When Milan snatched a one-nil win over Fiorentina in January at the San Siro, the focus wasn’t on the hallowed turf of the Rossoneri. Brazilian wonderkid Alexandre Pato pocketed a seventh minute drive to land Milan third in the table but the attention of the tifosi was fixed firmly on his compatriot Kaka and his ongoing saga of potentially becoming the world’s most expensive footballer, with a move to Manchester City.
Kaka eventually, and arguably wisely, picked the serene surroundings of Milan and now he will look to play a crucial part in resurrecting il Diavolo’s fortunes by booking their place in the group stages of the Champions League after a disappointing absence. Even with Carlo Ancelotti possibly leaving for west London and Paolo Maldini bowing out, there is no time for sentiment as the winner of Sunday’s clash can relax and wait for the upcoming season with Europe’s elite and the losers will have to trudge through arduous qualifying rounds.
Ancelotti will hope to push last weekend’s 3-2 home reverse far from his mind while Fiorentina will be breathing a sigh of relief having managed to keep themselves in the hunt for third spot with a last gasp equaliser at lowly Lecce. An added twist at this time in the season meant that not only did Martin Jorgensen’s stoppage time strike keep pressure on Milan but also sank the Giallorossi to Serie B.
One change is forced upon Cesare Prandelli and his men following the under-par performance last weekend, with defensive midfielder Felipe Melo hitting the showers early in Stadio Via Del Mare after a reckless lunge. Marco Donadel is expected to plug the defensive gap and will promptly be set the unenviable task of keeping Kaka on a tight leash. Riccardo Montolivo will start in the other centre midfield spot but his onus will be on creating rather than preventing. Alberto Gilardino will be hoping to prove more potent against his former employer than he did in the January meeting and will be feeling the extra pressure with the reinvigorated Adrian Mutu still sat in the stands, distinctly limiting any other striking options from the bench.
21 Comotto – 2 Kroldup – 5 Gamberini – 23 Pasqual
18 Montolivo – 4 Donadel
7 Semioli – 8 Jovetic – 6 Vargas
Despite being required to field his strongest side, Ancelotti is also hamstrung by the suspension of Massimo Ambrosini, who got himself red-carded against Roma after netting twice in the loss. Expect Gianluca Zambrotta to be welcomed back into the fold with reluctant-right-back Mathieu Flamini allowed to take his natural position in the midfield three alongside Andrea Pirlo and David Beckham.
The main note on the Rossoneri selection front will be the final inclusion of 40-year-old Paolo Maldini. The 25-year stalwart received less than a gracious send off from the Milanese tifosi following Sunday’s home defeat to Roma, who instead of celebrating used the opportunity to pronounce their favouritism for Franco Baresi in light of Maldini’s criticism of their activities. Regardless of how the Artemio Franchi receives the former Nazionale centre-half, it will be an end to a monumental chapter in Italian football.
15 Zambrotta – 3 Maldini – 19 Favalli – 18 Jankulovski
32 Beckham – 21 Pirlo – 84 Flamini
9 Inzaghi – 7 Pato
The permutations for this one read like the archetypal ‘if you leave a train from Milan at 12pm…’ line of mathematics problems but in its simplest terms – Juventus enter the day second and host Lazio. Assuming that Juventus win, Fiorentina need to defeat Milan by two clear goals to take the third automatic slot on their head-to-head record, whereas if the Rossoneri can stay within a goal – and even lose – they will avoid the treacherous trip through the newly aligned qualifying stages.
Current form favours no-one. The Viola should have seen off doomed Lecce without stuttering and Milan has become overcome by sentiment and impending departures to fully imbibe the run-in with the drama it deserved. For Milan to go from the team that was tracking to kill Inter to languishing in fourth when the table is cast into the annals of history would be too much for some of the Milanese to take. However, the sluggish nature with which they have responded to the post-Calciopoli scandal should be seized upon by the likes of Fiorentina if la Viola is ever going to cement themselves in the upper reaches of Serie A.
The smart money would expect the experience of Milan to pull it through at the Artemio Franchi and, with a draw enough for Milan to go third, they may present a more solid defensive performance than has been seen in recent weeks. Come at this from the underdog position, Fiorentina may have to resort to throwing the kitchen sink at Milan – read Martin Jorgensen – but the defensive line of the Rossoneri is likely to be even more resolute than ever with Maldini in his final foray in Serie A.