This match really could have meant something. Had Fiorentina beaten Cagliari last week, it would have been a tooth-and-nail scrap to ensure Europa League qualification, with both sides knowing a win would see them through. Instead, it’s a bit of a dead rubber, although there exists a very specific and byzantine set of circumstances that could see the Viola through.
Over their last 10 matches, the Viola are W3 D4 L3 against AC Milan, scoring 11 goals and conceding 9. In the reverse fixture back in December, the pair battled to a scrappy 1-1 draw. Overall, these two have played each other 166 times, with the good guys going W37 D46 L73.
The referee for this one is Michael Fabbri of Ravenna. In 18 Serie A matches this year, he’s shown 68 yellow cards and 4 red cards, and given 4 penalties. We last saw him during the truly astonishing 0-2 win over AS Roma. In the 5 Viola matches he’s reffed, Fiorentina have taken 13 points.
With Europa League qualification assured, the Rossoneri are now playing to hang onto 6th place, which will put them straight into the group stages of the tournament and keep them away from any awkward playoff games. They’ve picked up 8 points over their past 5 matches, although they coughed up a loss at the San Siro to Benevento last month and got crushed by Juventus in the Coppa Italia. It’s also worth mentioning here that final matchday fixtures involving Milan and Fiorentina and Europe have a certain, er, history, so don’t rule out some shenanigans.
Manager Gennaro Gattuso (man, that still feels WEIRD to write) will have to make due without centerback Jherson Vergara (suspension), rightback Andrea Conti (knee), midfielder and ex-Viola captain Riccardo Montolivo (suspension), and wingers Suso (hamstring) and Fabio Borini (suspension). He’ll also almost certainly send Nikola Kalinić back to the bench. However, he’ll still roll out his usual 4-3-3, featuring a rugged centerbacks, attacking fullbacks, a midfield with the license to motor forward, and wingers who like to drift inside.
While Gattuso isn’t the tactical naif that a lot of people make him out to be—for example, he’s vastly improved the defensive organization in the side—his greatest quality is the belief and spirit he’s instilled in his players, who express themselves with the energy of an army of bulldozers hopped up on bath salts. The dangermen here are probably Giacomo Bonaventura (7 goals, 4 assists) and Hakan Çalhanoğlu (5 goals, 5 assists). The former drifts all over midfield and is tasked with pinging dangerous passes into the attackers, while the latter regularly comes inside from the left wing to contribute to the buildup and is a real danger from set pieces. With a frenzied San Siro behind them, expect the Rossoneri to come howling out the gate looking for blood, and to maintain that intensity for 90 minutes.
Following last week’s inexplicable meltdown against Cagliari, Fiorentina have nothing to play for, really but pride (unless some unprecedentedly weird stuff happens). It’s the culmination of a late-season slump that’s knocked the Viola out of Europa contention: 6 points from their last 5 matches simply isn’t good enough, especially during crunch time.
Manager Stefano Pioli will be without midfielder/chowderhead Jordan Veretout (suspension), while centerback Vitor Hugo (leg) is questionable. The former’s absence could prompt the mister to shelf his 4-3-3 and try out a 4-2-3-1 with Riccardo Saponara as the 10 and Federico Chiesa and Valentin Eysseric or Gil Dias on the wings with Milan Badelj and Marco Benassi in the midfield pivot; on the other hand, Pioli could just bring in Bryan Dabo for Veretout in a rather more defensive midfield.
The tactics here are fairly obvious: Milan are going to press high and run like crazy, so Fiorentina have to play with a lot of energy as well. Expect a slightly deeper block than usual, as the Casciavit don’t have a real in-the-box striker they can rely on and instead count on their midfielders joining the attack. Especially without Veretout to move the ball into attack quickly, the onus will be on Saponara to thread passes into the channels for Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone in hopes that one of them will do something really cool.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This is actually a simple one to predict: What is the most frustrating possible outcome for the Viola? Sine a big win would go a long way towards slipping them through into 7th, let’s go ahead and assume that they’ll get, like, a 1-5 victory in a hard-fought, well-executed match. And then that Cagliari will beat Atalanta, but not by enough to backdoor Fiorentina in. That feels about right, doesn’t it?