AC Milan 0 Atalanta 2: Cristante, Ilicic leave Gattuso searching for answers
Gennaro Gattuso is set to be haunted by the ghost of Christmas present in the week ahead after Atalanta defeated AC Milan 2-0 on Saturday, consigning them to a second consecutive Serie A loss under the new head coach.
Milan were surprisingly thumped 3-0 by struggling Verona last time out and they were unable to positively respond at the first attempt, former Rossoneri player Bryan Cristante and Josip Ilicic scoring for the visitors to spread fresh ripples of discontent among the long-suffering San Siro crowd.
The result leaves Milan 11th in the table and with their Champions League qualification hopes likely to be over already, an off-season of expensive recruitment has evidently failed to produce the desired transformation.
They must now prepare for Wednesday's Coppa Italia derby against city rivals Inter, who have also suffered two successive losses to see their title challenge falter in recent weeks.
Milan then return to Serie A duty away to Fiorentina next weekend, as Gattuso, who replaced Vincenzo Montella at the helm late last month, searches for a formula that will solve the team's seemingly perennial inconsistency.
Atalanta by contrast are seventh and seeking to mount a repeat of the impressive campaign that saw them finish fourth last season.
Milan had the ball in the back of the net in the 14th minute, only for the goal to be ruled out after referee Michael Fabbri consulted a video replay.
Franck Kessie swung a good cross into the area against his former side, but Patrick Cutrone handled the ball before Giacomo Bonaventura hooked it into the roof of the net.
Atalanta finally broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute, when Cutrone earned a yellow card for a foul on Alejandro Gomez, who swung in the subsequent free-kick.
Mattia Caldara's downward header was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, but the goalkeeper could not keep hold of the ball and Cristante stabbed it home.
9 - Bryan Cristante has scored nine goals in the current season for Atalanta (all competitions), more than any other player. Surprise. #MilanAtalanta-- OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) December 23, 2017
Milan, perhaps with a fierce Gattuso team talk ringing in their ears, started the second half in determined fashion, going close three times in quick succession through Nikola Kalinic, while Ricardo Rodriguez and Fabio Borini also had chances.
Borini threatened again in the 66th minute, his half-volley snap shot flashing just wide of the post with Etrit Berisha beaten.
Instead it was Atalanta who struck with 19 minutes to go, Leonardo Spinazzola racing away down the left flank before crossing to the centre of the penalty area, where substitute Ilicic smashed a confident finish past Donnarumma.
Milan proved unable to muster a convincing response as full-time approach, leaving Gattuso and his backroom staff with some serious thinking to do over the festive season.