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Match Preview: Milan v Fiorentina

Serie A Week 15 Sunday 13 November 2022 – San Siro | Preview by Enrico Passarella


Milan stumbled a couple of times lately, allowing Napoli to pull away, while Fiorentina have improved in the last few weeks. The two sides collide, looking for confirmations in the final match of the year.

Milan

Chasing after a side that never stutters is exhausting, and in fact, Milan have been showing clear signs of fatigue in the last few weeks. They shouldn’t be magnified too much, though. The abnormality is Napoli forging ahead as tremendously as they are, and not the occasional missteps by the Rossoneri. It was weird that they arrived on the road versus Torino and Cremonese since they have had great success away this year. But, all things considered, that’s also a bizarre trend, and a regression to the mean was due.

While they shouldn’t panic, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few things to work on. However, at this point, all the other contenders need supreme consistency and the Azzurri to go into a tailspin to have a shot at the Scudetto. Repeating is always tough, especially when you win the title by the skin of your teeth and not because you were dominant. So, Milan can be decently pleased with their first half of the season, especially for qualifying to the knockout stage of the Champions League, which they didn’t do in the past campaign and hadn’t happened in years.

The schedule in the second portion of the season won’t be as thick, so it might not be a major problem, but the Rossoneri have been poor when they deploy reserve-filled lineups. While having trouble replacing Rafael Leao is the norm, being toothless when Olivier Giroud doesn’t start is worrisome. Divock Origi was worth a flier, and he has had flashy displays, but he’s at most a super sub. Overall, his style is too different from the Frenchman to be a true deputy.

The right thing to do would arguably be to field them together, but that would create issues elsewhere. The veteran isn’t just a grizzled scorer that often takes the chestnuts out of the fire with great goals, as he did versus Spezia. They also use his ability to flick on the ball with precision as a corkscrew against sturdy defenses. Instead, the Belgian forward would rather have the ball on his feet and pull off some fancy moves rather than combine with his teammates.

Combining that with the fact that Charles De Ketelaere is taking a long time to adjust to his new surroundings, their summer moves have contributed very little so far. And the coach should have trusted Malick Thiaw way more rather than constantly fielding Matteo Gabbia, who’s okay but doesn’t have the same impressive physical traits or the upside. In addition, the decision not to replace Franck Kessié is proving costly. The gulf in quality is noticeable when one between Ismael Bennacer and Sandro Tonali rests. Tommaso Pobega is a good prospect, but he’s not a distributor, and he’s not at the same level from the leadership standpoint. They haven’t tried him as a physical trequartista yet, a tweak that yielded great results in 2021/2022.

They should obviously be patient with the Belgian starlet, and the performances of Brahim help them mask his struggles. The oddity is that he got off to a scintillating start, but he got lost in the shuffle afterward, so his trajectory hasn’t been linear. It’s evident that Serie A is a different beast, tactically and defensively, than the Belgian league. Other getting too easily engulfed by the opponents, the issues might also stem from lack of touches. He had as many as he wanted at Club Brugge, while here he has to share the ball with a few playmakers that are more established and effective. Plus, he has significantly less time to think about what to do before somebody tries to rough him up. The no.10 position is intrinsically tricky because you have to navigate a lot of traffic. His Spanish teammate has done it better because of his superior agility and familiarity. Once he gets out of his funk, which is also mental at this point, he’ll have to do it with his technique. And some more cuts in the box wouldn’t hurt.

Theo Hernandez and Olivier Giroud are back from suspension in this one, plus Leao will predictably return to the XI, so their devastating left chain will be in full force. That’s an instant improvement compared to their underwhelming showing in Cremona. Junior Messias has been steadier than in his first campaign in Milan, but the formation remains pretty lopsided, especially considering that they have been leaning a lot on Pierre Kalulu as a right-back after Davide Calabria and Alessandro Florenzi got hurt. The formation has actually looked more like a 3-4-1-2 than their usual 4-2-3-1. While it makes sense considering the prowess of Hernandez, who is less encumbered by defensive tasks, the Portuguese ace hasn’t been at his best as a pseudo second-striker, as he prefers the prairies of the flank to the middle.

