MILAN (Reuters) - AC Milan’s plan at the start of the season seemed to be for Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic, signed at an estimated cost of 63 million euros (55.92 million pounds) between them, to lead the attack with home-raised youngster Patrick Cutrone as a reserve.
Yet with half the season gone, Cutrone has become coach Gennaro Gattuso’s preferred forward while Silva is still waiting for his first Serie A goal and Kalinic has failed to find the form he showed in netting 20 goals for Fiorentina last season.
Kalinic was signed on loan for 5 million euros with an obligation to buy at the of the season, which Italian media said will set the club back a further 20 million euros.
But the Croatian, who was initially a first choice and is capable of sublime moments of skill on a good day, has struggled to settle and the last of his four goals was more than two months ago.
Silva, meanwhile, arrived from Porto with impeccable credentials, including a ringing endorsement from Portugal team mate Cristiano Ronaldo.
A good all-round striker with a strong physical presence, he has notched an impressive 11 goals in 18 appearances for his country including nine in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Asked last year how Portugal would fare after his retirement, Ronaldo replied: “They will be in good hands because they have already found Andre Silva.”
Although Silva has scored freely in the Europa League with eight goals to his name, he has yet to hit the target in Serie A and one moment in the 1-1 draw against Udinese two weeks ago summed up his season.
Giacomo Bonaventura dinked the ball over the defence to find Silva unmarked but the Portuguese completely misread it and allowed the ball to bounce over him, failing even to make contact.
“He is a young player with great quality,” said Gattuso, who replaced Vincenzo Montella in late November. “He needs to be more ruthless, when he has even half a chance he needs to shoot at goal.”
Despite those encouraging words, Silva was dropped in favour of Cutrone at SPAL last week and the 20-year-old replied with two goals in a 4-0 win, taking his tally to 12 in all competitions.
Gattuso has increasingly turned to Cutrone since his winning goal in the Coppa Italia tie against Inter Milan after Christmas.
It appears to have paid off as Milan, who host Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday, have bounced back from a bad spell with an eight-match unbeaten run.
“He’s a really determined young lad,” said Gattuso, comparing Cutrone to former AC Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi who scored 126 goals in 300 appearances.
“Sometimes, he’s a bit naive and has to improve in that respect, he has to start playing more for the team.
“But he’s lethal in the penalty area. A comparison? As I’ve said before, Inzaghi... Cutrone will be a big player in Serie A for many years to come.”
Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis