The Europa League was once again good to Fiorentina, who return to Italy after a solid if not spectacular away win against PAOK in Greece. Fiorentina sit a disappointing 11th in the Serie A table, with only 2 wins and 5 goals to their name. It's still early in the season, but a loss to a much improved Milan would put Fiorentina 8 points behind 3rd place after 8 games. In other words, yes, it's already a huge match.
The red and black version of the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza has proved an excellent hunting ground for Fiorentina in the past 3 seasons; la Viola have won for three consecutive years, and Vincenzo Montella has won both his trips with Fiorentina. It's also been one of the few places Borja Valero turns finisher, having scored on both his trips to face the rossoneri.
Both because of his recent history in Milan and a refreshingly involved and incisive performance away in Greece Thursday, I would expect Borja Valero to start against coach Filipo Inzaghi's side. The midfield will definitely be without David Pizarro due to injury, however, which means Montella could either include Jasmin Kurtic and drop ex-Milan Alberto Aquilani into the regista role, or start Milan Badelj as a direct replacement. Given Montella's track record in big games, he will almost certainly opt for the Serie A experience of Kurtic and drop Aquilani deep.
Montella rotated the side heavily in midweek, and is expected to reintroduce the fresh "league starters," especially in defense. Norberto Neto, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Stefan Savic, and Marcos Alonso are all expected to be included in the eleven. Matias Fernandez is also anticipated to replicate his role behind strikers Juan Cuadrado and Khouma Babacar. Let's hope the result is more like it was against the other Milan club, and less like it was against Lazio in Florence last week. Recent history does suggest that this could be a motivating away victory.
But what recent history doesn't account for is the improved nature of Inzaghi's Milan side so far. Without the lethargy of Mario Balotelli up front, the Milan attack has found some renewed fluidity, with in-form Keisuke Honda the main threat early in the season. But the good results and position in the table also doesn't reflect that Milan have played very few of the top sides in Serie A so far, only beating Lazio and losing to Juventus (both at home). The home defense still remains a vulnerability, conceding 10 goals in 7 matches.
Ahead of the game, both managers - other than engaging in some good-natured banter about their respective qualities as attackers - emphasized that it should be an open, attacking game. Let's hope that our players can get the best of the ball and continue the defensive resilience we have maintained through the start of the season. Forza viola!
Milan (4-3-3): Abbiati; Abate, Alex, Rami, De Sciglio; Poli, De Jong, Muntari; Honda, Torres, El Shaarawy
Fiorentina (4-3-1-2): Neto; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Savic, Alonso; Kurtic, Aquilani, Borja Valero; Matias Fernandez; Cuadrado, Babacar