AC Milan’s season took another turn for the worse on Monday as they lost 2-1 away to Verona. It was a terrible result, one that damaged the team’s chances of a top-six finish and European qualification. However, were it not for the performance of Gianluigi Donnarumma, it could have been much worse.
The 17-year-old put on an outstanding display to ensure the Rossoneri were not embarrassed further by their hosts, who are bottom of Serie A and whose relegation was later confirmed by Carpi’s 1-0 win over Empoli.
Milan went ahead through a Jeremy Menez strike on 21 minutes, but they struggled to turn their possession into goals.
Verona hit back in the second half, with Giampaolo Pazzini equalising from the penalty spot following a handball by Alessio Romagnoli, before Luca Siligardi curled in a last-minute winner from a free-kick.
After the match, head coach Cristian Brocchi acknowledged that the showing was far below acceptable, telling Mediaset (h/t ESPN FC):
Whenever things start to get difficult for us, we struggle to play together and when that happens, it means you are not a team and you deliver some gruesome performances. I need to help the team respond and get out of this spell. You know how I am -- I'm responsible.
I represent this team and so I assume all the responsibility. We didn't play well today; we got it all wrong and this defeat hurts us.
As a consequence of the defeat, Milan are now just one point clear of Sassuolo in the race for sixth place and qualification for the UEFA Europa League. But, with Donnarumma between the posts, they possess at least one player who can be relied upon.
The youngster has been consistency personified since breaking into the team earlier this season and put in his finest performance yet against Verona.
He was called into action early, making a good stop from close range to deny Pazzini on eight minutes. And as the game wore on, he was almost relentless in his efforts to keep a clean sheet.
That possibility was taken off the table when Milan conceded a penalty on 72 minutes—although Donnarumma guessed correctly and nearly saved that, too—and from then until the end of the match, the goalkeeper had to be on his toes simply to keep the score down.
According to Opta Paolo, “Milan faced 28 shots…12 of which were on target—both are negative records for the Rossoneri this term." These tallies were the products of a disorganised team and a leaky defensive line, but the Rossoneri shot-stopper was in defiant form, reeling off save after save.
He was eventually beaten a second time by Siligardi’s last-gasp free-kick, but by then he had already shown his class. Indeed, WhoScored.com gave him its man-of-the-match award with a rating of 8.77.
After the match, Verona boss Luigi Delneri spoke about the ‘keeper’s influence on proceedings, when talking to Premium Sport (h/t Football Italia). “We were much more aggressive, but we had more scoring chances and we were up against a great Donnarumma,” he said.
Monday’s outing wasn’t the first time during his debut season that Donnarumma has saved Milan; he put in a similarly resolute display in his team’s 0-0 draw at home to Atalanta last November.
According to Squawka.com, he ranks fourth in Serie A in terms of goalkeeping performance per 90 minutes, behind only Inter Milan’s Samir Handanovic, Juventus’ Gianluigi Buffon and Roma’s Wojciech Szczesny.
It is this form that has propelled him from novice to genuine contender for Antonio Conte’s Italy squad ahead of this summer’s UEFA European Championships in France.
An Azzurri call-up would be a just reward for what has been an incredible maiden campaign for the player. While still not entirely comfortable on the ball, his gangly stature is combined with an increasing confidence when coming for aerial balls, and his reflexes are exceptional.
At 17 years of age, Donnarumma could still reasonably be labelled a prospect. But against Verona, he again confirmed that he is already so much more than that for Milan.