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Lampredotto with the frenemy: Steph explains Milan Women’s magical year

The Rossonere are on a tear, so who better to tell us what’s what than our favorite Milan writer?

Italy Portraits - FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Photo by Tullio Puglia - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Fiorentina Femminile. Despite getting farther in the Champions League than they (or any other Italian club) have ever reached, they’ve slumped to 6th in Serie A, although that’s hardly astonishing given the amount of talent that’s left the club over the past 9 months. As manager Antonio Cincotta explained to us back in August (still giddy about that), it’s very much the start of a new cycle this year.

Replacing Fiorentina as the club designated to chase Juventus is AC Milan, who’ve been fantastic and are pretty much locked into a 2nd-place finish and a CL spot, which would both be firsts for the club. We figured, then, that this would be the best possible time to check in with Rossonera extraordinaire and honorary VN contributor Steph of the AC Milan Offside, Sempre Milan, and Unusual Efforts (if you want Serie A Femmenile news, follow her on Twitter because she’s a goldmine).

Viola Nation: It’s been a heck of a year for AC Milan, who’ve surged to second place and, barring a total collapse (for which the Rossoneri have tried to provide a template), should be set for the Champions League next season. What’s been the biggest difference between this season and last (you know, besides Fiorentina dropping out of the running)?

Steph: The biggest difference between now and then was the overhaul of the squad. Elisabet Spina (the director of the Milan Women) has brought in a few players of high quality, chief among them being Vero Boquete, Laura Agard, and Yui Hasegawa. These are talented players who have experience playing at the highest levels. And in the case of Vero and Agard, they know what it’s like to win it all. This is the type of winning mentality that Milan were missing last season. They’ve elevated the Rossonere’s game and gave them a competitive edge. And yes, Fiorentina underwent an overhaul themselves and yeah, that did help, as it leveled the playing field and Milan took advantage of it. However, I’d attribute Milan’s success to how the team has been constructed. The team is well-constructed (barring a few weaknesses), and it’s all coming together now.

VN: Fiorentina edged Milan 2-1 at the Gino Bozzi back in January. Are Maurizio Ganz and company going to make any tactical changes, do you think, or stick with the plan that’s worked so well this year?

Steph: Knowing Ganz, he’ll stick to the same game plan. The Rossonere seem to have grown into the 3-5-2 formation now and seem to be playing better. I also assume they’ll line up in the same formation and field their usual lineup. It’s brought them success so far, so there’s no need to change it now (especially since the last time they changed formations before a match, they lost. And coincidentally, it was during the game against Inter).

VN: After bumping Inter Milan out of the Coppa Italia over a wild two legs, how much has the lure of the club’s first-ever trophy defined this season? Even though it’s weeks away, is there any chance that the Rossonere could lose focus on their Serie A fixtures as the sheen of the Coppa blinds them?

Steph: Ah yes, thank you for reminding me of that [woozy face]. I’d say the chances of slim to none, but never say never. And yes, the allure of winning a trophy is too strong for Milan. I expect them to throw everything they have into it and to bring home their first set of silverware.

VN: Okay, yeah, that last question was definitely trolling for reasons that Fiorentina fans can maybe expect a result on Sunday, because I can’t come up with all that many. Milan have allowed 12 goals in 19 games and scored 44—second-best in both categories—and come in on the backs of a 4-game unbeaten streak after holding Roma to a draw at the Tre Fontane. If you were a Fiorentina fan, what reasons (if any) would you have for hope in this one?

Steph: As I mentioned before, it would be how slow Milan can be in both the buildup of the offensive and defensive phase. That is their one glaring weakness,, so if Fiorentina wants to win this match, then they’ll have to sit back, soak up pressure and hit them on the counter. The centre-backs have been known to have mental lapses and lose their focus at times. The Viola could wait for those moments and then exploit those scoring opportunities. Milan has to learn how to deal with this, and coming one week after their match with Roma, this might not be enough time for them to learn their lessons. We’ll see what happens though.