Messias is out with a late injury for this one, so one between Ante Rebic, Diaz, and Rade Krunic will have to adapt to the right flank, and the first two have done it pretty well in some rare instances. It would be interesting to go with the two fantasisti together, but probably it won’t happen.

Expected XI (4-2-3-1):  Tatarusanu; Kalulu, Tomori, Thiaw, Hernandez; Tonali, Bennacer; Diaz, Krunic, Leao; Giroud. 

 

 

Fiorentina

It took Fiorentina a long time to get going, and, as a matter of fact, they have been quite bad for long stretches of the season. Probably not coincidentally, they have started to garner better results once the group stage of the European Conference League was over. They come into the game with plenty of momentum, having defeated Spezia, Sampdoria, and Salernitana in the past three matches.

The performances were nothing to write home about, but it’s a significant turnaround considering they had triumphed just once in the previous ten rounds. The recent run has allowed them to climb to the tenth position, which feels about right. With Atalanta bouncing back from last season, despite their recent slide, qualifying for Europe again will be very challenging, as they already have to make up seven points.

It has been arduous to compensate for the absence of Nicolas Gonzalez, who has just been a non-factor due to multiple injuries. Plus, they had trouble juggling the two competitions, more mentally than in terms of energy, because they do have a deep squad, although only a few backups are at the same level as the starters.

The main thing holding them back prior to the recent surge was their offensive woes. Therefore, they naturally improved once Luka Jovic and Arthur Cabral started scoring, and they keyed on a go-to trident than features Jonathan Ikoné and Christian Kouamé wide. They aren’t the most consistent players, but they provide a ton of pace and playmaking. They can hit defenses from various angles and in different ways, which opens up room and leads to chances for their forwards and midfielders.

In particular, Giacomo Bonaventura, who has hit the net in two consecutive matches. It can change even within the same contest to adapt to its phases, but their formation is more a 4-2-3-1 than a 4-3-3 these days. The veteran is savvy and clutch, and the new position allows him to spare energy in the defensive phase. The downside is that it relegates Antonin Barak, who was an artist of such position in Verona, to a secondary role, but the aggressive midfield wasn’t working. Instead, having two among Sofyan Amrabat, Rolando Mandragora, and Alfred Duncan on the pitch together simultaneously brings a ton of hustle and allows them to play as proactively as they want without getting imbalanced. It also frees up the fullbacks: Dodo is finally coming out of his shell, and Cristiano Biraghi has been a menace for years. They can attack more frequently without having to watch their back now.

Coach Vincenzo Italiano stated that he tweaked the movements of their strikers, and it paid off. Beforehand, they were still trying to feed them as if they were Dusan Vlahovic, who’s an animal in attacking the offside trap. Their two current options are different and not as dynamic, but they can produce when exploited properly. Jovic is a bit peculiar because he has a lot of technique, especially when finishing, but he’s not super quick, mobile, or skilled in the other facets of the games. Arthur Cabral is more physically gifted but not as refined in the box. As a matter of fact, they complement each other pretty well, and they have featured together in late pushes, but it’s unlikely to be a long-term solution.

Nikola Milenkovic has gone up a level in the back, and retaining him was the actual coup of their summer. Lucas Martinez Quarta has been more reliable than Igor this season, but that changes week to week. In any case, there was no reason for their defense to be as leaky as in the first few fixtures, and in fact, it got better naturally. Pietro Terracciano has deservedly stayed the starting goalkeeper even though they signed Pierluigi Gollini in the summer.

It’s not easy for gaffers to change a recipe that has been working for years, so he gets the credit for recognizing what was wrong. The extra busy schedule, the new design, and some absences caused them to tone down their aggression compared to the high-flying squad they probably wish they could be, but they had to, and the results followed.

Expected XI (4-3-3): Terracciano; Dodo, Milenkovic, Martinez Quarta, Biraghi; Bonaventura, Amrabat, Mandragora; Ikoné, Jovic, Kouamé. 

Injuries

Milan: Messias, Dest (thigh injuries), Maignan (calf strain), Calabria (thigh strain), Saelemaekers (knee sprain), Florenzi (thigh tendon tear), Ibrahimovic (ACL tear). 

Fiorentina: Castrovilli (ACL tear), Sottil (herniated disc), Gonzalez (thigh pull), Zurkowski. 

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