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Bakayoko finding delayed success on loan at AC Milan

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On-loan Chelsea midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko had really been struggling at AC Milan this season, so much so that there was talk of his departure from both Chelsea and Milan on a permanent basis in January, ending his chance of earning a place with the Blues before it really ever began.

Then, things began to slowly turn around. It began after Bakayoko sat a game for a yellow card suspension in late December. He returned to play in a 0-0 draw against Frosinone, and while Milan failed to score, Bakayoko was one of the most instrumental players on the pitch, brought on by a willingness to take players on himself rather than try to find every cutting edge pass. In the 0-0 draw with Bologna just before his suspension, he attempted one take-on; in the Frosinone match after his return, he attempted five take-ons and was successful in them all.

This trend continued, and it in turn opened up passing lanes. Since returning from his yellow card suspension, Bakayoko has attempted 26 take-ons, completing 18 of them, playing all 90 minutes in each of the six games. This has opened the eyes of Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso.

“Bakayoko is an unusual deep-lying playmaker,” Gattuso said after Milan topped Cagliari on Sunday.  “He used to choose the wrong passes, but now he takes men on, can power past people and create chances.”

Milan has been forced to stick with Bakayoko in midfield due to the long-term calf injury to Lucas Biglia, forcing him out since October. That has benefitted Bakayoko, who has been given time to work out his struggles. Unfortunately, he’s rounding into form just as Biglia makes his return. He was an unused substitute in the Cagliari match, the first time he has been part of the matchday squad since his injury.

“If it’s a problem, we’ll resolve it. Biglia has been out for three months and needs time to find his form,” Gattuso said. “We’ll see if we need to use him in a wider midfield role, if there is the requirement.”

The inclusion of Biglia doesn’t necessarily mean Bakayoko’s minutes will fall, but it may force him into a different role. As Gattuso says, he would likely move from his deep-lying central role to the outside of the midfield three, meaning 21-year-old January signing Lucas Paqueta – who scored his debut league goal on Sunday against Cagliari – could be the one to make way.

Either way, the improvement of the midfield at the San Siro is a significant boost for the club as Milan fights for Champions League qualification. The club currently sits fourth after the Cagliari win on Sunday, but just barely – their 38 points are just one above the trio of Roma, Atalanta, and Lazio.

Bakayoko’s recent form in his role at Milan will also give Chelsea fans hope that he can eventually make his way back to Stamford Bridge and challenge Jorginho or N'Golo Kante for a role in the starting lineup. Jorginho especially struggled mightily in his defensive midfield role against Manchester City on Sunday, and fans have started to sour on Maurizio Sarri‘s Jorginho experiment that has forced Kante into a different role from the one he excelled at for so long.

Even if he never finds his way back to Stamford Bridge, Bakayoko’s improvement could be beneficial to Chelsea in another way – Milan now reportedly wants to take Bakayoko on permanently, which could net Chelsea a significant fee and a player in return. According to tabloid reports in England, Chelsea is hoping Milan’s interest in Bakayoko permanently could net them Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who has played alongside Bakayoko for much of the season.

Higuain “rejuvenated” by Gattuso after Juve “kicked me out”

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Gonzalo Higuain is off and running at AC Milan, even if the club hasn’t been finding the wins it needs to contend in Serie A.

The 30-year-old forward has six goals in seven games for Milan after his surprising summer move from Juventus, which came after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived from Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Spurs injury update ]

Rather than feel slighted just two seasons after a $106 million move from Napoli to Juve, though, Higuain is feeling reborn.

Apparently, you can’t feel disillusioned about soccer when Gennaro Gattuso gives you those football eyes.

“I feel rejuvenated,” Higuain said. “I love Gattuso. He looks at you and sends you his love for football.”

Higuain admitted he had no desires to leave Juve, saying the club didn’t give him an option and he still is fond of The Old Lady.

