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AC Milan

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Milan's Europe hopes fade; banana incident sours Atalanta match

It was a legitimate case of the good, the bad and the ugly for Milan in Bergamo on Sunday, with Atalanta’s Franco Brienza scoring a stunning last-gasp goal to secure a 2-1 win for the hosts. The Rossoneri were boosted by the return of Stephan El Shaarawy, although racism reared its ugly head again and marred the game.

After a generally uninspiring first half, Milan opened the scoring with a dangerous counterattack resulting in an own goal from the hosts. However, it didn’t take long for Atalanta to regain their footing in the game before Brienza stepped up with his decisive effort, which means Milan have now lost 25 points from leading situations this season.

Their inability to hold on to a lead, coupled with a banana being thrown onto the pitch in the direction of Kevin Constant, soured what could have been another important step toward Europe, but ultimately it is likely to have an adverse effect on many, including Clarence Seedorf.

Amid all the speculation over the Dutchman’s future as coach, there is a sense that Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani are perhaps looking for an excuse to replace him. His failure to reach the Europa League could well be that turning point, and despite a generally impressive tenure in terms of results, Seedorf clearly hasn’t done enough in the eyes of the hierarchy.

The incident involving Constant will hopefully be dealt with by Atalanta and the authorities, although the former must actively look to identify the perpetrator and hand out the suitable punishment. Having initially criticised Philippe Mexes’ reaction to the situation, it is unfortunate to see such incidents in quick succession after Dani Alves was subjected to the same abuse.

Meanwhile, Brienza’s strike essentially ended what was a disappointing away day, but there were positive aspects in the second-half display, which coincided with the introduction of El Shaarawy. During his lengthy spell on the sidelines and prior to his highly anticipated return to action, it is no secret that many have identified the Italian international as a perfect component to fit into Seedorf’s system.

Frustration undoubtedly grew as he suffered setbacks and his absence was prolonged, but on Sunday he showed exactly why he is so important to Milan moving forward with his direct running, pace, trickery and ability to track back and make the difference in defence. Although it was a mere 45-minute cameo appearance, El Shaarawy made such a difference that it is already exciting to think about the impact he can have next season if he maintains his fitness and avoids injury.

While his World Cup dream may have disappeared during his spell in the treatment room, the pressure appears to have been lifted off his shoulders and he played with the same fearlessness as he showed in his early months with the club. Should Torino defeat Parma on Sunday afternoon, Milan’s hopes of qualifying for Europe will be over. Whether or not that marks the end for Seedorf remains to be seen, but on the basis of how his relationship with Galliani has been reported so far, it could be the tipping point for the club.

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow Sumeet Paul on Twitter @italiafooty