AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso said he felt hurt after his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Sassuolo on Sunday evening.
With Inter Milan losing 1-0 at Torino earlier in the day, the Rossoneri had an opportunity to reduce the gap to their city rivals to five points and boost their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League next season.
Instead, a late equaliser from Nikola Kalinic salvaged just a point, leaving them sixth and still seven adrift of the Nerazzurri and eight behind Lazio and Roma, who occupy the final two Champions League qualifying berths.
“We had a big chance and this is what hurts,” Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia. “We could have moved five points behind Inter and six behind Champions League qualification and that would have been much nicer.”
The Milan coach, who signed a contract through to 2021 last week, has all but given up on making it into the top four and says they need to make sure they secure Europa League football. In-form Fiorentina have closed to within two points while Sampdoria and Atalanta are only a further two points behind heading into the final seven games of the season.
At present the top six get European football next season, but Milan will still be guaranteed a place if they finish seventh as they play Serie A leaders Juventus in the final of the Coppa Italia next month.
“Games like these leave their mark,” Gattuso said. “We’re playing well, but we’re not picking much up. We’re in a battle for Europa League qualification with many other clubs and that has got to remain our objective now, then we’ve got the Coppa Italia final.
“We still have a lot of motivation, even if the Champions League is distant.”
Midfielder Giacomo Bonaventura also felt Milan had missed a glorious opportunity at the San Siro, but the Italian says he and his teammates remain motivated for a run-in which starts at home to second-placed Napoli next weekend — a game for which defender Leonardo Bonucci will be suspended.
“We do have regrets because we should have scored in the first half,” Bonaventura told Milan TV. “[Andrea] Consigli was outstanding in the second half and we were not sharp enough to strike harder and beat him.
“Besides, we conceded a goal we could have avoided. We are a bit disappointed. Today’s match was an opportunity to get back to winning ways and climb back up the table. From now on we just have to keep giving the best of us until the end of the season.”
Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.