Milan hosts Fiorentina on Sunday, September 29th, where former rossoneri gaffer Vincenzo Montella faces off with new boy Giampaolo in what some are calling “the clash of the clowns” given the relatively poor start to the season for each side.
To get a better idea of the opponent, Tito from Viola Nation (click the link and give them a follow!) stopped by the office for a cup of coffee to give us some insight into Fiorentina and life under Rocco Commisso. We bonded over our teams’ inability to perform under former blucerchiati managers and our love for the player Pirlo could only aspire to be in the great Riccardo Montolivo.
AC Milan the Offisde (ACMO): The biggest headline surrounding Fiorentina this summer was Rocco Commisso’s acquisition of the club. How has life been different under him so far?
Tito: Off the pitch, the renewed enthusiasm is just off the charts. The fans are involved in a way they haven’t been in at least a decade; you’ll note that Fiorentina have sold over 30,000 season tickets this year, which is the most since I don’t know when and third-most in Serie A. That’s nuts. He’s also said all the right things, including issuing a pretty no-nonsense statement condemning racism in particular and discrimination in general in Italian soccer. He’s also showed up for games, both men’s and women’s, and seems to genuinely love the team. Finally, he brought Joe Barone with him, and Joe Barone is the most delightful little walking meme you’ve ever seen. He could probably run for mayor against anyone but Borja Valero and win in a landslide. There’s just a lot of optimism.
ACMO: Is Montella your guy? If so, why? If not, then who among the available managers would you want and why?
Viola Nation: That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? We all want to like Cousin Vinnie for the sterling work he did in Florence last time around, but he hasn’t exactly set the world alight this time around. He’s always been a clever manager with Xs and Os, but he doesn’t seem to motivate his players the way that Stefano Pioli did, and you have to worry about a dressing room full of youngsters, Franck Ribery, and Kevin-Prince Boateng. While his tactics the past three weeks have been very good--his switch to a 3-5-2 with Federico Chiesa and Ribery playing as strikers was a masterstroke--the team just doesn’t seem mentally there yet. A late meltdown against Atalanta, very nearly a repeat against 10-man Sampdoria, and the fecklessness at the back are big concerns. Out of the available names, Luciano Spalletti is definitely the top choice for most fans. He’s Tuscan, he has history with the club, and this is probably the level of team he’s at his best with. It’s easy to imagine him firmly re-establishing the Viola as a Europa League contender. That said, Montella’s probably got at least until the holiday break and maybe until the end of the year, barring another 18-match winless streak, so it’s likely a moot point for now.
ACMO: Fiorentina have been pretty exciting to watch on the offensive end, but the defense seems to lack stability. Do you think its the formation, personnel, or something else?
Viola Nation: Guh. I wish I knew. Some of it comes down to familiarity, I think. Dalbert and Pol Lirola are both on new teams, and the latter’s never really played as a wingback, so it’s been an adjustment. On paper, that Milenković-Pezzella-Cáceres unit is very good. The problems have mostly come from lapses in concentration, which feels like a coaching problem. Once the players are more accustomed to working as a unit, though, they should improve a bit. It’s really the mental aspect that’s concerning, though. Coughing up late goals like that isn’t usually a good thing.
ACMO: What Fiorentina players are you looking forward to seeing more of as the season carries on? Any breakout candidates Milan fans should keep an eye on? Any players underperforming that you’ve expected more from?
Viola Nation: There’s a host of them, honestly. Federico Chiesa is already a star and Gaetano Castrovilli is getting Azzurri hype, so he’s not a secret either. Let’s pick Riccardo Sottil, who looks like the next superstar winger to roll off the Primavera production line. He’s got great pace and a truly startling change of direction, he’s very direct, and his end product is getting there. He looks like the perfect vice-Ribery.
Striker Dušan Vlahović is a Very Large Teenager who’s getting New Ibrahimovic comparisons and scored a late double to spare some blushes in the Coppa match against Monza, so he’s really good. Fred was in line for a move to Real Madrid before shredding his knee and has most Brazilian experts claiming that he’s the next number 9 for the Seleção. Szymon Żurkowski is one of Poland’s brightest talents, a brass-lunged midfielder who can play anywhere through the middle and do a bit of everything. Luca Ranieri is a really talented defender and should get some time if/when Cáceres gets hurt. Aleksa Terzić built up a lot of hype in the preseason and could wind up being a steal. Sorry, I’m very excited about the youth players. For underperformers, Lirola’s been a bit rocky, although he’s maybe shown some signs of late. All of the defenders have been iffy, although they’ve all had bright moments as well. But yeah, that rear guard is rough right now.
ACMO: You’ve got some lovable characters in KPB and Ribéry. Any fun stories that have emerged involving the two? Whether it be on the training ground or elsewhere.
Viola Nation: Their Instagrams are hilarious. Yall know that Boateng loves a good time, and he’s been a treasure just for being Very Online, which no other Viola players really have been. Ditto for Ribéry. There’ve been some nice candlelit dinners, some gatherings for the Francophone players (Bryan Dabo playing Ribéry lullabies on the piano is brilliant), and some hijinks on the training ground, but nothing too crazy.
ACMO: Any players from Milan you’re worried about in the upcoming match?
Viola Nation: Rafael Leão is like a rocket-powered refrigerator, so he makes me very anxious working against Lirola. Feel like stopping him should be the priority. Other than that, Krzysztof Piątek feels like he could snap out of his funk at any moment, and Franck Kessié bulldozing our delicate and sweet Castrovilli makes me super-anxious. Alessio Romagnoli is also just so dang good, and Gigio Donnarumma ain’t bad either. I dunno, man, Milan have some talent.
ACMO: Alright lastly, give us a score prediction and who you think will appear on the scoresheet for each side.
Viola Nation: 2-2 feels about right to me. I’m expecting a pretty sloppy game, given that both squads are on their third match in a week, so I’m looking for some midfield scuffling and probably some mistakes at the back, given the Viola defense’s general leakiness and the attack’s penchant for wreaking havoc with a high press. As for the goals, I’ll say it’s Piątek and Giacomo Bonaventura, who always seems to give Fiorentina hell; the good guys pull even through Chiesa and a Riccardo Montolivo own-goal after he storms the pitch. Let me have this one.
Thanks for stopping in, Tito. Here’s to the sloppy spectacle we’re likely to witness come Sunday!