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Match Analysis: Is Cutrone Milan’s No. 1 striker?

Milan’s 20-year-old striker made a strong case to be Gattuso’s go-to No. 9 with his performance at SPAL

Spal v AC Milan - Serie A
Patrick Cutrone (left) scored twice in Milan’s 4-0 win at SPAL, bringing his Serie A total to five goals.
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Milan did what was required and more in Ferrara.

The Rossoneri scored more than two goals in a Serie A match for the first time since Oct. 25, cruising past SPAL 4-0 at the Paolo Mazza. Milan’s unbeaten run in Serie A is now at six matches and eight matches overall.

This was just the result Milan needed ahead of a big week. The Rossoneri are heading to Bulgaria for a Europa League knockout round clash with Ludogorets before a Serie A showdown with Sampdoria at the weekend that could have major implications on the league table.

Gennaro Gattuso opted for Patrick Cutrone as the striker over Andre Silva with Nikola Kalinic out injured. The Milan youth product rose to the occasion, scoring twice with opportunistic goals, bringing his season total to 12 in all competitions. Lucas Biglia and Fabio Borini added goals late in the second half, leading to Milan’s most emphatic win in Serie A this season.

Despite playing a weak opponent, this is an important win for Milan. Here are some things that stood out against relegation-threatened SPAL.

Keep playing Patrick Cutrone

Cutrone is doing all he can to make himself undroppable right now.

The 20-year-old striker’s inclusion in the starting XI at SPAL was a strong message from Gattuso. With Nikola Kalinic out injured, Gattuso had to choose between Cutrone and Andre Silva, and there was no chance of Silva seeing his name on the team sheet after his woeful display at Udinese.

Enter Cutrone, who has now started five of Milan’s last seven league matches. He repaid Gattuso in kind with his two goals.

Cutrone’s goals were both opportunistic. One was a rebound from Alessio Romagnoli’s header, and the other saw him in the right place at the right time after Suso swung the ball into the box. But every club needs a striker who can clean up a mess in the box like that, and Milan have been missing such a player for a while.

That’s three goals for Cutrone in his last two starts, and 12 goals in all competitions this season. After a great start under Vincenzo Montella, he’s rounding into form under Gattuso. And he seems to be loving life at the moment. One of the best parts of Milan’s win at SPAL was when Cutrone, who has been at Milan since he was 8 years old, grabbed hold of the club crest on his shirt and refused to let go after scoring his first goal.

What should Gattuso do? It seems clear Andre Silva will start at Ludogorets in the Europa League, but has Milan’s big-money signing from Porto lost his chance to be the guy in Serie A entirely?

Starting Kalinic always seemed a weird option when Gattuso took over. He was brought in as Montella’s guy and failed to deliver. Gattuso will have a hard time putting him back in the squad now. Cutrone has made the manager’s decision for him. With Milan in desperate need of production from the No. 9 role, he has to go with Cutrone.

The defense always has a moment or two

Cutrone’s goal in the second minute was a godsend for Milan. It let them get the defensive jitters out of the way early. Milan have a propensity to get loose at the back after scoring a goal, allowing the other team to charge forward in search of a quick rebuttal.

Having it happen so early in the match allowed Milan to get it out of their system. But there were still too many close calls early in the first half. SPAL got a couple dangerous balls into the box, and Federico Viviani nearly equalized from a free kick, as Gianluigi Donnarumma stayed rooted to his spot on the wrong side of the goal.

Full credit to Milan, they buckled down and made it a relatively easy night for Donnarumma, who ended up having little to do on the day. Gattuso’s decision to switch from a three-back system to a 4-3-3 has paid dividends. Milan’s back line looks more confident every week, and the consistent pairing of Romagnoli and Leonardo Bonucci gives them the chance to develop chemistry they desperately need.

Suso or Arjen Robben?

What can be said about Suso that hasn’t already been said? The Spaniard has been a revelation since his move to Milan, especially this season, as he has become the puppet master of Milan’s attack. Against Udinese, it was his brilliant shooting that stole the show. At SPAL, it was his magisterial playmaking.

Suso’s left foot was a contender for man of the match at SPAL. He was brilliant without getting on the score sheet. Milan’s patient buildup from an early corner put the ball on Suso’s foot. His precision cross into the box found Romagnoli, who put a well-placed header on frame, allowing Cutrone to pounce for the rebound. It was Suso again setting up Cutrone in the second half. Again, it wasn’t a ball directly to the goal scorer, but Suso created problems for SPAL goalkeeper Alex Meret.

This is what happens when Suso is allowed the freedom Gattuso has given him. In Montella’s failed 3-5-2 project, Suso was often up alongside Silva or Cutrone, which never made sense. It limited his creativity and made him effectively useless. On the right wing in a 4-3-3, Suso can roam, and he can pull defenders into an unfortunate position. Suso usually makes them commit toward the touchline, allowing him to cut inside and either swing in a cross or put a menacing shot on goal.

Having Suso and putting him in a role in which he can thrive sort of answers the question about what Milan would look like if they had ever gotten Arjen Robben.

Second-half goals are real!

For the first time since Jan. 6, Milan scored in the second half of a Serie A match, and they did so three times.

Scoring goals has been a problem for Milan, but scoring in the second half has been even more difficult. Part of the Rossoneri’s problems this season have stemmed from not being able to put opponents away when they have the chance. They did just that against SPAL, scoring three times in the final 25 minutes.

A couple of the goals were simple. Cutrone’s goal was the product of Meret not being able to control Suso’s cross, and Biglia easily won the ball on a defensive mishap at the top of the box, leaving him with an easy finish.

Borini’s goal was fantastic, a powerful hit across the face of goal to the far post. Milan need more of that. Borini is not a starter in Gattuso’s squad, but Milan need better production off the bench late in matches.

Milan need more second-half production like they got against SPAL. They have dropped too many points because of their inability to put teams away. With a tough schedule coming up, they will need to develop that killer instinct.