Gennaro Gattuso

Manager Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


Milan is recently going better and better as the Rossoneri produced one of the Serie A’s most impressive performances beating Sampdoria to reach Blucerchiati in the sixth place of the league.

Above all, Milan have won five times during their last six games: that’s exactly the same amount of victories Rossoneri produced in their previous 17 matches. Undoubtedly, huge credit goes to the turnaround Gennaro Gattuso made over there. Hired in November to replace the sacked Vincenzo Montella, former 2006 World Cup champion came to Milan, the club where he spent the better part of his playing career.

Although Gattuso went back to Milanello with more than 400 appearances for the club, two Serie A titles and two Champions League wins under his belt, his appointment raised some eyebrows. In fact, his previous coaching experiences with Sion, Palermo, OFI Crete and Pisa left mixed feeling about his managing skills with leading the latter [Pisa] to Serie B as Gattuso’s only remarkable coaching success.

Gattuso’s first game as Milan manager – a 1-1 away draw against a pointless Benevento with the home side that gained their first Serie A point courtesy of a keeper’s injury-time header – increased pundits’ doubts about Milan management’s decision to entrust the first to their former midfielder.

Some months later, doubts are almost have vanished and disbelief has been replaced with hope. Gattuso proved not just to be «cuore e grinta» (grit and heart) – he labelled this definition as «barroom talks» – but also to a good tactician as few believed to be possible.

So, Gattuso changed his team’s mood but was also good enough to improve them from a tactical viewpoint. Since he took over the job, Gattuso get Milan better in terms of both results and performances leading Rossoneri to a touching distance of an European qualification spot as the campaign goes on.

Former head coach Montella favoured a 4-3-3 formation that he utilized during his first season in charge at San Siro. After the club was brought by Chinese tycoon Yonghong Li, Milan enjoyed a huge turmoil during the past summer transfer window as they purchased players such as Leonardo Bonucci, Nikola Kalinic, Hakan Calhanoglu and André Silva spending close to €200m.

To better suit the newcomers – especially Bonucci who flourished within the three-man backline he played at Juventus – Montella switched from his 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 line up featuring two forwards up top.

Initially, Gattuso tried to replicate this shape but, after things went south, he made a quick turnaround reverting his side to a 4-3-3. After some attempt, he basically found a currently stable backline featuring right-back Davide Calabria, centre-backs Bonucci and Alesio Romagnoli, and left-back Ricardo Rodríguez in front of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

The midfield trio was built about former Lazio playmaker Lucas Biglia with Giacomo Bonaventura and Franck Kessié at his sides. The three men up top are flankers Suso and Calhanoglu supporting the centre-forward which usually was André Silva or Kalinic. However, after some poor performances of both the Portuguese and the Croatian, Gattuso was not afraid to install youngster Patrick Cutrone as Milan’s no.9. Rossoneri manager’s trust in Cutrone paid off as the 20-years old striker posted impressive numbers in terms of goals scored (5), expected goals (5.42) and passes that led to shot (1.26 per game).

Patrick Cutrone scored five league goals so far.

When in possession, Milan under Gattuso employ a patient build-up in the way to conveniently move the ball up towards more advanced areas. Biglia is pivotal in this build-up as the Argentinian midfielder is the player charged with the duty to help the defenders to get the ball progressing from the third line to the midfield. Former Lazio’s passing skills (91.1% of pass success rate) are essential to make the build-up phase fluid.

Gattuso’s Milan usually tries a patient build-up although it doesn’t always work out.

During this first phase of possession, is not unusual to see both the full-backs pushing higher up the field becoming wing-backs in order to provide depth and width.

In the final third of the filed, the flankers Suso and Calhanoglu play as inverted-wingers acting as inside-attacking midfielders and occupying their own half-space. When Gattuso started his reign over there, Milan’s offence was clearly unbalanced with Montella putting big emphasis on Suso. The Spaniard was charged to be the offensive playmaker and the majority of team’s attacks came from his side.

Since Gattuso revitalized Calhanoglu, Suso split with former Leverkusen player the charge to lead the ball in the final third. It means Rossoneri was able to start their attacks from the other side too making their offense more balanced.

Starting from the left-side, the Turkish has the change to cut into the left half-space using his tactical acumen. With Giacomo Bonaventura lined up as left interior midfielder, Gattuso created some combinations on Milan’s left-side, with former Leverkusen dropping into midfield to receive the ball and Bonaventura overlapping outside. Both Bonaventura and Kessié was encouraged by Gattuso to push up top toattack the penalty box and support the centre-forward.

When out of possession, Milan rarely deploy a gegenpressing. Instead, they collapse behind building a 4-1-4-1 mid-block ready to exploit the space behind the opposition’s backline. Despite the fact Gattuso employs many offensive players into his starting line-up, all the players quickly learned their manager lesson of humility, showing a hard-working attitude that helped to bolster Milan’s defensive stability.

The expected goals against data (xGA) confirm that as Milan is the third Serie A team in terms of xGA with 24.81 according to model.

Recent won game against Sampdoria (1-0) highlighted this improved defensive mentality and also showed Gattuso’s attention to details. In fact, with Sampdoria able to occupy the centre of the field manipulating opponents with their circulation and combination through their 4-3-1-2 shape, Gattuso build a mid-block within a narrow midfield with both the wingers occupying their respective half-spaces.

Milan’s narrowed midfield against Sampdoria when out of possession.

It forced Blucerchiati to play the ball into wider areas where Milan aggressively pressed them closing all the passing lines. It led Marco Giampaolo’s side to force some passes that resulted in ball gained by Milan.


Regardless all the doubts about his hiring, Gattuso’s approach is working. Coming to Milan from the youth team without a great coaching resume under his belt, Gattuso’s appointment was perceived by the fans as another club’s intent to bring on a former team’s player to lead the team. This approach worked with Carlo Ancelotti but faltered when you think about the experiments with Filippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf. So, although fans and media was ready to a worst-case scenario, Gattuso exceeded the expectations turning things around and leading Milan further in the Europa race.

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