A suddenly-fragile Fiorentina get the worst possible test they could face right now: capolista AC Milan at the San Siro. In 176 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W51 D48 L77 record, including a W3 D2 L5 mark over their past 10 meetings. It was the good guys who won the reverse fixture, though, in a wildly entertaining 4-3 triumph featuring Lorenzo Venuti in central defense.
The referee for this one is 43-year-old Paolo Valeri of Rome. In 11 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 56 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 5 penalties. In 28 matches under his watch, Fiorentina are W10 D13 L5. Last we saw him was the 1-1 draw against Sassuolo featuring 8 bookings and a PK.
The match will be played on Sunday, 1 May 2022, at 1:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST at the Stadio San Siro in Milan. The forecast calls for what you’d expect on a spring afternoon in Lombardy: the rain will likely cease just before kickoff, but it’ll still be damp and gray, although at least it won’t be too cold.
Milan’s apparently charmed season rumbles on as the Rossoneri stretch towards their first scudetto since 2011. They’re in first place with a 2-point lead over Inter Milan (who are doing Pazza Inter things to let the chance to repeat as champions slip away) and are undefeated in 12 straight Serie A games, although the Nerazzurri did spank them 3-0 in the Coppa semifinals last week. Even so, they’ve got the bit between their teeth and will be desperate to get over the line in these final 4 games.
Manager Stefano Pioli (on whom we wish nothing but good things) won’t have CB Simon Kjær or RB Alessandro Florenzi, although CF Zlatan Ibrahimović and CM Rade Krunić are likely to be ready. The Piolus will, as usual, send out a 4-2-3-1, although he’ll have to make some choices all over the formation. The Rossoneri don’t really have a main threat: Rafael Leão (9 goals, 5 assists), Olivier Giroud (9 goals, 3 assists), and Ibrahimović (8 goals, 2 assists) share the burden, although there’s an argument that their most important attacker might well be leftback Theo Hernández.
As you’d expect from a Pioli team, Milan are frequently very vertical, looking to get the ball into the box as quickly as possible, where their veteran strikers are excellent at finding space and turning it home. They’re also not afraid to have a pop from distance. They’ll likely cede the ball to Fiorentina at times before looking to spring forward and strike via transitions and set pieces (they win the second most fouls in the league, after Fiorentina). As the center forwards aren’t the quickest, the threat in behind comes from the wingers, which means Fiorentina’s fullbacks will have perhaps the most important job on the day.
The feeling in Florence has changed drastically over the past week and a half. While the club looked likely to qualify for Europe via the league, back-to-back losses against stragglers Salernitana and Udinese, combined with a Coppa Italia semifinal loss against Juventus, have halted a lot of momentum. On the other hand, they’re even on 56 points with Lazio (although behind on head-to-head) and could still elbow their way into continental competition if they can reverse the recent trend.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have CM Gaetano Castrovilli but should have everyone else available. It’ll be a 4-3-3, of course, but there are questions all over the formation. Álvaro Odriozola and Giacomo Bonaventura are still working back to full fitness but could both feature in the XI. Up front, Riccardo Saponara will relish a chance against his old employer but could end up behind Jonathan Ikoné again.
Missing Castrovilli and with Jack looking limited, Fiorentina have been relegated to attacking exclusively down the wings, often bypassing the midfield entirely, as they simply don’t have the creativity in possession and movement in the middle to unlock a defense. That means Milan, who are perhaps the best pressing team in the league, will throw numbers forward to win the ball. That means we’ll likely see even more hopeful long balls forward, so everything relies on Nicolás González and Arthur Cabral doing something on their own. If Italiano can scheme ways to get them into good 1-v-1 situations, he’ll have done his job; it’ll be all over to the players to win those battles then.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are pretty significant underdogs with all the betting houses for obvious reasons. They’re lower in the table, dealing with a spate of midfield injuries, and have lost two on the bounce to pretty poor teams. Milan, on the other hand, have been superb in the league and are on the verge of securing the scudetto. Feels like a no-brainer.
Fortunately, TMBGD is a brain-free zone. That’s why I’m predicting a really surprising 0-1 upset. I think it’ll be tight and I think that this is the exact kind of game that Fiorentina tends to spring an ambush in. Milan won’t sit off them but will instead leave some spaces to attack, which should suit Nico and Arthur. I’ll say that it’s the latter turning home a cross from the former to provide the winning margin in a game that’s more tense than technical, marred by a lot of fouls, and sees the Viola just barely hang on. Hey, why not dream?