Why AC Milan cannot afford any more slip-ups in Serie A
Background image: Delfort, CC BY-SA 3.0
Despite Juventus’ continued dominance, 2018/19 offers a compelling Serie A campaign. Champions League football remains a distinct possibility for six other clubs.
Carlo Ancelotti built spacious accommodations for Napoli in second place, further damaging Maurizio Sarri’s reputation by setting an even hotter pace than the chain-smoking banker despite losing Jorginho in the summer and Marek Hamsik in January. The Partonopei won’t catch Juve, barring a catastrophe, but no one will run them down either.
Below the top two, Internazionale, AC Milan, Roma, Atalanta and Lazio must decide the other two places between them. Meanwhile, Fiorentina and Torino remain long shots to enter the fray.
Of that group, Milan are surely the most desperate. After missing out on Champions League football for several years now, the Rossoneri are determined to return to a competition they once dominated.
Results have been a mixed bag for Gennaro Gattuso. As manager, the club’s legendary destroyer seeks to reestablish the quality and fighting spirit that was present during his playing days. Reshaping the squad to measure up to the standard now prevalent across the continent has not been an easy task. The team struggles to develop a consistent winning habit. Eleven wins in 24 league games tell the story.
Real Betis and Olympiakos bettered Gattuso’s side in the Europa League group stage but January reinforcements offer hope. Lucas Paqueta and Krzysztof Piatek arrived from Flamenco and Genoa respectively. With the duo in the lineup, Milan suddenly look imposing.
The Polish international blended in perfectly, forging a good understanding with his new teammates. His pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo and the Capocannoniere continues unabated despite moving to new digs.
He netted a brace against Napoli to knock Ancelotti's side out of the Coppa Italia. Another brace last weekend downed Atalanta to maintain breathing space in the table over the upstarts. Conversely, a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw with Roma leaves I Lupi nipping at their heels. Eusebio de Francesco has the Giallorossi a point behind despite all the clamour that he be replaced by Maurizio Sarri.
With Roma so close, any slip-up from the seven-time Champions League winners may prove costly. La Lips will take full advantage to claim the final ticket to Europe. Milan must maintain a near-perfect run through the campaign’s end to secure Champions League football next term.
Gattuso will count on the vast improvement achieved by his team but the chasing pack will fight all the way as well. And it's not just about Roma. Atalanta and Lazio can pose serious problems. The duo sits four points behind Milan, a gap easily bridged if the Rossoneri capitulate any further. All four clubs have won the same number of games to this point. The side with a better record during the run-in should take the spoils.
La Dea, who humbled Juventus 3-0 in the Coppa Italia earlier in the month, look set to cause a surprise. Again, that can only happen if the two teams above relive their early-season inconsistency. Lazio on its part has blown hot and cold since the season began but the Biancocelesti cannot be ruled out just yet.
The bottom line, however, is that Milan hold their destiny in hand and on the end of Krzysztof Piatek’s cultured boot.