VN: Who does Fiorentina need to watch out for? Valentina Giacinti’s the obvious answer (still an outside chance of passing Cristiana Girelli for the capocannoniere), but is there anyone else who’s been really good recently? Also, how has Laura Agard looked after joining this summer from Fiorentina? She’s led the club in minutes played and hasn’t made me miss her at all nope nosirree not one bit. Looking at it from the other side, are there any Viola players who you’re particularly worried about facing? Any spots that Antonio Cincotta could look to exploit?

Steph: Aside from Giacinti, there’s Yui Hasegawa. She’s small and spritely. Her dribbling ability and ball control are exceptional, as are her dead ball skills. Then there’s Valentina Bergamaschi. She’s a speed demon on the flanks. The only downside to her game is her ability to finish her chances, but the way she both exploits and creates space for herself and others makes her a real threat. Then of course, there’s Vero Boquete. I mean, what else can I say about her that I haven’t said already? I once wrote over 3,000 words explaining what a special player she is. She belongs in the same category as Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti, and the great fantasisti of yore. She’s always one step ahead of other players and her vision, creativity, and command of the ball are exceptional. Though she might not score any goals, she will create many chances for her teammates. If Fiorentina are to win this game, they’re going to have to work pretty hard to contain her.

As for the Fiorentina players that I think might be threats to Milan, there’s veteran midfielder Claudia Neto, who will give our midfield a hard time. Then there’s the talented duo of Martina Zanoli and Alice Tortelli, two of the most talented, young defenders that Italy has to offer. Then of course, there’s Daniela Sabatino. I surmise that l’ex della Milan will give us a hard time as she tries to score against us. (We still miss her btw.)

VN: Broadening the scope for a sec, what’s the feeling about how Elliott Management has treated the women’s game so far? They’ve signed some good players—Agard, Verónica Boquete, Julia Simic, and Christy Grimshaw stand out to me—but I haven’t seen them devote a lot of media coverage to a team full of really cool personalities; Giacinti, for example, feels like she should be the face of the game in Italy as probably the best young-ish non-Juve player in Italy, especially because she’s about as cool as they come.

Steph: I believe that Elliott is trying to do right by the women. AC Milan are, after all, the first women’s team in Italy to pay pensions for their team. However, they seem to be dropping the ball in a few, key areas. The first of which is the fact that the team doesn’t have a Primavera squad. Most of the other big teams in Italy have one (including Fiorentina). By not having one, they are missing the opportunity to cultivate a crop of young, talented players that could enhance the quality of the first team.

It seems like every summer, there’s this revolving door of players who leave and who come into the team. Depth has been an issue for Milan, and having a Primavera squad could fix that, as well as give the team some stability.

The other area where they could improve is in regards to their social media accounts. The Milan accounts tend to drop the ball when it comes to the women. Oftentimes, they even forget they exist. Having both the women and men on the same social media accounts sounds ideal, until you realize that posts about the women tend to be buried underneath the posts of the men, or how the women are neglected. Milan needs separate social media accounts solely for the women, and they need them soon. Once they do so, then they’ll be able to exploit the potential of Giacinti, Vero, and the other stars that they have, and give them the spotlight they deserve.

However, I should add that I have talked to people who work for Milan directly and have collaborated with them for things like scheduling interviews. They have also let me know that they are pleased with the work that I and others are doing to promote the Rossonere. So they do care about the women’s team. They just need to fix the two things that I’ve outlined above to help the team and to truly do right by them. Once that happens, then the Milan Women will only get better.

VN: Prediction time: What’s the final score, who gets the goals, and what’ the overall pattern of the game?

Steph: I don’t really like guessing final scores (mainly because it ends up biting me in the butt). I expect Milan to pull out a win though, especially since this win will bring them closer to qualifying for next season’s Champions League. I think that the Rossonere will also have the majority of possession during the game and that Fiorentina will exploit that and hit them on the counterattack. I also expect Milan to really frustrate me at times but as long as they pull off a win, then I’m Gucci

Thanks Steph! Here’s hoping that Fiorentina can spoil those Milan vibes one more time this season, although it is awfully hard to wish the worst for any team starring Giacinti. The game will be played on Sunday, 9 May 2021, at 11:30 AM PST/6:30 AM EST, and will be broadcast for free on Fiorentina’s website.