We’re finally done with the international break and ready to watch Fiorentina again, which means welcoming high-flying AC Milan to Tuscany. In 175 previous meetings, the Viola have compiled a W50 D48 L77 record against the Rossoneri, including a W2 D3 L5 mark over their past 10. This fixture last year resulted in a wrenching, referee-inspired 2-3 defeat.
The referee for this one is 40-year-old Marco Guida of Torre Annunziata. In 4 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 17 yellow cards and a penalty, which is pretty restrained for him. He’s also one of the Italian refs who’s credentialed to handle continental and international competition. In 18 games under his eye, Fiorentina are W6 D5 L7. Last we saw him, he was having an absolute nightmare in (checks notes) Milan last year; it’d be beyond belief that he’d been assigned this fixture again if this weren’t Serie A.
The match will be played Saturday, 20 November 2021, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a glorious day with clear skies and no wind. It won’t even be all that cold, although that doesn’t mean most of the fans in the stadium won’t be bundled up like they’re joining an Ernest Shackleton expedition.
Italy’s feast-or-famine kings have hauled themselves to 7th place with 18 points and a +2 goal difference, but their recent haul—6 points from 5 matches—isn’t great. In fairness, losses to Lazio and (sigh) Juventus are excusable, but this team needs a result against a Champions League contender to make up for that Venezia loss, especially since a point here could help springboard the Viola through their next 11 games, all of which are against teams placed 10th or lower.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano welcomes back Nicolás González from quarantine but may start him from the bench. The real issue is at the back, where GK Bartłomiej Drągowski (thigh), CB Nikola Milenković (suspended), CB Lucas Martínez Quarta (suspended), and CB Matija Nastasić (calf) are all out, which will leave a Lorenzo Venuti-Igor partnership to stop Zlatan Ibrahimović and company. Further forward, expect Gaetano Castrovilli and José Callejón (who was okay against the Juvenuts) to retain their places.
The one weakness Milan’s evinced this year is the defense: they’ve conceded 11 goals in the league and have looked mightily shaky in the Champions League, although some of that may be down to the absence of Ballon d’Or nominee (no, really) Simon Kjær. With a mobile and physical midfield partnership, they’re tough to break down through the middle, and the defenders are all solid. The best bet may well be sitting deep and soaking up pressure in the first half before trying to get González in behind the rampaging Theo Hernández later on. Until then, we’ll likely see a running battle between Dušan Vlahović and the Rossonero rearguard.
After a runner up finish to eternal rivals Inter Milan last year, the conventional wisdom said that Milan were on the right track. They’ve still outperformed expectations this year, though, sitting joint-top with Napoli and trailing just on goal difference, largely due to the second-best attack in the league. They’ve grabbed 13 of 15 points from their past 5 in Serie A, with a draw in the Derby della Madonnina being the only blemish, and they’re yet to lose in Italy this year. In Europe, though, it’s a slightly different story: they’ve yet to win and are bottom of Group B in the Champions League, so it’s not like this is an unstoppable juggernaut.
Manager Stefano Pioli won’t have GK Mike Maignan (wrist), GK Alessandro Plizzari (knee), RB Davide Calabria (calf), and RW Samu Castillejo (thigh), although he should have CB Alessio Romagnoli and RW Junior Messias back. Keep an eye out for old friend Ciprian Tătărușanu between the sticks, while Olivier Giroud will likely draw the start up top. It’ll be Pioli’s usual 4-2-3-1 that focuses on quick transitions in attack, sort of like how his Fiorentina was supposed to look but with much better players. And no, there’s certainly no bitterness emanating from this quarter, nope nope nope.
Given the Viola defensive pairing, you have to think that Pioli will target the center of the defense, especially in the air. Look for lots of knockdowns from Olivier Giroud for Rafael Leão and Brahim Díaz, who will likely take up central positions to test Venuti and Igor’s positioning. Álvaro Odriozola will have his hands full with Hernández, so the midfield will need to offer a lot of protection to the back line.
How to watch
TV: Maybe on BT Sport or BeIn. Check the full international television listings to make sure.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
If the Viola had more than a single central defender available, this would probably be a really interesting tactical battle. As is, though, it’s hard not to see the visitors as pretty significant favorites; I honestly think that the betting houses are a leaning a little too hard towards Fiorentina as of publication time.
That said, TMBGD is a place of immortal optimism, so I’ll say that it finishes 1-1 as the good guys dominate possession but struggle to create much in the final third while the bad guys focus on quick counters down the wings and high balls into the striker. A goal for Ante Rebić (Fiorentina beffata) feels about right, but let’s say that Nico comes on late and equalizes to give Italiano the first draw of his Viola career. Although, if I’m being honest, Venuti as a central defender could mean that Milan are just going to drive a truck through the middle of the defense. Not great, Bob.