Stefano Pioli made a couple of unexpected decisions. In defense, he brought back Vitor Hugo, who was still recovering from a hamstring injury. In midfield, he replaced the suspended Jordan Veretout with Sebastian Cristoforo and benched Milan Badelj in favor of Bryan Dabo. Gennaro Gattuso trotted out more or less the XI we expected.
Fiorentina came out rather limp, ceding the midfield to AC Milan from the word go. Milan didn’t hesitate to take the initiative. Hakan Çalhanoğlu nearly reached Patrick Cutrone with a clever cross, and then Franck Kessié galloped past the Viola backline before firing a powerful shot that Marco Sportiello parried away; the Ivorian midfielder had another effort from distance moments later that fizzed just wide. Next it was Nikola Kalinić’s turn; the ex-Viola striker was gifted the ball on the edge of the area when Sportiello’s pass out from the back to Cristoforo was intercepted by the referee. Sporty saved a fairly weak effort from the Croat, though. Still, it felt like a Rossonero breakthrough was inevitable.
The breakthrough came on 20 minutes, but it was at the other end. Dabo won the ball deep in his own half, strode forward, and picked out Federico Chiesa down the left. Chiesa waited for a moment, then curled a pass through the defense for Giovanni Simeone, who’d flawlessly beaten the offside trap. Cholito latched onto the ball, took a touch, and neatly chipped it over an onrushing Gianluigi Donnarumma to hand the visitors an astonishing 0-1 lead; it was the first time they’d really ventured outside their own half.
That lead lasted for all of 2 minutes. Germán Pezzella was carded for a foul on Kalinić just outside the box—he got all ball and didn’t deserve a foul, much less a card—and Çalhanoğlu fired the ensuing free kick past Sportiello, who could have done a whole lot better to stop it. 5 minutes later, Giacomo Bonaventura slipped Kessié through again, but Sportiello was quick off his line and gathered the ball, along with one of the Ivorian’s boots to his head, laying him out for several minutes. Vitor Hugo, too, tweaked something, forcing him off the pitch in favor of Maxi Olivera, who moved to rightback. Shortly after play restarted, Dabo again won the ball up the pitch, motored down the left, and hammered in a low cross that a sliding Cholito turned goalwards, but Donnarumma smothered his point blank effort.
After the half hour mark, though, it was all Milan for the rest of the way. Kalinić had a penalty shout after another Pezzella challenge, but this time the ref waved it away. With the Viola pinned back, the breakthrough finally came through Çalhanoğlu, who twisted past Olivera on the left before firing in a low cross for Cutrone, whose diving header glanced past a helpless Sportiello and into the back of the net. Cutrone and Kalinić each had chances afterwards, and Fiorentina were lucky to get into the half just a goal behind.
Pioli rolled the dice here, bringing on Bartłomiej Drągowski for Sportiello (whose head was probably still ringing from his encounter with Kessié’s foot) and Bruno Gaspar for Pezzella, which meant that Olivera moved to centerback. As you might expect from such a makeshift backline, they looked shaky immediately, and Milan sought to capitalize with more pressure. It paid off for them just 4 minutes into the second half, when Çalhanoğlu again slipped past Olivera and crossed to Cutrone, whom Cristiano Biraghi (who’d picked up a knock of his own earlier and didn’t look remotely ready to play another half) lost at the back post. Drągowski made a sharp save on the striker’s header, but Kalinić was first to the rebound and scrambled it over the line before celebrating lustily against his former employers.
It took another 10 minutes for Cutrone to get his brace: Marco Benassi lost the ball in midfield and Milan countered 4-v-3. Çalhanoğlu, carrying the ball down the right, played a simple pass in for Cutrone on the other side, and the striker spanked it past Drągowski’s near post. Just before the hour mark, he had the ball in the net for his hat trick, but was correctly pinged for being offside. The Rossoneri scored again at 76’ via Bonaventura, who ran unchecked from the center circle to the edge of the area before firing a low shot that went right under Drągowski. Still not satisfied, Milan continued attacking and nearly added a 6th just before the final whistle, and would have if not for a strong Drągowski save on Andre Silva.
