Fresh off a big win over Hellas Verona in which the scoreline papered over some serious cracks, Fiorentina hosts defending champion AC Milan. In 178 previous meetings, the Viola have slumped to a W51 D48 L79 record, including W3 D1 L6 over their past 10 meetings. The reverse fixture saw the Rossoneri come away with a 2-1 win after some execrable refereeing.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Marco Di Bello of Brindisi. In 7 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 34 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 5 penalties. In 8 previous matches under his direction, Fiorentina are W4 D3 L1. Last we saw him was the 1-1 draw at Torino in which he sent off both Gaetano Castrovilli and Nikola Milenković, the latter after a truly embarrassing dive from Andrea Belotti.
The match will be played on Saturday, 4 March 2023, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for brisk spring day with sunny skies—although this one’ll be too late to watch the sun set over the Curva Fiesole—and temperatures around 10° C/50° F.
Fiorentina have maybe, maybe, maybe started to find some form at the business end of this difficult season; 7 points from 5 Serie A matches isn’t great, but big wins against Braga in the Conference League seem to have the arrow pointing upwards. Even so, the league campaign seems just about done, although the Conference League and the Coppa Italia beckon the Viola to win their first trophy since 2001. That means we could see some rotation ahead of a critical European tie with Sivasspor on Thursday.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have LB Aleksa Terzić but should welcome back CB Nikola Milenković. The question is how the midfield will look: it could be a double pivot and a 10 or a regista and two mezzale, although the best guess is something rather combining those options. Looking forward to Sivasspor, we could see some of the deeper bench options get a run in here; Christian Kouamé, Luka Jović, and Alfred Duncan will all hope to earn minutes, and we could get an extended look at Gaetano Castrovilli too.
Milan’s defenders have been fantastic at man marking opposing center forwards, so Cabral’s mobility feels like a good option here. If he can pull wide or drop deep and open spaces for the wingers to attack, Fiorentina could see some good results. Of course, that will require them to beat Milan’s ferocious press, which has been tough for anyone to do this year; the Rossoneri have stifled opponents brilliantly, so the key area for the Viola is the center of the park. If they can get the ball through that zone, they can probably generate some good moves. Otherwise, it’ll be a long day.
The scudetto holders are pretty well out of the running for a repeat but are still looking for 2nd place, although they could fall out of the Champions League places if they’re not careful. A run of 7 straight without a win in January and February seemed to spell doom, but the Rossoneri have flipped the script, winning 4 straight, including an impressive 2-0 over Atalanta in the league last week. While they can’t afford to ignore Serie A, a trip to Tottenham Hotspurs on Wednesday will doubtless loom over this fixture.
Manager Stefano Pioli (whom we still love very much) won’t have CM Rade Krunić, CM Ismael Bennacer, or LW Rafael Leão but will have RB Davide Calabria, RB Alessandro Florenzi, and CF Zlatan Ibrahimović fit enough at least for the bench. The Piolus has saved Milan’s season by switching to a 3-4-2-1 formation and looks set to continue that here. The questions are at right wingback, where Junior Messias and Calabria will compete, and in attack, where Charles de Ketalaere has a chance to reverse his disappointing season.
Milan’s a fairly simple team to plan against. Their primary attacking option is long passes forward to Olivier Giroud, who then combines with the attackers right behind him. Failing that, Theo Hernandez moves infield and carries the ball forward to devastating effect. Sounds simple, but Pioli’s got these guys dialed in and they’re really, really good at those simple things. Knowing what’s coming is entirely different from stopping it.
How to watch
TV: Maybe on BeIn or BT. Check the international television listings.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers list this one as being pretty tight, which is a bit surprising. AC Milan are on the road, have some significant absences in midfield and attack, and face a massive test in London at the midweek. But they’re also in fantastic form, especially at the back, and have plenty of talent. Fiorentina are also performing well, but there’s a difference of 10 places in the table between these two; the visitors probably ought to be bigger favorites.
Even so, I’ll call this one a 1-0 win for the good guys. I expect chances to be at a premium, as Milan have kept 4 straight clean sheets, but let’s say that Milenković produces the goods in his return, shutting down Giroud and providing the only goal at the other end in a game that’s alternately cagey and way too wide open. Sure, that’s the best case scenario, but that’s what I’m going to go with.