Coppa Italia: Semi-Final / Team rating: [6/10] / Top scorer: Krzysztof Piatek (9) / Europe: Europa League group stage
The ebb and flow of the season nearly resulted in a top four finish, but the Rossoneri dropped pivotal points and came up just short, writes Matthew Santangelo.
After a rocky summer in which the management and technical area of the club saw wholesale changes, Milan entered the 2018-19 Serie A season with the same objective they’ve had since 2013-14: finish in the top four to secure Champions League football.
Under the guidance of Gennaro Gattuso, the initial hope amongst Milan supporters was that with a reinvigorated project, and clean slate in the form of a fresh season, the Rossoneri would finally accomplish their goal. But, of course, drama – good, bad, and everywhere in between – seems to always follow Milan, whether it be generated by the media or simply a failure to produce on the pitch.
This season can be broken down into three acts, from the low point of struggling out of the gate, facing serious injuries to the squad and failing to escape the Europa League group stage, to the mid-season high of shooting up as high as third and even a few points off second place Napoli, then finally running out of steam down the stretch that inevitably led to the demise of Champions League hopes.
Gattuso did a stand-up job navigating through the treacherous waters early on amidst speculation he could lose his job, and finding ways to stay relevant in the chase for top four, like inserting Tiemoue Bakayoko into the starting picture and beefing up the midfield with a stable presence at the base in Lucas Biglia’s absence.
For most of the season, Milan were positioned exactly where they wanted to be, benefitting from both Lazio and Roma’s failure to launch as well as the jolt January signings Lucas Paqueta and Krzysztof Piatek gave the squad. But there was always the fear that luck and good fortune would fizzle out, and that is exactly what occurred for Milan and Gattuso, who demonstrated his deficiencies as a Coach at this stage of his career.
In between seasonal shortcomings, Gattuso still managed an impressive 2-0 win over Napoli to secure a Coppa Italia semi-final appearance, but in hindsight, that was perhaps where Milan peaked.
Equipped with more than enough squad talent to get this club into the Champions League, ultimately it came down to the 41-year old’s inability to improvise, implement different tactical ideas, pick up the pieces and get the club into the ideal position of controlling their own destiny in the final weeks against favorable opponents.
Gattuso allowed for Milan and the fans to dream, as at one point all of the stars seemed to have aligned to push the seven-time European champions back on to football’s main stage. Unlike last year where there were a solid five clubs who were arguably deserving of Champions League play, fourth was ripe for the taking if Milan reached out, firmly took control and handled their own business.
In the end, Gattuso and Milan dropped the ball and this season could not be seen as anything less than a failure.
The Coach: Gennaro Gattuso
Much like every other manager to take the helm before him, Gennaro Gattuso faced his fair share of pressure, stemming from the onslaught of injuries early on that threatened to derail the season. A massive revival mid-way injected hope of a top four finish, but in the end the wheels fell off as distractions and tactical deficiencies saw the fiery boss come up short.
Player of the Year: Alessio Romagnoli
An exchanging of the captain’s armband from the departed Leonardo Bonucci to Alessio Romagnoli saw the young Italian central defender take the responsibility and honour in stride. Through steadfast leadership and maturity, the 24-year-old led by example and further solidified himself as the model centre-half Milan must continue to build around for the foreseeable future.
Highlight: Krzysztof Piatek
Milan thought they had solved their striker woes when they acquired Gonzalo Higuain from Juventus in the summer, but that wound up not being the case. After shipping the Argentine off to Chelsea and bringing aboard the Polish striker from Genoa for €35m, the Rossoneri received an immediate jolt of offensive production and excitement around this position they have been longing for.
Nightmare: Failure to launch into top four
A return to Champions League football for next season was imperative to this year being deemed a success and paving the way for perhaps a massive summer transfer window. However, dropped points against the likes of Parma and Udinese in the second half of the season when others around them in the table continued to flounder was ultimately what did the Rossoneri in.
Did You Know?
- Suso became the first Milan player since Antonio Cassano in 2011-12 to provide 10 assists in a single season.
- On 68 points, Milan had their best season since 72 in 2012-13, which was their last top four finish.
- No Rossoneri forward hit 10 Serie A goals in a single season, something that hadn’t happened since Mark Hateley’s eight in 1985-86.