Can AC Milan bounce back against Napoli after controversial Super Coppa defeat?
Background Image: Nobbiwan, CC by 2.0
AC Milan rallied from a controversial Super Coppa Italiana defeat to Juventus in style. Genoa was the casualty. The Rosonerri showed courage to dispatch their hosts on Monday thanks to Fabio Borini and Suso. With Gonzalo Higuain now gone and a couple of new additions, will Gennaro Gattuso’s men keep up the momentum against Napoli?
Milan's return to the Middle East wasn't pleasant. On their previous trip in 2016, the Rosonerri showed no respect for the Old Lady's aeon, battling until the end. Mario Pasalic’s winning spot kick was the decider. Milan returned as champions for the first time in five years with a 4-3 victory.
On this occasion, however, everything was against the Screwdrivers. The referee. VAR. Even Gattuso. The maverick manager's defensive approach belied his team's inbuilt flair. Patrick Cutrone was an isolated figure. That's the result of a rigid midfield pair of Tiemoue Bakayoko and Franck Kessie. Although Juventus too weren't convincing, a certain five-time Ballon d'Or winner made the difference.
Gattuso and Milan's fans were hard done. Kessie received his marching orders for a nasty challenge after the referee consulted VAR. The umpire suddenly turned anti-technology in Milan's case when Andrea Conti appeared to have been brought down by Emre Can in the box.
If the manner Gattuso's team reacted at Stadio Luigi Ferraris is anything to go by, then that dark episode is way behind them. The Milanese controlled the game from start to finish, relentless in attack and defence. Perhaps Higuain impending departure to Chelsea played a part. Not even an injury to Cristian Zapata disrupted the flow.
It's the sort of momentum Milan's blue-clad faithful crave, especially with a tough run of fixtures ahead. The Rossoneri face Napoli twice - in Serie A and the Italian Cup quarter-finals. Then embark on trips to Roma and Atalanta with a home match against Cagliari between.
Gattuso will hope to cut down Inter Milan's seven points lead when Carlo Ancelotti’s team visit on Saturday. Their San Siro co-tenants are placed third with 40 points, seven adrift of Napoli. The Southern club, meanwhile, won't wish to lose further grounds on the Scuddeto chase. They have the odds in their favour.
The Naples-based outfit is undefeated in previous seven matches against this opponent – winning five, while the remaining two ended in stalemates. The Rossoneri have picked up maximum points just once in 15 Serie A meetings. Gattuso’s side last home victory arrived back in 2014. The latest meeting at San Siro ended in a goalless draw.
Milan fans should be optimistic, still. With Christian Zapata joining Giacomo Bonaventura, Lucas Biglia and Mattia Caldara in the treatment room, it is a tight place, especially in midfield and defence. However, they've done just fine without these key players and don't seem like crumbling.
Bar the Coppa stain, Milan enjoyed some revival. Starting from the 2-1 victory over SPAL, the Rosonerri has picked up two other wins. This followed a terrible four-game winless and goalless streak in December.
Even with Higuain no longer at the club, Milan is more potent in attack. As long as Brazilian midfield sensation Lucas Paqueta and polish forward Krzysztof Piatek hit the ground running early. Alessio Romagnoli, Kessie and Davide Calabria return from their suspension is a major boost.
Gattuso has no excuses not to beat his mentor at home. None whatsoever.