Milan survived the 2017-2018 Europa League group stage relatively unscathed but a lot has changed since last December. At that time Gattuso had recently replaced Montella as coach and the initial days looked as bad the ones that prompted Montella’s sacking.
PFC Ludogorets Razgrad were drawn in the round of 32, very much on the easy side of things because others like Napoli drew RB Leipzig and Atalanta drew Borussia Dortmund, just to name two other Italian teams. The upcoming home and away provide a chance to advance of course and in the next round a more high profile team is more likely. This edition of the Europa League also features teams like Lyon, Villarreal, Zenit, Atletico Madrid, Sporting Lisbon among others.
This matchup may present another opportunity for Milan’s group stage co-leading scorer Andre Silva to get more game time but that is far from a certainty. The Portuguese is approaching a place where ‘no future at Milan’ is on some lips. Some would argue that he is young and needs more game time to grow but it is possible that, for reasons more unknown than known, it is not meant to be. The management of the team have and will insist that they believe in the player but a summer change is a not a small possibility.
Gattuso may not change much in terms of lineup and use a so called full strength team. Kalinic is almost certainly still missing through injury however and that only leaves Cutrone the most likely starter up front. However a look at the Serie A schedule ahead might give the coach some pause. Currently Milan sit in 7th position with 38 points. The next three matches are versus Sampdoria (6th, 41 points), at Roma (4th, 47), versus Inter (3rd, 48). In other words a lot of ground can be made up by taking points in the next three weeks.
Is this team capable of it of gaining ground and push for a crucial 4th place finish? Time will tell in the meanwhile Europa League provides another hurdle, showcase and possible podium. Recent weeks under Gattuso have shown improvement – the team is undefeated since last Christmas with 4 wins and 2 ties in the Serie A and a win and a tie in the Coppa – but it is arguable if it has been as good as it seems.