Just as Fiorentina seem to have gotten over their two-month-long doldrums, they run into AC Milan. In fairness, though, this is probably the best time to play the Rossoneri, as they’ve been rather underwhelming of late. In 167 matches dating back to 1931, the Viola are a rather depressing W47 D46 L74 against their opponents, scoring 200 and conceding 261. Over their past 10 meetings in Serie A, though, it’s been much more even, as the good guys have compiled a record of W3 D3 L4, although last year’s 5-1 pasting at the San Siro on the final day of the season put the nail in Fiorentina’s Europa League hopes.
The referee for this one is Maurizio Mariani of Aprilia. In 6 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 36 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 3 penalties, which indicates a willingness to get involved in proceedings. He’s been a bit more eager with the cards this year than he has in the past, too. He’s only handled two Fiorentina matches in his career, and they both finished 3-0 to the good guys: a scrappy win over Udinese and another scrappy one against Torino, both featuring PKs for the good guys.
The match will be played on Saturday, 22 December 2018, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST at the Stadio San Siro (or Stadio Giuseppe Meazza if you want to be formal). The forecast calls for a very cold day—it may be close to freezing at kickoff—but some sun and little wind for a lovely and crisp experience from the stands.
Despite sitting 4th in Serie A with 27 points, all is not well in Milan. Getting dumped out of the Europa League (we’re too mature for a Rasheed Wallace “ball don’t lie” type jibe) after Olympiacos smacked them around 3-1 hurts, but it’s the league form that’s a greater concern: over their last 5 league matches, their only win was a scrappy 2-1 over Parma; the stretch includes scoreless draws to Torino and lowly Bologna in their past two outings, leading some to question the club’s direction. And of course, a fresh round of FFP violations—different from the ones that should’ve kept the Casciavit out of Europe this year—has led to a whopping €12 million fine and another UEFA admonishment that could keep them out of Europe this year (sure).
All of this has led to an increasingly warm seat for manager Gennaro Gattuso. Some of the recent results aren’t his fault, as injuries have hit the midfield hard, but he’ll still have to find a way this week without Franck Kessié (suspension), Tiémoué Bakayoko (suspension), Giacomo Bonaventura (knee), and Lucas Biglia (calf) in the middle; CB Mattia Caldara (Achilles) is also out. The mister should still set out his usual 4-4-2, though, and there’s no shortage of quality in his XI elsewhere, even they look a bit out of sorts at the moment.
The dangermen are Gonzalo Higuaín and Patrick Cutrone up top. They’ve developed an impressive understanding and can punish the slightest mistake. With Suso, Hakan Çalhanoğlu, and Samu Castillejo on the wings and marauding leftback Ricardo Rodríguez, Gattuso has plenty of scorers and creators. Expect the fullbacks to get forward as the wingers to drift inside to shoot or pass, although the midfield will probably sit a bit deeper than usual, looking to switch play. Quick combination play in the attacking third is Gattuso’s calling card, and he’s unlikely to change that here as he’ll focus on keeping his side compact and deep, with plenty of space to break into for the star forwards to use.
The Viola may have finally snapped out of their two-month funk, earning an impressive draw at Sassuolo and a big 3-1 win last week in the Derby dell’Arno against Empoli. However, there’s still some flailing in Florence; keep in mind that they’ve earned just 6 points from their last 5 and still sit 10th in the table despite some promising signs the past two weeks, in which the attack—MIA since the opening week—has scored 3 goals in consecutive outings.
The relative offensive explosion has clearly taken some of the pressure off manager Stefano Pioli, who should get to choose from his full XI in this one. Expect Nikola Milenković and Jordan Veretout to return to the first XI after serving their suspensions, although a decent performance from Christian Nørgaard could see the mister reshuffle his midfield to keep the Dane in the holding role rather than Veretout, who’s always looked more convincing as a mezzala.
Tactically, Fiorentina will need to be sharp at the back to lock down the threats of Higuaín and Cutrone; that means no dumb passes from the defenders or goalkeeper Alban Lafont. The numerical advantage in the middle could help the Viola control this match more than you’d expect at the San Siro, but they’ll probably remain very direct, looking to win the ball high in midfield and set up the tridente of Federico Chiesa, Giovanni Simeone, and Kevin Mirallas with quick space to break into. Against a Milan outfit with a similar approach, this could lead to a muddled match.
How to watch
TV: Oh man, this one looks like it’ll be on TV. Check ESPN2, DAZN, or BeIn depending on your location. Here are the full international listings.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like it’s going to be a pretty scrappy affair, what with both teams dropping deep and looking to break from midfield. Given the injuries Milan are carrying in the middle, I wouldn’t be shocked if they had trouble controlling the match, leading to a very open, back-and-forth match. Given the form of the respective attackers, it seems fair to call this one a 1-1 draw, with Chiesa finally snapping out of his funk for the visitors and Cutrone on target again for the hosts.