A faltering AC Milan hosted a young Fiorentina side at the San Siro on Saturday. With a host of injuries and suspensions facing Gattuso’s men, Milan was always going to find it tough against the youngest team in Serie A.
Despite the Rossoneri’s slow start to the game, it was Calhanoglu who had the first effort on goal when his well-struck half-volley was comfortably saved by 19-year-old Lafont.
Milan, in usual fashion from recent games, took control of the majority of possession but struggled again to find any clear-cut chances in front of goal. Calhanoglu was involved again as a thunderous strike from Rodriguez was kept out by an incredible stop by Lafont once again.
A chance cleared off the line right before halftime with Calhanoglu involved once again for the hosts, before the second half took the same mould as the start of the first 45 with Milan having to defend for long periods of time before Suso went close before feeding Higuain only to be foiled by Lafont once again.
It was Chiesa who broke the deadlock on the 73rd minute with a stunning long-range effort, cutting in from the left channel to finish from 25 yards out.
Gatusso set his men up in a 1-4-3-3 with an inexperienced lineup, particularly in central midfield with Mauri (4) being the only recognized central midfielder, flanked by Calhanoglu who typically plays further forward and Calabria (2) who is a right back by trade.
Heavily linked to big moves in the upcoming January transfer market, Higuain was linked up in the front three by Suso (8) and Castillejo (7). Experienced central defender Zapata (17) marshalled the back four with Abate, Romagnoli and Rodriguez.
Pioli’s youthful Fiorentina side had a full complement of players to chose from. Lining up in a 1-4-2-3-1 formation, they match AC Milan in central midfield, pitting their more experienced three against Milan’s mismatched trio.
Fernandes (26) and Veretout (17) provided a double pivot in build-out moments whilst screening their central defenders, Hugo (31) and Pezzella (20) out of possession. Simeone (9), Chiesa (25) and Mirallas (11) made up the front three with Benassi (24) playing as the attacking midfielder.
Young Lafont (19 years-old) keeps his place as the number one, and rightly so based on this performance from the French under 20 international.
Fiorentina’s man to man
Fiorentina’s 1-4-2-3-1 formation matched exactly with Gatusso’s 1-4-3-3 formation and gave the young and energetic Fiorentina side a chance to get pressure on the ball, in particular in central midfield playing against two of three for Milan who is not conventional central midfielders.
With Kevin Mirallas inverting to become a false number 10, this gives Fiorentina numbers up situations in pressing moments higher up the field. Mirallas joins Benassi as two 10s, creating a box midfield with Biraghi (3) pressing high on Abate, denying Milan any short outlets in the build-out phase. This forced Milan to play more direct into Fiorentina’s right channel, which was occupied by the dominant Milenkovic who won 5 out of 6 of his aerial duels, whilst matched up against the underperforming Castillejo.
Milan struggle to score again
Despite the look of an attacking lineup, given the selection problems ahead of the game, Gatusso’s men still managed to get 13 shots on goal, 6 of them were on target resulting in a higher percentage than usual for them with 46% of their shots on target vs an average of just 36% across the season so far.
Gonzalo Higuain continued his struggles in front of goal, the man with only 5 goals to his name this season managed just 2 shots against Fiorentina, with only one on target. His xG only .22 compared to his seasons average of .55, these numbers compared to Serie A’s top scorer Piatek of Genoa who’s xG was .64 last time out against Atalanta.
Milan’s selection woes
The battle against Fiorentina for Gattuso was never going to decrease the pressure on him to turn Milan’s fortunes around after a recent run of disappointing performances. Although his team selection may have been out of his control with numerous injuries and suspensions, it was his change of system from a 1-4-3-3 to a 1-4-4-2 though, after the 68th-minute sub of his only recognized central midfielder Mauri for forward Cutrone, which may have led to Fiorentina’s eventual game-winning strike.
It was the central area of the field which was left exposed, with recognized right back (acting central midfielder) Calabria unable to stop Chiesa cutting inside and the more forward-thinking Calhanogu unable to cover spaces inside before Chiesa unleashed his 25-yard effort with a clear sight on goal.
As pressure grows on Gattuso to turn his team’s recent dip in form around, with numerous suspensions and injuries, and not having won a game since the 2nd of December against Parma, the manager will be hoping to turn his fortunes around on Boxing Day when his team travel to struggling Frosinone.
Fiorentina host Parma on the same day and will be looking to make it 3 wins out of 4 and continue their push for a European spot. With a tenacious, energetic playing style, Pioli will be looking to galvanize his men once again to head into the new year undefeated in 5.
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