For better or for worse, it has been yet another headline-grabbing, drama-packed soap opera season for Gennaro Gattuso and his Milan, with as many ups as downs.
Although three matches remain for the Rossoneri to reverse their fortunes once and for all, and secure Champions League football through a fourth-place finish, this entire season will be very difficult to put into words when the dust settles.
It was a “must-win” scenario for the red and black against a Sinisa Mihajlovic-led Bologna fighting for mathematic salvation at the bottom of the league table. But by now, Milanisti had learned to expect the unexpected. Last night was no exception, as the on-going situation surrounding Tiemoue Bakayoko continued to spiral out of control when Lucas Biglia had to come off for injury.
Gattuso looked to the Frenchman as his natural replacement, but to the surprise of just about everyone, it was Jose Mauri who relieved Biglia, not Bakayoko, in what can be best described as an on-going investigation between two professionals with a souring relationship.
Following Suso’s goal in the 37th minute to put Milan ahead (his first in over 1,000 minutes dating back to January), the squad labored after the interval and ran the risk of squandering the lead. Luckily for the hosts, Fabio Borini’s tap-in saw Milan in the driver’s seat heading into the final portion of the match, but sticking with a rather common theme of their season, they were immediately pulled back into a potentially catastrophic scenario.
Mattia Destro’s goal, compounded with yet another officiating controversy resulting in Lucas Paqueta ushered off the pitch in the 74th minute with a red card, made for a nervy finale that Milan ultimately came out of victorious.
But beyond the outcome, one must attempt to understand how a team not far removed from playing winning football - rooted in unity and ‘grinta’ - can spiral this much when it matters most down the stretch.
Prior to the Derby della Madonnina two months ago, Milan was the stronger of the two San Siro clubs on form alone. Despite glaring inconsistencies in creating chances for striker Krzysztof Piatek and static midfield play, Gattuso always maintained control of the changing room.
Since the scuffle between Biglia and Franck Kessie during the defeat to Inter, the squad just hasn’t shown the same level of fight and intensity that we saw over the better part of three months from late December to March that propelled the Rossoneri into third.
It is quite clear Gattuso’s relationship with Bakayoko has deteriorated beyond repair, as the tardiness to training earlier this week, along with the choice words in the exchange involving the two, encapsulated the pent up frustration all inside the Milan camp are feeling at the reality of an unforeseen fate outside the Champions League zone. Toss in the suspension Paqueta will face at the most crucial time of the campaign, and you have a side already running on fumes with their backs against the wall.
Winning often disguises problems from the media, but with Milan’s recent skid and the distractions becoming public, more fuel was added to the fire of Gattuso’s burning seat last night - a microcosm of the club’s turbulent journey to date.