Gennaro Gattuso slowly but surely turning things around at AC Milanby Chloe Beresford / 25 January 2018, 12:56Tweet
It was a worrying Christmas period for fans of AC Milan.
An humiliating 3-0 defeat to bottom three side Hellas Verona on December 17th forced the club to put the team “in ritiro,” meaning the squad was sent to a training camp, also cancelling the Christmas party. This period ended on Christmas Eve following yet another defeat to Atalanta on 23rd, but there were no signs that such a corrective measure had made any difference.
Yet the squad faced a difficult Coppa Italia quarter-final versus city rivals Inter just four days later on December 27th, the Rossoneri surprisingly pulling off a 1-0 win to advance to the semi-final after extra time. A tenacious performance against Fiorentina saw boss Gennaro Gattuso earn a 1-1 draw despite the Viola having dominated throughout.
The Winter Break couldn’t have come at a better time for the inexperienced boss, the squad benefitting from the respite in fixtures after a 1-0 win versus Crotone. Last weekend saw 21-year-old midfielder score a brace in another victory, this time having registered a 2-1 scoreline over Cagliari. It may only be baby steps, but it feels like Gattuso might finally be getting somewhere in a season cursed by ambitions of Champions League qualification.
46 - Since Gennaro Gattuso's appointment as manager (last 7 match-days), AC Milan have fired the most shots on target in Serie A (46). Rise. pic.twitter.com/W6HkYIUOIl— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) January 24, 2018
Those back-to-back victories were the first recorded by the Rossoneri since September, with statistics revealing that since taking charge seven games ago, his side have fired in the most shots on target (46) in Serie A. Players that had formerly received criticism such as captain Leonardo Bonucci, Hakan Calhanoglu and the aforementioned Kessie have steadily improved, and the team’s progress has not gone unnoticed.
“Rino is transmitting his ideas of how to play football and his convictions,” Milan legend Paolo Maldini said of his former teammate to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“It can also be seen from the intensity of his training sessions. He found himself in a complicated situation, but now his work is bearing fruit. Of course, he needs time. He'll be assessed on his results, but it's clear that they can't ask him to qualify for the Champions League. That was the objective for the start of the season, but the reality proved to be different.”
Those expectations were born of a highly unusual business model brought about by the club’s new Chinese owners, who banked on qualification for the prestigious tournament in order to pay back a large debt to US hedge fund Elliott. That pressure to succeed with a team largely made up of new signings brought about the sacking of previous boss Vincenzo Montella, the now Sevilla Coach replaced by the passionate but inexperienced Gattuso.
Those results that brought about the ritiro before Christmas seemed to end any chance of achieving the previously stated aim, but perhaps the lifting of that immense pressure has allowed the team to begin to improve. Now in the second half of the campaign, Milan face a Europa League round of 32 clash with Ludogorets, a Coppa Italia semi-final with Lazio and a chance to further improve their league form.
With an initial appointment for Gattuso only seemingly for the short-term initially, reports in Italy now suggest that they may indeed decide to stick with the former Rossoneri midfielder if he can continue with this recent vein of form. They look to the example of Antonio Conte, who made almost 300 appearances with Juventus before winning three consecutive Scudetti as boss of the Turin giants.
Repeating that kind of feat is a long, long way off for Gattuso, and it is important to note that his recent consecutive victories are against smaller sides who have been largely poor this season. Milan supporters may not be getting carried away just yet, but their former hero on the pitch looks like he may be doing the right things on the bench.