Just when we thought that last week’s loss to Cagliari was the nadir, Fiorentina went and did this. The players seemed, for the most part, disinterested. The defense goalkeeping was bad, the defense abysmal, the midfield invisible, and the attack starved of chances. This was the sort of performance that you might have seen late last year under Paulo Sousa, or perhaps even at the tail end of the Siniša Mihajlović era. Two matches in a row in which the Viola collectively pissed down their own legs when the Europa League was within grasp make it hard to celebrate a surprisingly good 8th place finish.
Stefano Pioli, for his part, was simply terrible here. Handing a start to a player who clearly wasn’t fit in Vitor Hugo was simply irresponsible, especially with Vincent Laurini or Bruno Gaspar (or, heck, Petko Hristov if he wanted to experiment) available. Putting in the energetic but non-passing Cristoforo instead of Milan Badelj or another winger was short-sighted, to say the least. Bringing on Maxi Olivera to play out of position was terrible. Not giving any run to a more creative type who could have made some chances—Valentin Eysseric, Gil Dias (ugh), Primavera star Vitja Valenčič—was cowardly. Corvino and company are going to think long and hard about whether or not they want to extend the mister’s contract past the end of next year. Based on the past two weeks, they probably shouldn’t.
Sportiello—5: Made a couple of decent stops and was brave to stop Kessié, but leaking in yet another goal from a suspect free kick is a problem. His inability to judge set pieces has cost the Viola goals all year; it’s the sort of basic skill you expect from a keeper that he really hasn’t shown. His distribution was iffy too, as per usual.
Milenković—6: The only defender who showed well. Stonewalled Kalinić several times and seemed to be the only thing holding together the back line even remotely.
Pezzella—5.5: Mostly did well in his 45 minutes of run. Probably didn’t deserve the card. Had trouble organizing his defense, leading to a succession of counterattacks for Milan.
Vitor Hugo—n/a: Clearly wasn’t fit and clearly shouldn’t have been playing, so it doesn’t feel fair to hand him a grade.
Biraghi—4: Looked like he pulled his groin in the first half and never recovered. Perhaps because of that, was a step behind everyone for the remainder of the match. Was unsteady before the injury, though, so he may have just had a bad day.
Benassi—3: Only materialized when it was time to kill a decent attack with a bad shot from distance, which he did twice. Didn’t help win the ball, didn’t help keep the ball, didn’t do anything besides mope around the right wing. His brief is clearly to stay wide on the right, but even taking that into account, he was soporific.
Dabo—6: Stood strong in the middle and won the ball several times, leading to the best Viola chances on the night. Demonstrated coolness under pressure and showed a surprising ability to dribble away from pressure when necessary. Overrun in the middle due to his companions’ inability to do anything right.
Cristoforo—4: As usual, he dug in and battled, but Milan passed circles around him and left him looking as confused as a pit bull in a washing machine. And, while I’m sure he’s a lovely and talented man, he really needs to learn how to pass the ball. Seemed like every time he touched it, Milan had it next.
Chiesa—6: Created the goal with a brilliant pass and had a couple of decent half-chances, but wasn’t very involved. Rarely got moving fast enough to beat his man off the dribble, and when he did, he was completely isolated. This one’s on the midfield for being completely unable to get him the ball in useful places.
Saponara—4.5: Spent most of the match as a passenger. Dutifully scrapped, but nobody’s ever going to confuse him for a ball-winner. Much like Chiesa, was starved of the ball in his favored positions, but didn’t ever try to make something happen either.
Simeone—6.5: The most dangerous player for the Viola never stopped running. He hassled the opposing centerbacks whenever possible, but they rarely touched the ball as the midfield kept possession. Charged into the channels at every opportunity, even as the ball never arrived. The goal was class and puts him at 14 on the year.
Olivera—2: Not entirely his fault, as he’s never played centerback in his life, but good gracious was he bad. Might have turned in the worst performance from a Viola defender that I can recall, which is really saying something.
Gaspar—3.5: I barely remember him doing anything, but he was caught watching on the last 2 goals.
Drągowski—3: In fairness to him, he made a couple of decent saves, but should have done better on Cutrone’s second and was simply dreadful to allow Jack’s to go in. Look, we all know it’s tough for a goalkeeper to come into a match halfway through, especially for a young goalie playing behind a porous defense, but Bart made it abundantly clear that he’s just not ready for Serie A and may never be.