In what was another harrowing night at San Siro, Marco Giampaolo’s Milan ambled to an embarrassing defeat against Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina. The 3-1 result, if anything, flattered the hosts.
La Viola came into the game after grabbing their first win in 18 rounds, beating struggling Sampdoria 2-1 in midweek. The Rossoneri lost to Torino on Thursday, but for an hour played their best football of the season, so maintained the same XI and 4-3-3 system, but with radically different results.
From the very first minute, it was clear that there was every chance Fiorentina would score two or three goals. La Viola resorted to man-to-man pressing when Milan had possession deeper in their own half. Franck Ribery and Federico Chiesa stuck close to Alessio Romagnoli and Mateo Musacchio in these situations, while Erick Pulgar and Gaetano Castrovilli marked deeper midfielders Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer.
As Milan came forward, Fiorentina dropped deeper. Chiesa and Ribery stayed close to Bennacer and Kessie and acted as two extra men in the Fiorentina midfield. The idea was to prevent Milan from building from the back and deny them any free passing lanes in midfield. Due to the Rossoneri’s tendency to rely on that one possession-based style, Fiorentina had an easy run on the break. Milan midfielders could hardly turn and pass to the forwards.
The possession was forced wide and while Rafael Leao impressed again, Fiorentina kept working hard to block passing lanes that led to him. And as soon as Ribery or Chiesa got possession in the advanced midfield areas, the brains of the Rossoneri defence were wracked with confusion. Romagnoli and Musacchio struggled to know where to go when playing against two False Nines. Even Pulgar and Castrovilli popped up in unexpected positions.
The first goal typified everything about the game - Calhanoglu lost the ball and handed a poor pass straight at Ribery. The Frenchman, who decided to turn into a 25-year-old speedy winger again, danced past a couple of defenders and had his shot saved by Gigio Donnarumma. Just when Chiesa was about to pick up the loose ball, Bennacer tripped the Italian to hand Fiorentina the penalty.
Pulgar slotted the spot-kick away and that played the game into Fiorentina’s hands. Giampaolo’s inability to make small changes to his system despite evidently being controlled at home by Fiorentina saw Milan face the same old issues - they couldn’t do much with possession. Ribery and Chiesa were on the centre-backs and deeper midfielders every time they decided to play it out to Calhanoglu or Leao.
The creation came from wide and Leao did give the Fiorentina backline problems, but Milan couldn’t find the final pass or didn’t make the runs into the box to meet his pull-backs. La Viola just seemed to have extra numbers in every position and were working harder than Milan.
At the start of the second half, Rade Krunic was brought on for Kessie. That left many surprised, as Calhanoglu was still on the pitch. From here on, San Siro looked almost lifeless. It was as if they had resigned to losing the game.
Musacchio’s sending off was deserved. The Argentine’s tackle on Ribery could have broken the former Bayern Munich man’s leg. It was careless, reckless and out of control. That left Milan in an even bigger lurch. From there on, the cameras kept zooming in on a seemingly dazed Giampaolo. It was clear that the Rossoneri were dead and buried.
Giampaolo went for a 4-4-1 shape with Leao up front, as Leo Duarte came on for Krzysztof Piatek. But the life was sucked out of the Milan players already. The fight that was often seen under Rino Gattuso was missing when it was needed the most. It seemed as though the players had given up.
Castrovilli got Fiorentina’s second and his first in Serie A. He also won a penalty soon after, but Chiesa failed to put it away as Donnarumma saved it well. But Ribery sealed Milan’s fate as Fiorentina caught the Rossoneri on the break and Chiesa set-up his French teammate, who slammed it into the bottom corner after a shimmy put two Milan defenders to bed.
While Leao’s sensational solo goal made it 3-1, that was all it was - a solo goal. He seemed like the only person who wanted to do something for the manager. The rest refused to work hard or track back. Leao could well have sealed his position as the central striker for the next game.
The San Siro crowd giving Ribery a standing ovation was probably the moment of the day - another reminder of how far Il Diavolo have fallen. For a vast majority of the second half, all you could hear was insulting chants aimed at their own players and the ultras packing away their banners to leave.
It remains to be seen whether this is the final nail in Giampaolo’s coffin, but the players don’t seem to be following any of their tactician’s orders or putting up a fight. When that happens, there’s only one solution.