If the 1-1 draws against the likes of Cagliari and Empoli earlier in the season was disappointing, then Milan fans must be cursing and ranting about the recent show of ineptitude that has crept into the team. If there is any evidence of Gennaro Gattuso’s side being a weak team, then look no further than their last three league games, which provide all the proof anyone could need. Milan have failed to register a win in that time, drawing all of them and losing six vital points that could have pushed them into a much secured position with a better points tally.
The Rossoneri lie in fourth place, five points behind Inter and two above Lazio, who are their closest contender for fourth. Had Milan been a bit more clinical in the second half against Torino and incisive away to Bologna, we will be talking about a six point lead over the Aquile.
What has proved infuriating to fans is Gattuso’s decision not to make any substitution in the final minutes of the game against Lazio, while nursing a one goal lead. The game eventually ended in a 1-1 draw.
There is no better victory in a game of football than winning on the road against a team that is breathing down your neck and in this sense the deputy Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, had every right to criticise Rino. Had Milan protected their lead, the Rossoneri would have established an eight point lead over Lazio and one over Inter in third position.
Milan may have earned more points under Gattuso behind Juventus and Napoli in the last year but one thing remains unchanged. The Diavolo can be frustrating against teams that you would expect them to pick apart. This was apparent last season, when Milan struggled to beat Udinese and Sassuolo to bridge the gap to the top four after Inter dropped points against Crotone and Torino. Even more frustrating was the 1-0 defeat to Benevento at San Siro. This side of the Gattuso story needs to change.
There is reason to think that the Diavolo are fourth because the two Rome clubs, Lazio and Roma, continue to stumble this season. Lazio are without a win in their last five league games whilst Eusebio Di Francesco’s side have suffered frustrating results against the likes of Udinese and Cagliari.
That said, it’s significant to point out that only Juventus, Napoli and Inter have beaten the Rossoneri this season and these are the teams that occupy the top three. In this context, Milan have made progress on the results front.
Last Thursday’s termination of their Europa League journey was disappointing, but equally relieving as Milan will no longer have to juggle Serie A and Europe’s second tier competition. The Rossoneri will now focus on their aspiration to qualify for the Champions League.
Given the limited quality in their ranks and the clear lack of determination, it stands to reason that Milan would have crashed out of the Europa League at some point against one of the top teams. Aiming for a long run in Europe as well as a top four place was always unsustainable for such a thin squad.
Their elimination, however, bodes well for their fight for a top four place. Milan are the only team outside the top five that will not be playing in Europe. Juventus, Napoli, Inter, Lazio and Roma will all engage in continental competitions. Milan must take advantage of the extra days to improve their performance and results.
A lot will also depend on what happens in the January transfer window. Milan have signed Flamengo star Lucas Paqueta who completed his medicals last week at Milanello. The Brazilian International is not a finished product, but will surely inject some welcome quality in midfield once he adapts to the league. He’s got a great eye for a pass and offers creativity when going forward.
Despite signing a proven Serie A goal scorer in Gonzalo Higuaín, the Rossoneri are currently struggling up front. Higuain has been a pale shadow of himself after his meltdown against Juventus in Week 12. The last time the Argentine scored for Milan in all competitions was in October with a 3-2 victory against Sampdoria.
Milan obviously need a third striker and a game changer, but the financial reality of the club plus issues with Financial Fair Play regulations makes it difficult to embark on expensive spending. Talk of players who can impact games, Samu Castillejo should no doubt be getting the nod ahead of Hakan Çalhanoğlu. The Turkish playmaker has lost form and the only reason you can think of him starting games is because he wears the number 10 jersey in body, if not in spirit.
Milan will only have themselves to blame if they fail to qualify for the Champions League as the struggles in Rome mean a rare opportunity beckons this season.