Shortly after Milan’s 1-0 win over Sampdoria, captain Leo Bonucci came out and said that he had never played under a manager that transmitted so much grit and passion to his team. That is one remarkable compliment for a player that has been coached by the likes of Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri, especially for a manager that only has a few months of experience in the top flight.
Milan have now gone ten games undefeated in all competitions, a testament to the work Gattuso has done since taking over.
Milan’s tactics in possession have been wonderful to watch
Under Gattuso, Milan play a very distinctive style that is reliant on high pressure off the ball, and clear tactical ideas while in possession. The fullbacks always get forward, allowing the two wide men Hakan Calhanoglu and Suso to cut inside. This often forces the oppositions midfielders or wingers to drop back and help out the fullbacks who have to deal with this two on one situation. While the wingers cut in, two of the midfielders streak forward to join the striker - often Jack Bonaventura and Franck Kessie, while Lucas Biglia stays back and drops in-between the two centrebacks to offer added cover. The final third then becomes overloaded by five or six players, often creating a numerical mismatch and a dangerous scoring opportunity for the Rossoneri.
Milan’s current strengths translate to European success
A champion, whether it be domestic or on the European stage, needs to have a foundation built off of a solid defense. While the Rossoneri’s backline was woeful in the first half of the season as it looked to build chemistry, it is now playing like one of the best units in Italy. Not only is Leo Bonucci living up to his price tag, but his wealth of experience and style is bringing out the best of Alessio Romagnoli. The two Italian defenders both read the game very well and are comfortable in possession and distribution, which is key for Milan’s possession style.
On top of that, we’re finally seeing the form that made teenager Gigio Donnarumma one of the highest paid goalkeepers in world football at an age where he wouldn’t even be able to purchase a beer legally in the United States.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s a number that might impress you - In the last ten games, the Rossoneri defense has only conceded three goals while facing teams like Inter, Lazio (twice) and Sampdoria.
Youth team players shining
It’s only natural for the former manager of Milan’s youth team to get the best out of players that grew up in Milan’s ranks. Davide Calabria and Patrick Cutrone have been beneficiaries of Gattuso’s trust in them, as they’ve both been given key roles in this latest rise up the Serie A standings.
The 20 year old Cutrone is Milan’s top scorer with 13 goals in all competitions, but more importantly, his explosion has put more pressure on the two strikers that were purchased last summer for big money. Ask any former player and they’ll tell you that intra-squad competition is key to getting the most out of players. When a star starts feeling too comfortable in his role without any pressure, that’s when the drive and willingness to succeed can taper off. Cutrone’s form should light a fire under both Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic, and that sort of competition will only end up being a positive for the squad in the long run.
Milan have three avenues to Europe
There are currently three different ways in which Milan can achieve a spot in Europe next season.
To reach the coveted Champions League, the Rossoneri can either win the Europa League or finish in the top four in Serie A. They’re eight points off of fourth place Lazio in the standings, who haven’t been in the greatest of form recently. The latter option might seem for feasible, as the Europa League is loaded with talented sides this season such as Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Sporting, Napoli (who don’t seem to want to be in the competition), and finally Lazio.
The last way is by succeeding in the Coppa Italia. By winning the Italian Cup, Milan would be granted a place in the Europa League. Even if they were to lose in the final to a team like Juventus (who will already qualify for Europe via their Serie A standings) that Europa League place would then go to the seventh place team in Serie A, further helping out Milan in their quest of relevancy where it matters.
Matteo Bonetti is a sports journalist for beIN Sports USA