Vincenzo Montella keeps AC Milan in Serie A contention amid difficulties

In truth, AC Milan were fortunate to take anything away from the Stadio Olimpico on Monday night in their 1-1 draw with Lazio. Similarly to how the nine-man Rossoneri snatched a win at Bologna in their previous outing, they are admirably finding a way to keep themselves in the race for Europe.

While it may not be particularly pretty, it is testament to Vincenzo Montella and the players that they continue to battle on with possible excuses there for them to easily exploit.

Whether it's injuries or suspensions that have left Milan severely depleted in certain positions, to the ongoing wait for the new ownership to take the helm or question marks over Montella's future, there seem to be several distractions facing the club currently.

Through all that, though, and coupled with a disappointing run of form, Montella hasn't lost the faith of the squad and they continue to display great resolve and fight to stay in contention for a place in Europe next year.

Aside from the injury woes which will keep Alessio Romagnoli, Mattia De Sciglio and Giacomo Bonaventura sidelined, there has also been Manuel Locatelli's dip in confidence to contend with along with the conundrum of which personnel work best up front.

Milan have been left extremely short-handed in defence, and while it hasn't been entirely convincing, the players have responded for their coach and filled in as best as possible to get things back on track.

Further, while some may disagree with his handling of the situation, Montella is undoubtedly also looking out for the best interests of Locatelli and his long-term future in the side. His confidence has been knocked after being guilty of committing some costly mistakes earlier this month, but it will now be down to the Milan coach to determine the right balance in keeping him out of the firing line and avoid shattering his belief entirely.

We've seen plenty of positive work from Locatelli, and whether he starts against Fiorentina on Sunday or not, he has a pivotal role to play moving forward provided he learns from his mistakes.

Further, there is also the ongoing situation up front with Carlos Bacca, Gianluca Lapadula and Gerard Deulofeu who is seemingly now in competition to spearhead the attack.

Against Lazio, it was Deulofeu's turn to play in a False No.9 role. It didn't quite work out for the Spaniard, but he was a positive influence in Milan's display with Lapadula coming on in the second half to offer some presence and link-up play.

Should Bacca return to the side? The Colombian international is struggling for goals and without offering much else to games it's questionable as to whether the rest of the team can carry him when he's not decisive in front of goal.

With players tiring and others falling short of standards, it has been a testing time for Montella, and it's worth remembering that he's doing all this with a group that he mostly inherited having been unable to strengthen in the market due to the on-going delays with the takeover.

That says a lot about him as a tactician, and with Milan needing stability and progress under the right man, it was refreshing to hear reports that Sino-Europe Sports, the incoming owners, are keen to retain him beyond this summer with or without European football.

Reports this week claimed that Silvio Berlusconi isn't best pleased over tactics and had gone as far as to want the Italian coach sacked. It's claimed that the incoming Chinese owners intervened, and rightly so, which gives us an indication that these new owners are not only invested financially in the club, but they are willing to take a proactive interest in its push for success.

There have been times this season when Montella has deserved criticism. Whether it be taking too long to make changes in games to dropping certain individuals or his persistent with Bacca.

As with any coach, there are flaws that certain sections of supporters will pick out. While there is still frustration with Bacca's minutes, and more importantly Lapadula's lack of, considering all the circumstances, Montella is doing an excellent job.

Robbed of his creative star Bonaventura for the rest of the season, his absence has been painfully noticeable already. And yet Milan continue to battle on and show determination and leadership to pick up results to keep themselves within four points of a Europa League spot.

With the return of European club football this week, it has made Milan's absence from the competitions in question more prominent. It's been far too long since the Rossoneri were involved, and it's hoped that this is the year that they end that agonising wait.

Montella is continuing to do his part along with his players in difficult circumstances. Assurances that he'll be allowed to take this squad further and stamp his mark on it in order to build on all the positive work he's done thus far will be most welcome. However, don't expect the football between now and the end of the season to be entirely convincing.