new year. Davide Calabria has also been struggling with injury, while left-back Ivan Strinic is back in training after a heart issue, but is nowhere near ready to start matches.
The Coach must have been banging his head off his Milanello desk then, when Alessio Romagnoli was forced to pull out of the Italy squad with an injury. The injury was sustained in training on Friday, with CT Roberto Mancini confirming that he’d return to his club for scans.
The following day it was confirmed that the centre-back has a calf tear, which is likely to keep him out of action for at least four weeks. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was reported last night that Hakan Calhanoglu has suffered another flare-up of a persistent ankle problem, putting him in doubt for the Lazio match too.
The frustrating thing for the Rossoneri is that Sunday night’s fixture is one of the biggest of their season. Most engaging in Serie A betting would have the two sides down as likely Champions League contenders, and indeed just one point separates the Aquile in fourth from the Diavolo one place behind.
The match should be the highlight of the Serie A weekend, but Milan go into the game severely under strength. Romagnoli and Caldara are seen by many as the future of the Italy defence, but neither will be taking to the pitch in Rome on Sunday. Promising right-back Andrea Conti was close to a return before picking up a suspension following an Under-23 match, while star striker Gonzalo Higuain is also suspended after his red card against former side Juventus.
Gattuso is down to the bare bones in defence and without his talisman up-front, but it may well be that midfield is the real issue for his side. The Coach spent much of the early weeks of the season talking up Biglia’s importance, but he looks unlikely to return until March. Former captain Riccardo Montolivo is persona non grata at Milanello, leaving Tiemoué Bakayoko as the only viable alternative.
The Frenchman has improved in recent weeks, and was actually rather impressive against Juventus before the break, but his sloppy passing and erratic technique have drawn whistles from the San Siro crowd more than once. Gattuso has been keen to defend the Chelsea loanee publicly in recent weeks, but one suspects that’s more down to necessity than conviction.
In total the Rossoneri look set to be without nine first team players for one of the most crucial matches of the season, and that’s assuming Calabria and Patrick Cutrone are fit.
Questions will be asked as to why this squad has been so hard hit, with medical staff, Gattuso’s training and the number of matches played all likely to come under the microscope.
In the here and now though that hardly matters, Milan must play the hand they’ve been dealt. Gattuso has surprised many with his impact on the Diavolo since taking over, and dealing with an injury crisis of this magnitude could really prove his mettle as a Coach.