After enjoying a great period in his young career prior to the lockdown, things haven’t been quite as smooth for Milan youngster Matteo Gabbia since the restart.
The 20-year-old initially caught the eye in pre-season, as he stood out at the back and showed real solidity to suggest that he could be an option to partner captain Alessio Romagnoli this year.
He had to bide his time and stay patient though given his first Serie A appearance only came in February, but he impressed for the most part in those games and capped it off by signing a new contract to extend his stay with the Rossoneri until 2024, as noted by the club’s official site.
Blip vs SPAL, response needed…
However, his character and resolve will now be tested as things haven’t gone to plan since the season restarted, as he’s not only feeling the pressure of slipping behind Simon Kjaer in the pecking order, but question marks will be raised over his performance against SPAL in midweek.
Kjaer has really impressed after stepping back into the XI, with his experience, calmness and physicality offering a steady presence next to Romagnoli as the pair have shown positive signs of being able to forge an important partnership.
The issue with the Dane though is that he has been injury prone, and that allowed Gabbia to get another chance to impress but thus far, he has struggled to pick up from where he left off in February.
Having looked shaky against Lecce, he didn’t settle those nerves and concerns on Wednesday night as he was tested again and struggled to produce the necessary answers.
From being too hesitant in the build-up to SPAL’s first goal and failing to clear the danger to then being vulnerable thereafter when faced with the strength and know-how of Andrea Petagna and Sergio Floccari respectively, Gabbia didn’t put in a particularly good performance.
It was a big opportunity in many ways as Kjaer will now be expected to come back into the line-up to replace him against Lazio this weekend, and ultimately if the 31-year-old can stay fit and steer clear of injuries, he could very well start in the remaining nine games of the campaign.
That in turn means we need to see the right reaction from Gabbia. This is a big test for him in many ways as we’ll see his character, resolve and determination to put this setback behind him and try to force his way back into Stefano Pioli’s plans moving forward.
Furthermore, there is always the threat of Milan looking for another centre-half in the transfer market this summer, and so the youngster will have to try and find some answers and silence the detractors sooner rather than later, but ultimately that could now be out of his hands.
If he does feature again this season, the pressure will be on his shoulders to produce a much-improved performance and while he’s still young and needs time to develop and learn from experiences like this week, unfortunately with the never-ending and widespread talk of changes at Milan ahead of next season, it surely raises question marks over his role in the squad moving forward with MilanNews reporting on the latest Ralf Rangnick talk.
The hope is that he comes good and there is certainly plenty to work with given his defensive strengths and quality on the ball, but sitting on the bench for most of the season and being thrown in occasionally is going to create nerves, indecision and inconsistency.
We saw that on Wednesday night, and so he’ll have to show some steeliness to bounce back and further, he must be managed carefully to ensure we get the best out of him in the long-term future too.