Milan have been dealt a huge blow in their quest for lo Scudetto with the news that Gennaro Gattuso has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Already suspended for Sunday’s crunch tie with Juventus, Coach Carlo Ancelotti will now be making plans for beyond that game as to how to work without Gattuso in the side. Offering strength, grit, tough tackling and most crucially, defensive cover, one thing the Rossoneri won’t be able to replace from within the current squad or find easily in January, is the determination that Ringhio brings to the fray. The fight for every ball, the desire to win every game and help his teammates to realise their full potential – very few players in Serie A are as humble or effective as the combative Italian in aiding his colleagues.
Not an unsung hero as such, Gattuso’s role is still an unglamorous one. Acting as a guard between midfield and defence, his goal in games is to pick up the loose balls, break down opponent’s attacking moves or just collect the ball from deep, but always to then release it to a teammate to then start Rossoneri attacks. Compared to the world-class talent in the midfield and attack at Milan, Gattuso may not be the most gifted with the ball at his feet, have the greatest range of passing in his locker, or score a vast number of goals in Serie A, but what he means to the Rossoneri ensures he is one of the first names on the teamsheet every week.
What does Carletto do for the rest of the season? Milan has a Scudetto to try and win and they are well and truly in the running. Ancelotti will most likely stick with his preferred 4-3-2-1 formation despite the lack of cover for the midfield positions. For the rest of the season it is likely the first-choice midfield – fitness prevailing – will see Andrea Pirlo and Massimo Ambrosini tried alongside David Beckham when he arrives in January. However, before the former England captain’s arrival, and after his departure two months later, who will sit in that three? With Clarence Seedorf finding it increasingly difficult to get a place in attack, he could step into the midfield in a move previously cited earlier in the season. Emerson and Mathieu Flamini will also be chomping at the bit to feature regularly for the San Siro side. However, out of the three, only Flamini is a naturally defensive player and so far the Frenchman has struggled to adapt not only to the Milan system, but to Serie A football in general.
The other option is to dip into the transfer market in January, but player availability and affordability won’t be on the Rossoneri’s side meaning Carletto’s options are well and truly in front of him already.
With Flamini not firing on all cylinders and the other three options for the coaching staff not offering the side any sort of consistent, quality defensive cover, Ancelotti faces yet another dilemma at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Consider the other problems facing the Coach – Kaka expressing his discontent at his role alongside Ronaldinho in attack, Andriy Shevchenko still a shadow of his former self, the never-ending debate about the aging defence and lacklustre goalkeeping – combine all this with the loss of Gattuso and this make-or-break campaign for Carletto looks close to cracking.
Sunday’s game at Juventus was already billed as a match to decide which side would have the ability to challenge Inter for lo Scudetto. Now the game has added emphasis for the Rossoneri to prove to themselves, their Coach and the tifosi they can not only challenge for the league but do so without one of their talismen.