In football it appears sometimes a club can win games consecutively just to stand still. This was the case in the Premiership last season when Tottenham Hotspur were chasing Chelsea, who’s own winning streak earlier in the season left everybody else trailing in their wake. The same scenario is evident this season with Manchester City and the try-harders behind them. If you’re not first, you’re last or something like that.
You can apply this thought process to AC Milan in Serie A this season. The club were in seventh position in the table when they sacked Vincenzo Montella in November and have progressively managed to move to the dizzy heights of , erm, seventh position in February.
Not moving up in the table may not suggest suitable progress being made, however there are glowing signs in the recent months that Milan are clawing their way back and not winning just to stand still.
Now under the stewardship of former legend Gennaro Gattuso, AC have recovered from a shambolic start to the season to claim back some dignity going into the business end of the season.
The seven times European Cup winners were in seventh place after 13 games with six defeats and sat 16 points off league leaders Napoli on the 26th of November 2017 when they sacked another previous player, Vincenzo Montella.
Milan were also stumbling their way through the Europa League campaign, of which they did end up qualifying for the knockout rounds however.
This start to a campaign would be poor for Milan in any season, despite their decline in the last decade, but the drop was heightened this season due to the enormous amount of money spent in the summer on new recruits leading to a renewed sense of optimism.
Around £175 million was spent by the club bringing in high profile recruits such as Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, as well as Ricardo Rodriguez and Andre Silva amongst others.
High spending breeds high expectations, and if rumours about the club’s owners are to be believed success was also a necessity.
The aura of the club’s owners having funded the summer spree via non-operational funding has been hanging over the club all season, and recent reports of them becoming bankrupt have led fuel to the fire.
Fears that Milan would have to sell their most prized assets if they didn’t qualify for the Champions League have been rife from the start and the diabolical start under Montella suggested that fear would become a reality.
And then Gattuso stepped in, whisper it quietly but there is hope at the San Siro again.
Gennaro Gattuso is the only manager who will hug you one minute then try and fight you the next 😂
But it's working… pic.twitter.com/Eh6cLKeaLY
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 18, 2018
Former midfielder Gattuso took over the reigns as head coach with ill fated reigns at Sion, Palermo and Crete in his locker, although he had achieved a promotion to Serie B with Pisa.
The expectation was for Gattuso to steady the ship until the end of the season while trying to save some face for Milan. Reality can deflate expectation in life, on this occasion it is outliving it.
Heading into the final three months of the season Milan are one of the form teams in Serie A. The last ten games has seen them pick up 20 points, losing only twice. Only the top two, Napoli and Juventus, have fared better.
Milan have only lost twice in the league since Gattuso took over which highlights the remarkable turnaround the club are making.
AC are still seventh, but have moved forward, they are eight points off fourth placed Lazio when you consider the context of chasing a Champions League spot. Eight points is still a hefty gap but the opportunity is a lot more appealing and reachable than it was in November for Milan.
Roma are the next opponents on Sunday in the Stadio Olimpico and this provides Milan an opportunity to gain ground on a Champions League rival with Roma sitting third.
There is also the small matter of the Europa League to consider. Milan won the first leg of their round of 32 tie against Bulgarians Ludogorets 3-0 going into the return leg tonight, and with the small prize of Champions League qualification on offer as well as a trophy this could well be something Gattuso and Milan are eyeing up.
The erratic Italian may prove to be a success as a manager and may prove to be that success at Milan. There are elements of the Simeone-Atletico effect on display in Milan’s play recently and the Rossoneri will be hoping for similar success.
Milan have turned their season around and given themselves a fighting chance of salvaging something.
All by winning and standing still.