It’s a San Siro return this week for big money flop Alberto Gilardino as the Viola look to bounce back from last week’s shock reverse at home to Lecce with a win at Scudetto-chasers Milan. Just two points and three places separate the sides going into the match, so it’ll be a massive three points up for grabs come the weekend.
Milan’s frustration at not closing the gap on Inter last weekend will no doubt leave them with a bullish attitude with the Rossoneri all-too-aware they cannot afford any more slip-ups – already sitting nine points adrift of their arch-rivals. Carlo Ancelotti’s men struggled throughout December and were looking to start the New Year with a new sense of vigour and optimism and although coming away with a point from Stadio Olimpico is hardly a disaster, the side were visibly down-heartened after leading in the second half and failing to hang on. It’s not the first time il Diavolo has failed to see out a match after going ahead and that is not a mark of champions, nor is it a mark of the old stubborn Milan side who were merciless when taking a lead. Late goals at Lecce and Torino earlier in the season has seen the Rossoneri drop vital points and with the Nerazzurri slipping up on very few occasions thus far, those late lapses may go on to end Milan’s title dream. Much has been said of their aging backline and how it has struggled on many occasions this season and unfortunately for Ancelotti this is clearly where the problem lays for his side. Milan’s away form has been patchy – just two wins all campaign and a staggering 15 goals conceded makes for dire reading. Only six other teams have a worse defensive record on the road and quite simply this just isn’t good enough for a team vying for the title.
But it’s the Milan giants who have home advantage for this one and will take some comfort in the fact Gigliati star man, Adrian Mutu will sit this one out as he waits to hear the extent of the elbow injury he suffered last Sunday. Fiorentina have seriously struggled when missing their main creative influence and now that another striker in the form of Giampaolo Pazzini has left the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Cesare Prandelli has a major headache for Saturday’s match. The Viola play four of the sides within two points of them over the next six games making it a hugely important period for the Florence side still looking to gain qualification for next term’s Champions League. And with the prospect of missing the ex-Chelsea and Juventus forward for the majority of this run, La Viola are left with a real uphill task.
Much of the pressure will therefore be heaped on former Milan striker Alberto Gilardino as he looks to continue his impressive goal haul into 2009. It was a largely disappointing spell at the Rossoneri, where he struggled for consistency, but with a record of 36 goals in 96 games, the critics were perhaps a little harsh on his time in Milan although few would argue he failed to hit the heights his reputation and price tag presented. But the league’s second top goalscorer will be out to damage his former club’s title aspirations and show the San Siro crowd he so often disappointed, what he is really capable of.
Gilardino’s San Siro return will no doubt be a big talking point surrounding Saturday’s game, but the headline grabber will again be David Beckham who looks set to keep his place following his shock start at Roma. If Becks does start on Saturday, Milan’s midfield trio will have an average age of over 31, assuming Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf resume their accustomed roles in the engine room. Not necessarily a problem as all three players possess undoubted quality but with Fiorentina’s young and energetic midfield, it may well prove to be a difficult game for the experienced Rossoneri trio to really grab by the scruff of the neck and dictate. It may lead to the busier Mathieu Flamini being recalled in favour of Beckham, in order to throw in a few tackles and unsettle the Viola midfield, allowing the Frenchman’s two more experienced and gifted teammates to move the ball, run the game and create opportunities for the Brazilian forwards.
Prandelli may opt for a five-man midfield, in the absence of Mutu, going with a more defensive approach in an attempt to come away with a result from the San Siro. A more solid and defensive outlook would arguably be his smartest option, putting more bodies in the midfield would surely restrict Milan’s array of talent and with Gilardino hoping to get one over on his former employers – there’s always a chance of them nicking a goal. Expect another former Rossonero, Marco Donadel to come in as the extra man across the middle should the Coach go with this formation.
Still reeling from last week’s surprise loss, as well as the absence of Mutu, La Viola might just turn up looking for the draw in this one, but with the Rossoneri back line less than convincing and the likes of Alexandre Pato hitting top form – don’t count out a goal rush.