Gennaro Gattuso’s tactical flaws could compromise AC Milan’s Champions League hopes and their performances since losing the Milan derby further highlight those coaching issues.
Currently fourth in the Serie A table after 30 rounds with 52 points, the Diavolo have not won in the league since beating Chievo 2-1 in early March and Gattuso has made some odd tweaks to his team since losing 3-2 to Inter in the Derby della Madonnina in round 28.
In the last two matches, AC Milan lost 1-0 away to Sampdoria and drew 1-1 at home to Udinese, with both performances highlighting the Rossoneri coach’s inability to make the right tactical changes during the game.
Arguably the catalyst for all of this was the substitution of Ivorian midfielder Franck Kessie during the Milan derby, who managed to get into an altercation with Diavolo teammate Lucas Biglia on the sidelines. Since then, the former Atalanta midfielder was benched against Il Doria and he was ruled out of the Zebrette match with inflammation to the knee.
This prompted Gattuso into utilising defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko as a box-to-box midfielder, playing Biglia in his preferred regista role, and moving his favourite pupil Hakan Calhanoglu from the left-wing to the left side of the midfield trio.
After a poor start to his Milan career, Bakayoko has become a revelation for the Italian giants in 2018/19 with his displays as a holding midfielder, but he showed in the last two games that he cannot run up and down the pitch effortlessly like Kessie does.
Although Biglia is an experienced distributor of the ball, he does not have the ball-winning qualities of Bakayoko, and Calhanoglu again failed to impress in another role. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Paqueta was rested after looking fatigued in the Milan derby and returning from international duty but he came on as a substitute against Sampdoria and added some spark.
Besides the inadequate midfield set-up, Milan constantly tried to play the ball out of defence despite Gianluigi Donnarumma gifting Blucerchiati striker Gregoire Defrel the solitary goal of the game and Samp were often pressing the defence.
A similar scenario nearly resulted in a second Doria goal and the performance improved slightly for the Rossoneri when Gattuso brought Paqueta, Andrea Conti, and Patrick Cutrone on in the second half, but the subs had no significant impact on the outcome.
Gattuso decided to switch to the 4-3-1-2 formation against Udinese, with Cutrone and Krzysztof Piatek up front and Paqueta playing behind them. The change was working but then the Brazilian starlet was taken off with an ankle sprain after 41 minutes and despite Piatek scoring before half-time, the Rossoneri were lacking in guile and imagination afterwards.
Moving to the 4-4-2 formation in the second half with Calhanoglu and Samu Castillejo playing wide did not atone for the absence of Paqueta and Udinese eventually posed a threat on the counterattack, scoring with one of them through Kevin Lasagna.
Donnarumma and Paqueta are expected to miss the clash with Juventus in Turin on Saturday evening but Kessie could make a return. The outcome of this match seems to be a foregone conclusion and Gattuso’s lack of great tactical nous should make things easier for the Bianconeri, who are enduring an injury crisis of their own.
Milan slipping up will allow the likes of Lazio, Atalanta, and even Torino to potentially take the final Champions League spot near the end of the season. Although winning away to Juventus is unrealistic on paper, the Rossoneri coach needs to play to the strengths of his players.
Making changes is one thing but Gattuso needs to start making the right ones or the Champions League could slip through their grasp.