After bodying Benevento to put some space between themselves and the drop zone, Fiorentina get an entirely different test this time around, taking on second place AC Milan. In 174 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W50 D48 L76 record, including a W2 D3 L5 mark over their past 10 league meetings. In the reverse fixture, the Rossoneri took home a pretty easy 2-0 win that never forced them to take it out of second gear thanks to some catastrophic defense from the good guys.
The referee for this one is 39-year-old Marco Guida of Torre Annunziata. In 6 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 30 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and 3 penalties; that’s a lot even for a guy who’s always trying to wrench the spotlight his way. In 17 matches under his eye, Fiorentina are W6 D5 L6. Last time we saw him was the quite enjoyable 1-3 over Lecce last year. That said, he’s also the numpty who gave refused to check VAR after Jordan Lukaku bulldoged Riccardo Sottil off the ball in the buildup to the winner against Lazio last year, leading a furious Franck Ribery to completely lose his cool and get suspended for shoving an assistant ref.
The match will be played on Sunday, 21 March 2021, at 6:00 PM GMT/1:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a pretty miserable day. The rain will start on Friday and should soak the field pretty well. Combine that with some high winds and chilly temperatures and you have a recipe for some chaos and a lot of guys bundled up to their eyeballs in puffy coats.
With 7 points from their last 5 matches, Fiorentina are back on schedule as an unremarkable but probably safe mid-table side, which feels like a vast improvement from where things were a week ago. Their 29 points put them in sole possession of 13th place and just 4 away from Udinese and 10th place, which would put them back in the top half. The recent scoring outburst—3 or more goals in 3 of their past 5 matches—indicates that maybe the season isn’t quite as crocked as we’d thought.
Manager Cesare Prandelli has a number of injury concerns: CB Igor (ankle), LB Cristiano Biraghi (ankle), CM Sofyan Amrabat (hamstring), CM Gaetano Castrovilli (thigh), CF Christian Kouamé (thigh), and CF Aleksandr Kokorin (thigh) are all questionable to out, which could lead to another game of Lorenzo Venuti at left wingback and Valentin Eysseric in central midfield, although that could also give the mister enough flexibility to switch from the usual 3-5-2 to a 4-4-1-1 as he did against Benevento.
Milan don’t tend to press too high up the pitch and instead look to stymie opponents progressing the ball forward from defense, then pounce on errors and break quickly the other way. That means that Lucas Martínez Quarta and Nikola Milenković will be key in building attacks from deep. Expect Dušan Vlahović to try and find space behind the buccaneering Theo Hernández. Kessié is likely to minimize space between the lines, squeezing Franck Ribery, so a more direct approach, particularly targeting the lead-footed Simon Kjær, could be the best bet.
Given the doom and gloom surrounding this side, you’d never know it was in second place, albeit 9 points behind Inter Milan. Still, that spot in the standings represents a massive step up from last year’s 6th-place; indeed, the Rossoneri have 56 points, just 10 off their final tally of 66 from last season with 11 games to go. A lot of the pessimism, of course, is based on recent results: 7 points from their past 5 Serie A matches isn’t great, although losses to Napoli and Inter aren’t anything too shocking. Milan will also be smarting from a midweek Europa League loss to Manchester United, although at least they’ll be able to focus exclusively on the league like every other team in Italy.
Manager Stefano Pioli will have to work without CB Alessio Romagnoli (calf), RB Davide Calabria (knee), LW Ante Rebić (suspended), and LW Rafael Leão (thigh). He’ll likely stick with his usual 4-2-3-1; the only real choices he’ll have to make are on the right wing—Alexis Saelemaekers or Samu Castillejo—and in central midfield—two of Franck Kessié, Sandro Tonali, and Ismael Bennacer. Up front, Zlatan Ibrahimović may not have a full 90 in him, so we could see Castillejo slot in as a false 9 to close things out or a debut for 20-year-old Riccardo Tonin.
With Ibrahimović less mobile than ever but still insistent on getting his touches, this attack can bog down to accommodate him at times. The pace on the wings should help offset some of that, especially with a couple of fullbacks that like to get forward. The real plan seems to be playing quick passing combinations through the middle to free up Ibra or Hakan Çalhanoglu to shoot from distance or spread play to a runner. It’s also worth noting that the Rossoneri have won twice as many penalties as the next highest club in the league and excel from dead ball situations.
How to watch
TV: Maybe BeIn but probably nothing. Check the full international television listings to make sure.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
With a soaked pitch likely to feature prominently, this feels like the sort of game that features more industry than invention in the middle; the team whose attackers have more good moments is likely to get a result here. Given their obvious edge in quality, both on paper and in the standings, you’d have to lean towards that being Milan. The betting houses certainly are, so it’s safe to say that even a draw feels pretty unlikely.
That said, the Rossoneri are banged up and could be tired from a grueling tie against Man U. In contrast, the Viola have a bit of momentum and are getting healthier. They’ll also be able to sit deeper and play on the break, embracing their underdog status, and we’ve seen this team spring some surprises in those circumstances. That’s why I’m calling it a 2-2 draw, with goals from Ibrahimović (because of course) striking from close range and Kessié from the spot. For the good guys, let’s say Vlahović gets one and Bonaventura bags the other for the sake of narrative. This has been your daily dose of outrageous optimism.