A 2-1 win over S.P.A.L. on Dec. 29 saw A.C. Milan break a goal drought that had lasted though their previous four matches, the team’s longest run in the Italian top flight without scoring since 1984. It would also be their last encounter before the winter break, the lack of matches over this period giving often under-fire boss Gennaro Gattuso plenty of food for thought.
The Rossoneri would mark the end of the traditional mid-season pause with a tough fixture away to Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia round of 16, and the opening 90 minutes saw their scoring problems once again resurface as normal time finished with the scores locked at 0-0. Transfer rumors linking striker Gonzalo Higuain with a move to Chelsea did Milan no favors as the Argentine continued to misfire, but luckily Gattuso had one last roll of the dice as he introduced 21-year-old Patrick Cutrone at the 91 minute mark.
During the 2017-18 season, the Italian became second only to Kylian Mbappé among those born after Jan. 1, 1998, to have scored at least 10 goals in the top five European Leagues, and Cutrone once again did not disappoint. Saving his side from the dreaded penalty shoot-out, the striker broke the deadlock after fellow substitute Andrea Conti whipped in a delightful cross, the exquisite finish that followed one that would delight even the most experienced of forwards.
Cutrone’s second would seal Milan’s place in the quarterfinals, and this time his lob on the volley was even better than the first strike. “I am very happy, and above all that we got through to the next round,” Cutrone told Rai Sport, an Italian sports TV channel, after the match. “I’m glad to have been helpful to my teammates.”
Next up in the competition was Juventus’ clash away to Bologna on Saturday evening, with Bianconeri coach Max Allegri having selected a largely second-string XI. Douglas Costa, Moise Kean and Federico Bernardeschi replaced the usual forward trio of Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo and the injured Mario Mandzukic, in what was a much more Italian looking lineup that unusual.
Sure enough, it was Bernardeschi and the 18-year-old Kean that provided the goals in a straightforward 2-0 victory, in what was a fantastic evening all-round for the future of the Italian national side.
Fiorentina are another side that have struggled for goals at times this term, with Coach Stefano Pioli having replaced striker Giovanni Simeone with new signing Luis Muriel in the starting lineup for their Coppa Italia clash versus Torino on Sunday. Native young talent Federico Chiesa has also looked a largely frustrated — and frustrating — character this season, a player blessed with a natural gift but so often guilty of poor decision-making of late.
He may still only be 21, but three goals in 18 starts so far this term is simply not enough for a player of his caliber. Italy boss Roberto Mancini has already put much faith in Chiesa, but he too can see his flaws. “It’s natural for him to stall a little, with all the pressure that has been put on his shoulders,” the Azzurri boss told La Gazzetta dello Sport recently. “He needs to score more goals, as that is important for someone in his role. Maybe he should ask his father Enrico for some advice on how to improve his finishing.”
It was as if the youngster’s ears were burning in that aforementioned fixture with Torino last Sunday, as Chiesa became yet another Italian under the age of 25 to have made a difference in the Coppa Italia. The Granata were determined to dig in and make things very difficult for the away side on Sunday, but it was the Viola winger who provided enough quality to send his side into the quarterfinal.
Chiesa provided two late strikes that at last showcased his potential, prompting Pioli to praise him after his team secured a tie versus A.S. Roma in the next round. “Chiesa made an important contribution,” the coach admitted to Rai Sport. “But the whole team was tenacious against a tough opponent.”
It seems only fitting that the Italian Cup provided a platform for the country’s home-grown talent to thrive, with Cutrone, Kean, Bernardeschi and Chiesa all on the scoresheet this weekend. Such an “Italy factor” is something that will only serve to please national team boss Mr. Mancini.