FIORENTINA

v

AC MILAN

Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence

April 10, 2011; 19:45 GMT

An effulgent overhead kick by Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic was enough to see AC Milan run away with three points against Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Fiorentina at San Siro back in November last year. Back then, the Rossoneri were riding high on form with three straight victories to their credit and were a much confident unit to face the Viola at home.

However, as they travel to the city of Florence over the weekend to play the reverse leg of the competition, circumstances are vastly different in nature from what they were during the previous quarter of the season. The season approaches its business end and Milan are reckoned the most prominent contender to grab the Scudetto, come the end of May. Ibrahimovic was the primary reason Milan rode on such rich vein of form the last time the two sides locked horns. The big Swede, however, has not exactly set the stage ablaze of late and is making his way back into the side after serving a two-match suspension, post his antics against Bari defender Marco Rossi.

The hosts, on the other hand, have had a pretty shaky season during which they have spent some time in the wrong half of the table, dangling amidst the pedestrian clubs, but have lately resurged their campaign and find themselves sitting safely at 9th position in the league table. The large talking points of the season have remained confined to methodical transition in the post-Prandelli era, injuries to rising star Stevan Jovetic and key forward Adrian Mutu’s never-ending spree of controversies. The Romanian shall remain unavailable for the tie after the suspension he earned during last week’s outing at Cesena.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Fiorentina

Despite staying unbeaten for last six rounds, the hosts have managed to add only ten points to their basket. To their chagrin, Mihajlovic’s men dropped points against Bari, Cesena and a dismantled Sampdoria. A win therefore, over the current league leaders would elevate the stimulus in the dressing room and would ease the the pressure on the manager, as the league nears its culmination point.

In the absence of beleaguered striker Adrian Mutu, Alberto Gilardino is expected to be the lone man upfront, supported by Ljacic and Vargas behind him forming an attacking triangle. Ljacic in particular will be expected to take the game to Milan’s full backs and stretch the defence closer to the flanks and create more space for Gilardino in the box.

Fiorentina do not boast of fast paced wingers running up and down the pitch to provide any substantial width to the attack; however in Montolivo, they have their answers in the centre for their shortcomings on the flanks. The Italian international will be the chief source of creativity, operating deep from midfield. For his team to aim at a positive result, he has to tread his way past the insurmountable Mark van Bommel.

Donadel and Santana will be deployed on either side of Montolivo in the deep midfield and apart from making overlapping runs to assist an attacking move, they will have to track back on every counter attack to provide due support to the defence.

Mihajlovic’s favoured 4-3-2-1 would provide ample meat to the defence and an early break in the beginning of the first half may well be protected for the full stretch of the game. Given Milan’s inability to come from behind, Fiorentina would relish at the prospect of striking first.

Probable starting line-up: Boruc, Comotto, Gamberini, Natali, Pasqual, Santana, Montolivo, Donadel, Ljacic, Vargas, Gilardino.

AC Milan

Post the demolition of the city rivals Internazionale in last week’s cross-town derby, Max Allegri’s men should have re-acquired the impetus to clinch the title, and an away win in Florence would be a key accomplishment in the process. Club president Adriano Galliani however, is wary of the potential force Fiorentina can be at home.

In the absence of Ibrahimovic, the Brazilian duo of Pato and Robinho rose unexpectedly well to the occasion and an industrious performance from the pair ensured heavy incentives from the derby. Robinho is most likely to make way for the Swede in the forward-line, with Pato likely to partner Ibrahimovic in a two-man attack.

Kevin Prince Boetang has been proliferative in the hole behind the two strikers and in all likelihood, should start from the same position. However, given his work-rate, the Ghanaian offers the team a little more than a typified trequartista does. With his untiring runs through the centre of the pitch, he makes up for the lack of pace in the Milan midfield.

In the absence of Gattuso, Flamini would start from the right while van Bommel and Seedorf should maintain their places in the centre and left respectively. Seedorf had a decent game against Inter but the Dutch veteran has so far failed during the season to deliver goods on a regular basis. The onus majorly lies on him to provide width to the attack as his fellow countryman van Bommel would primarily focus on disengaging opponents’ play and redirect the attack.

Allegri must stick on to the same defensive fold that kept Eto’o and Pazzini on their toes. With the best defensive record in Serie A, the centre back pairing of Nesta and Silva is currently one of the best in Europe and would pose a tough challenge for their former team-mate Alberto Gilardino. Abate and Zambrotta should man the Right Back and Left Back positions respectively.

Probable starting line-up: Abbiati, Abate, Nesta, Silva, Zambrotta, Flamini, van Bommel, Seedorf, Boetang, Pato, Ibrahimovic.

The Swede returns.

Key facts

1. The last time Milan played at Stadio Franchi, they came from behind to beat the hosts 2-1. Post that night, Milan have failed to register even a single comeback win in Serie A.

2. Fiorentina have 12 draws this season, which is joint highest along with Chievo, while Milan are joint leaders along with Napoli in bagging the maximum number of wins (18).

TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR

Alexandre Pato (AC Milan): The Brazilian dynamite, despite all the talent and flair at his disposal, is yet to make a big statement in the league or in Europe. Having remained plagued with a never-ending love affair with injuries, Pato has seldom lived up to his billing. However, with the kind of form he has been in lately, this season more and more appears to be the one setting the tone. As his team is on the verge of ending a seven year drought in the league, the Samba boy understands the importance of an away win here in Florence and is the most potent weapon in Allegri’s attacking armoury.

TheHardTackle’s PREDICTION

Fiorentina 1-3 AC Milan

The formation and the chosen personnel in the later part of the season have all clicked for Milan and are once again expected to be at the top of their game.

TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRwTc0Apans