Gennaro Gattuso insists that AC Milan are not dead and buried just yet, but time and the results will tell

Chloe Beresford by Chloe Beresford / 31 October 2018, 15:00

Following a disappointing performance and a last-minute 1-0 derby defeat to crosstown rivals Inter and a subsequent 2-1 loss to Real Betis at home in the Europa League, AC Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso was feeling the pressure. On admitting that the side had “lost their way”, it was clear to see that his usual 4-3-3 was simply unable to bring the most from star striker Gonzalo Higuain, the talented hitman having failed to score in either of the aforementioned fixtures.

“We are coming off two smacks in the face, but we’re not dead,” assured the former midfielder to reporters before the next match with Sampdoria. “I am not dead and buried, some of you still have to understand that. It hurts when there are defeats, but I know how much I can still give to these club colours.

“It’s the whole team that isn’t working and that means Gonzalo Higuain doesn’t get the service,” Gattuso continued. “Having said that, I told him that he needs to be less irritable and should applaud his teammates rather than shout at them. I think there is too much talk about this situation, as if I’m the only Coach in the world who is on the edge. I know these lads believe in me, and we are struggling badly, but I put myself on the line for them.”

“Tomorrow I want to see 23 lions with a sense of desire and belonging to this club,” he would add in his inimitable style. “I don’t even care about the tactics, I just want to see 23 rabid dogs eager to prove themselves.”

Of course, without any top-flight experience before taking on such a high-pressure role at the club where Gattuso made 387 appearances between 1999 and 2012, many have accused him of being an all-out motivator without much tactical acumen. Indeed, those previous statements actively feed such perceptions, however what happened next proved otherwise.

Milan weren’t perfect in their 3-2 win over a talented Sampdoria side, yet the Coach was successfully able to tinker with his setup in order to get Higuain back on the scoresheet once again. By changing to a 4-4-2 and adding young striker Patrick Cutrone alongside the Argentine, both players ended the match with a goal apiece and statistics highlighted exactly how much of a difference the change of shape had made.

Versus Inter, Higuain touched the ball just 25 times in 90 minutes of action, firing two shots on goal, while his touches versus Samp amounted to 48 and his goal came from five shots in total. Gattuso was correct in his assessment that the figures in the derby weren’t entirely the striker’s fault, the number nine receiving just 13 passes from team-mates versus their Nerazzurri rivals as opposed to 38 in last weekend’s 3-2 victory.

Perhaps rumours of a potential sacking for Gattuso seem premature as the Rossoneri climbed to fifth with that victory, with a chance to move up to joint-fourth with Lazio if they beat Genoa on Wednesday evening. That said, there has already been speculation that former Bologna boss Roberto Donadoni and even Antonio Conte could be waiting in the wings to replace him, with sporting director Leonardo being forced to come out and quash the gathering speculation earlier this week.

“We can’t go around denying rumours on Gattuso every single time,” the Brazilian told RMC Sport. “Today Gattuso is the Coach of Milan and we want him to stay there, to win games and improve the team. We can’t always be talking about this. The only ones putting Gattuso up for discussion are outside the club. You forget that Gattuso, [development director] Paolo Maldini and I have a history together, which means we can always be clear and honest with each other.”

It has to be said that the current situation is on a knife edge as Milan have seemingly reversed a negative trend, but warning signs remain. This side are the only team in Serie A to have failed to keep a clean sheet so far this term, however the current boss is firmly in control of his own destiny if he can improve both performances and results.

Time may not be fully on his side, but a win and a clean sheet versus Genoa will certainly go a long way to confirming that the result versus Sampdoria was not a flash in the pan. It might even persuade Leonardo and Maldini that their former team-mate is the right man to reach the stated aim of putting Milan back in the Champions League.

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