“Mine is a feeling of affection because they treated me very well; team-mates and supporters have given me huge affection,” he said in the interview with Gazzetta dello Sport (Italian link). “But I did not ask to leave. Basically, everyone says it, they kicked me out. At Milan I immediately had a great love and so they convinced me.”

Higuain scored 55 goals in 105 appearances for Juventus, adding 12 assists in winning two scudetto and matching Coppa Italia crowns.

AC Milan extends Gattuso’s contract until 2021

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso’s contract has been extended until the end of season 2020-21.

While details of the new deal were not released in Thursday’s announcement, according to media reports it is worth 2 million euros ($2.5 million) per season – a huge increase on the annual 120,000 euros that Gattuso was earning.

[ MORE: De Bruyne on UCL comeback bid ]

The former Italy and Milan midfielder was promoted from youth-team coach in November to replace the fired Vincenzo Montella and has guided his team to sixth place in Serie A.

Milan, seven-times European Cup winners, will also meet Juventus in next month’s Italian Cup final.

“I hope to continue … to do things well and bring Milan back where it’s accustomed to being,” Gattuso said.

CEO Marco Fassone said the club wants to begin a “long-term project” with Gattuso.

New AC Milan boss Gattuso likens Benevento draw to being “stabbed”

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The agony of defeat in sports is sometimes hard to take, and that’s exactly how AC Milan’s new manager took it on Sunday.

[ MORE: Man City storms back to top West Ham ]

With the Italian giants seemingly on the verge of securing three points against Serie A bottom dwellers Benevento, Milan conceded a goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time after goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli headed home for the equalizer.

[ MORE: Adam Smith reveals referee apologized for incorrect PK decision ]

Manager Gennaro Gattuso was not happy with the 2-2 draw, saying that he would have rather been “stabbed.”

“It certainly burns, it hurts. It would’ve been better to be stabbed,” the 39-year-old told Sky Sport Italia. “It hurts to concede goals like that. We suffered in the last 15 minutes but we conceded a strange goal. I would never expect to concede from a goalkeeper in the 95th minute.”

Gattuso continued by saying that the draw is simply a status of where the club is right now, and that Milan has its work cut out ahead in order to challenge the league’s elite.

AC Milan currently sits eighth in the Serie A table on 21 points. They stand 18 points behind league leaders and rivals Inter Milan.

“We conceded a strange goal and that’s just how our luck is at the moment,” the former Milan player added.

“Today, we lick our wounds, we have a duty to improve our physical condition and our mentality, but I can’t reproach them for anything.

“We could have developed our play a lot better when moving forward on some occasions. Benevento have lost their last games without deserving to. They’re a lively team and we knew it would be difficult. We paid dearly for the first mistake and we go forward.

“We have a long way to go and a lot to improve.”

Gennaro Gattuso to Goal: US soccer improving, Italian game declining

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Gennaro Gattuso is no stranger to strong words. He’s chastised the involvement of women in soccer, and responded to allegations of match-fixing by saying he’d commit suicide if proven guilty.

So take that into consideration when Gattuso used an interview with Goal.com to tell the world that American soccer is on its way up while Italian soccer is in decline.

And Gattuso’s comments point to something soccer fans witness every week in France, England and Spain; having a great reputation is going to help a club or league up its game, but having a ton of money is going to help it happen faster.

“The problem is that we think we know everything about soccer and are the best at it, but the reality is that today we’re no longer the best,” Gattuso said. “Germany has surpassed us in terms of attendance, in terms of quality of soccer; as for England, it’s already been some time since they’ve surpassed as well, Spain too. So today we have to be more careful, because there’s a lot of movement.”

He added: “Even in MLS you see a lot of change, with the players that are coming here and a lot of money is being invested in the game, so things are really moving here too. Already you see it with the U.S. national team that already plays very well.”

Goal caught up with Gattuso in Montreal, where he was “helping conduct training sessions and coaching seminars for the Genova International School of Soccer, a private Italy-based academy that’s helped over 90 young players to professional contracts worldwide.”