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The final game on an action packed Saturday saw Fiorentina travel to Milan to take on the Rossonieri. Milan have struggled in the league so far, and found themselves in 10th place going into the game. Fiorentina had played some fantastic football, but failed to convert it into results thus far. Neither team was especially close to the top or even the Champions League places, and therefore it this match was very significant to both teams, as a win could get them back on the trail for Champions League football.
The home side started with a 4-3-3 system. At the back, Gabriel had to come into the line up as Abbiatti missed out with injury. The back 4 were Abate, Zaccardo, Zapata and Constant, with the usual Mexes absent. De Jong sat in front of the back 4, and Muntari and Montolivo played in front of him. The trio in front were Kaka, Balotelli and Birsa, from left to right.
The away side started with a 4-3-1-2 formation, as much out of a tactical decision as out of injuries. The back 4 had Tomovic, Gonzalo, Savic and Pasqual from right to left. In front of the 4, Ambrosini, and later Vecino played the role of the sitting midfielder. Borja Valero was the trequartista, and Aquilani and Vargas were the midfielders who were shuttling up and down. Matos and Rossi started as a front two.
Fiorentina’s Midfield Overload
Milan started with the three players in midfield, with Montolivo playing a deeper role than his usual trequartista in order to gain control of the ball in this area of the pitch. However, Fiorentina more than matched them with 4 in this key area. It allowed them to control the ball in midfield and build their play from here. The defensive midfielder, Ambrosini and subsequently Vecino had a lot of touches of the ball (81 in total). Initially, Ambrosini was directing play, and this forced the Milan midfield to stretch a lot more to contain them, leading Fiorentina to use all their midfielders a lot better. The likes of Aquilani and Valero got to see a lot more of the ball, and the effect was telling, as the Milan midfield couldn’t impose themselves. Overall, it reduced the spectacle the game could have been, as a crowded midfield meant that neither team could achieve a fluency in their game. While Milan struggled to create decent chances, Fiorentina only managed 2 shots on target, both ending up in the back of the net.
Milan’s Long Ball Tactics
In attack, the Milan strategy was primarily a long ball one. The crowded midfield made it very difficult for them to have any fluency in their build up through the middle, and the Rossnieri relied on crosses and balls over the top to the mercurial Balotelli to launch their attacks. With Kaka and Birsa also tucking in and cutting inside, the width in advanced areas was absent, meaning that the play was replete with a large number of vertical long passes in the direction of Balotelli. The Italian forward didn’t have the best game either, winning just 2 headed duels. This tactic also led to a lack of any real penetration, with Milan managing just one shot on target throughout the match, a weak effort from Sulley Muntari.
The other mode of attack was the wide men cutting inside and attempting cut backs, while the full backs behind them pushed on to fire crosses into the box. Again, this wasn’t a very successful tactic, as Kaka won 0 out of 4 take-ons, and completed just 2 crosses out of 6, while Birsa fared even worse, with no take ons won, and just 1 cross out of 8 completed. The full backs did manage to get crosses into the box, but these were dealt with easily by the Viola defence.
Fiorentina’s Wide Play
With the centre of the park quite crowded, the onus was on the full backs to make things happen in an attacking sense. While Constant and Abate tried hard to get crosses into the box for Balotelli, Pasqual and Tomovic were fairly successful in helping Fiorentina in their attacking transitions, and allowed them to break with pace. A number of attacks came down the left, with the naturally left footed Vargas working in collusion with Pasqual. Montolivo was unable to help Abate out well enough in a defensive sense, and in a two on one situation, the full back was bound to suffer. It allowed Pasqual to spend a large portion of his time in the opposition half and be the outlet that Fiorentina needed in a game where the midfield was very crowded.
To balance this attacking play from Pasqual, Tomovic on the other side stayed relatively deeper, and was more concerned with defence. He did a good job handling Kaka, and the reduced impact of the Brazilian was due in no small part to the efforts of Tomovic. It forced Kaka to roam around the field looking to get involved.
This was a game between two pretty evenly matched sides, and the fact that Fiorentina have come out on top at the San Siro will have hurt Milan badly. The reaction of the fans after the match should say it all. The Rossonieri need to win, and do it fast if they are to have any hope of salvaging the season. Fiorentina on the other hand put in an efficient counter attacking performance, and have climbed to fourth in the table after this win. The Viola have played good football this season, but have been wildly inconsistent. Montella will be looking forward to the return of some his his big names so that the Viola can launch a serious challenge to the top 3 for the final Champions League spot.