Both Fiorentina and AC Milan were having somewhat of a turbulent season, massively underperforming and underachieving against much smaller sides, in games that they should easily be winning outright. Fiorentina for example only have three wins this season at home, making them one of the worst performers in the league when playing in front of their own fans. This combined with regular injuries to key players such as Franck Ribéry and Alfred Duncan has only made matters worse helping to contribute to Giuseppe Iachini’s side continuation of out of form performances as they gradually slipped down the Serie A table.
Similarly, AC Milan is more or less in the same boat as Fiorentina, having sacked Marco Giampaolo less than four months in his managerial tenure and replacing him with Stefano Pioli, who by the way is yet to prove himself as the correct figure to pioneer AC Milan back into the Champions League. Thus, this managerial disarray has taken AC Milan two steps back away from their goal of reviving their former glory, while simultaneously their local rivals Inter Milan have taken two steps forward as they continue to flourish with Antonio Conte at the helm.
This tactical analysis will provide an in-depth analysis of the tactics and philosophies used by both sides as I break down the key tactical and technical moments within this Serie A clash between Fiorentina and AC Milan.
Going into this encounter Fiorentina lined up in their usual 3-5-2 formation which gave them a lot of freedom in the wide areas as well as good defensive cover thanks to the wing-backs in place (Dalbert and Pol Lirola). Specifically, both wing-backs helped to provide numerical superiority in the wide areas to create overloads and attacking chances for their team, also while ensuring that they provided defensive coverage when needed in order to give the team that added security when under pressure.
However, their opponent AC Milan lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Hakan Çalhanoğlu playing just being their striker Zlatan Ibrahimović. Unlike Fiorentina, Milan catered their style of play towards the centre of the pitch where they were able to play in between the lines and hold on to possession for longer periods. This combined with the clever movements of Çalhanoğlu who would often drop deep to provide an alternative passing option made Milan a very potent attacking side in this fixture. Nonetheless, this analysis will highlight the playing styles of both teams in more detail as well as provide an overview of how both teams performed in-game week 22 of the Serie A season.
When in possession and playing out from the back, Fiorentina made good use of their back three structure. Specifically, they were able to successfully stretch their defence so that the three options were always available for a pass as portrayed below. This also had the added benefit of nullifying the opponent’s press as the defence could easily re-structure into a rondo-like formation where all three defenders could easily work together to stay in hold of possession and subsequently progress the play. Furthermore, with the wing-backs playing in between the half-spaces as shown with Lirola at the bottom of the picture if the opposition press ever got to threatening, an out ball is always available which will not only relieve the pressure but will simultaneously start them on a promising attack.
When taking this into account we should also consider the other options in which Fiorentina look to build-up play. For instance, as shown below, Gaetano Castrovilli drops in between the lines of the AC Milan press providing an alternative option in which the first two players providing the press can be temporarily taken out the game, also upon receiving the ball more passing options will be made available thus justifying his movements. Additionally, we should pay special attention to Dalbert who here is playing as an inverted wing-back as he looks to provide extra attacking support. however, even if his side lost the ball in this play, he is also in a good enough position to provide sufficient defensive cover, illuminating the flexibility of Iachini’s side.
Unlike Fiorentina, AC Milan were given a much freer reign in possession partly due to Fiorentina’s tactics of dropping off and creating defensive blocks. Nevertheless, this allowed Milan to progress the ball into the opponent’s half with little pressure and as a result, they were able to create a multitude of passing options. Furthermore, with Ismaël Bennacer acting as the pivot in the Milan side these passing options were all the easier to pick out. Specifically, when looking at the picture below we can see five potential passing options for Bennacer to pick out illustrating the versatility and unpredictability of Milan’s attack.
This point is further emphasised even when Milan are under significant pressure from their opponents as shown below.
In this case, we can see that both Bennacer and Frank Kessié have dropped from their natural positions to provide further support for their team and like the previous picture the ball carrier, Theo Hernández, has multiple passing options to utilise. Also, when taking into account that Fiorentina have adopted an aggressive press in this picture these extra passing options become all the more important because once the press is beaten a significant amount of the Fiorentina players will be taken out of the game. Thus, meaning AC Milan will have fewer numbers to beat once they make it into the other half of the pitch.
In spite of AC Milan having plenty of passing options when in possession, the pressing formation of Fiorentina was often too much for the players from Milan to handle. For instance, on numerous occasions in this game, Milan would often beat the first pressing line however, the second block would prove to be more difficult. In the case below Fiorentina’s front two of Dusan Vlahović and Federico Chiesa have been beaten, yet Fiorentina’s midfield trio is still able to impact this play and block the progressive passing options, and as a result, Milan is forced to play long in the hope that Ibrahimović will be able to win the aerial duel. Even so, the only sensible alternative for Milan would be to backtrack on themselves which would play directly into Fiorentina’s hands as they could now regain their defensive shape, in which the pressing would begin once again.
When looking at AC Milan’s press, the first thing we notice is the players’ desire to suffocate the ball carrier of any available space. Not only does this force mistakes on behalf of the ball carrier but because of where they are on the pitch if Milan were able to win the ball here, the transition of possession would provide them with an excellent chance to score, as many Fiorentina would have either pushed up would be out of position when the turnover is complete.
A similar pressing formation is seen yet again later in the game; this time it is Duncan who is being pressed relentlessly by Milan’s players. And with the positioning of Fiorentina’s back three we can see just how dangerous Milan’s press is towards their opponents. For instance, if the ball was to be won in this area, a simple pass could payed into either Ante Rebić or Ibrahimović in which a clear scoring opportunity will be created.
Despite this, we have to understand that if Fiorentina manages to beat the press then Milan will be largely exposed at the back which against a side with one of the best dribblers in Serie A (Chiesa) is not an ideal scenario for Milan to be put under.
During the counter-attacks we saw this Milan team become exposed. For instance, in the example below with Hernández out of position, the ball carrier Duncan is put into an advantageous position with runners to his left and right, as a consequence Fiorentina have stretched the already limited Milan defence and created openings in their backline. Also, with Erick Pulgar making an additional run behind Duncan albeit a later run, Fiorentina have been able to create a numerical overload helping to ensure that passing combinations can be made and maintained without Milan’s players blocking all the available passing options.
Similarly, because Fiorentina adopts attacking wing-backs within their formation, they too are susceptible to being exposed on the counter. This case in point can be seen below with only three defenders in position (Nikola Milenković out of the picture) compared to Milan’s three attacking runners illuminating the potential options in which a penetrating pass can be executed. And taking into account the slight overload on the left-hand side of the pitch where Milan have two runners facing up against one Fiorentina defender a chance for passing combinations and one-twos to be completed only further aids Milan’s already threatening attack, thus Fiorentina may need to commit a tactical foul in order to prevent the probable damage caused by this phase of play.
To conclude, despite Milan having the majority of possession with 59%, they were unable to score the second goal against the 10-man Fiorentina side, and as a result, this Serie A fixture ended as a draw. Overall, this fixture perhaps indicated the drawbacks of both teams with Milan failing to capitalise on a largely dominant performance, and Fiorentina unable to take advantage of their six scoring opportunities which were double that of Milan’s opportunities. Nonetheless, a draw is a good reflection of how both clubs’ seasons are going. With huge investments on Milan’s side promising European football when in reality, has only produced average football, while contrasting a side with promising young talent is unable to get the best out of them and thus, they like Milan, Fiorentina are struggling for consistency in Serie A.