Milan missed out on the chance to move into the top four on Sunday night as they fell to a lacklustre 2-0 defeat away to fellow top four hopefuls Torino.
A win for the Rossoneri would have lifted them one point above Roma in fourth, but they were unable to find their rhythm in a game where they sorely lacked any cutting edge. This loss leaves Milan in seventh position in Serie A, level on points with Torino and with their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.
In the first half, bright spells from Torino bore little fruit for the home side as they rarely threatened Gianluigi Donnarumma's net. Similarly, Milan struggled to penetrate a resolute Il Toro back line and couldn't force any meaningful openings. This was perhaps explained by the omission of star striker Krzysztof Piatek, who was surprisingly dropped to the bench for this fixture.
Torino took the lead ten minutes into the second half as they were gifted a penalty, which upon replay, appeared to be very soft. The decision was referred to VAR, but the referee upheld his original call and Andrea Belotti swept home the resulting spot kick to give his side the lead.
Gennaro Gattuso responded by bringing Piatek on and it seemed to lift his team's spirits. Milan immediately went on the front foot and came close just after the hour mark when Tiemoue Bakayoko's header crashed off the bar. However, Il Toro responded themselves when Alejandro Berenguer produced a stunning volley to make it 2-0 and put the game beyond the away side.
Milan captain Alessio Romagnoli, who despite defending well for most of the game, let his frustrations show late on and received a red card for dissent. Gattuso will need to find a way to pick his side back up after this, as they face four very winnable games to finish the season on a high.
Check out 90min's review of the game below:
Starting XI: Sirigu (6); Izzo (6), N.Koulou (6), Moretti (6); Ansaldi (7), Rincon (5), Meite (6), De Silvestri (6) Lukic (6); Berenguer (7), Belotti (7)
Substitutes: Parigini (6), Aina (N/A), Bremer (N/A)
Key Talking Point
Without a doubt, Piatek's surprise omission for such a crucial game caused confusion among Milan fans. Considering the Rossoneri face four bottom half teams in their remaining games, Gattuso's decision to leave out his talisman for this game was very strange.
But why bench piatek tho— Papito (@jadonrex) April 28, 2019
I still fail to understand why Gattuso has dropped Piatek for Cutrone, when he still insists on using a lot of crappy players.— The AC Milan-Godfather (@ACMilanSydney) April 28, 2019
We all know what the problem is, Gattuso thinks differently, but I guess he has already given up when he said that phrase about his future a while ago.
Since arriving in January, the Polish striker has bagged eight goals in 13 games. Despite not scoring in his previous two, Piatek would still have expected to be one of the first names on the team sheet. The Pole's absence was evident throughout the first hour as his side looked toothless without him.
With most of his goals coming against lower-placed teams, Gattuso is sure to start his main striker for the remaining games as they look to put pressure on Atalanta and Roma in the race for the top four. The Milan boss' future at the club has been under speculation of late, and this decision does not look to have done his position at the club any favours.
Starting XI: Donnarumma (5); Conti (5), Musacchio (6), Romagnoli (7); Kessie (7), Bakayoko (6), Paqueta (5); Suso (6), Calhanoglu (7*), Cutrone (6)
Substitutes: Piatek (6), Borini (6), Castillejo (6)
Hakan Calhanoglu was the best of a bad bunch on Sunday and he can feel let down by his team mates who just weren't at the races against Torino. Milan's play lacked urgency and on occasion when Calhanoglu found space, he was not supported by his other forwards in order to trouble the home goal.
Calhanoglu caused trouble down the Rossoneri's left hand side, but looked as though he was missing his usual focal point - Piatek. By the time the Pole entered the fray, the game was being controlled by Torino and he could do little to affect the outcome.
Next up for Torino is the biggest game of all - away to runaway leaders and city rivals Juventus on Friday night. Having secured their eighth consecutive Scudetto last weekend, Il Toro will be hoping that complacency creeps in for their Turin neighbours.
Milan on the other hand face a more favourable run-in as they come up against mid-table Bologna on Friday night. With their final four games coming against teams in the bottom half of the table, the Rossoneri will be expecting to take all twelve points to give themselves a chance of a place in next season's Champions League.