Gennaro Gattuso has issued a challenge to his AC Milan fringe players to step up their game if they want to play this season. I Rossoneri are in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten run, which has lifted them to fourth place in Serie A.
They are just a point behind bitter rivals Inter in third, setting up a grandstand finish at San Siro as Milan look to break back into the Champions League after years away – although Roma, Atalanta and Lazio are all pushing them close.
Gattuso insisted after Friday night's match that he sees no reason to change his winning side despite fixture congestion, after seeing them overcome a slow start to win 3-0 against Empoli.
Quoted by Goal post-match, he said: "I was not at all pleased with my team for a while. We didn't fill the penalty area effectively, we moved the ball too slowly and didn't have the right movements.
"We have to create some momentum and this win is a great example because it was not easy in the circumstances and to step up several gears after such a poor first half. It bodes well."
The Italian also issued a warning his fringe players not to expect game time whilst his first-team squad is on a roll. AC Milan face a mid-week Coppa Italia semi-final against Lazio before their next league fixture, but Gattuso hinted that he does not intend to rotate his squad to rest players.
He did, however, leave the door open for anyone who can earn his respect in training and force their way into his thinking for the remainder of the season. "Being grumpy at not playing is part of the job," Gattuso added. "If I see someone who is constantly on the bench smiling and laughing, then that's no good either.
"What I am after is respect. Respect and consistency, as hard work during the week is the only way to earn your place. You need to ensure you are ready and impress when called upon."