Milan 1-0 Fiorentina: Prandelli’s formation frustrates again

May 2, 2010

A game which had a distinctly end-of-season feel to it – Milan’s victory assured Champions League football for next season, whilst Fiorentina’s defeat continued their miserable end to the season.

Milan welcomed back Marco Borello after his suspension last weekend, and fielded the 4-2-1-3 shape that Leonardo has persisted with for the second half of the season. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar played a narrow right-sided role, whilst Clarence Seedorf was the link between midfield and attack.

Cesare Prandelli opted – unusually – to field two protective midfield players behind Riccardo Montolivo, giving his captain more license to link up with the front players. Marco Marchionni stayed wide on the right and Stevan Jovetic drifted to the left.

There is relatively little to say about Milan’s performance – nothing new emerged tonight. Boriello and Huntelaar remains a partnership that looks to have a lack of understanding and a lack of mutual appreciation, Ronaldinho was dangerous but often disappointing with his final ball, and Milan’s forwards were very slack defensively, something which Fiorentina didn’t exploit often enough – Massimo Gobbi and Lorenzo di Silvestri got forward, but rarely played dangerous balls.

Indeed, the most interest came from Fiorentina’s shape, for they have been crying out for a system featuring three central midfielders all season. Time and time again Prandelli’s midfield has been opened up too easily and exposed infront of their already shaky back four, an idea backed up by their woeful record of one clean sheet in their last 23 games.

The problem stems from Montolivo – an immensely talented player, he has been used as one of the two holding midfield players in a 4-2-3-1. But whilst a willing worker, he is a more delicate, creative player than that, and with Fiorentina struggling for a regular midfield partner for him (Marco Donadal, Cristiano Zanetti and Mario Bolatti have all been in and out of the side), Fiorentina have simply been too lightweight in the centre of the pitch.

A switch to a 4-5-1/4-3-3 has been an obvious solution, but then Prandelli is forced to drop one of Juan Vargas, Marco Marchionni, Alberto Gilardino or Stevan Jovetic, something he has been reluctant to do.

Tonight, he dropped the off-form Vargas and went for midfield solidity with Cristiano Zanetti, and Fiorentina looked more comfortable than they have been in recent away defeats at Atalanta and Catania. Montolivo was free to create without leaving the midfield unmanned, and Jovetic can play in a wide-ish role well, as he does his share of defensive work. It is quite odd that Fiorentina’s failings have been so clear, and yet Prandelli has never turned to this system, in a season where Fiorentina have lost more games than they have won in Serie A.

The game was fairly even and was won by a controversial penalty award – Per Kroldrup’s clumsy tackle on Pippo Inzaghi was punished, and Ronaldinho crashed home from twelve yards. But even this came after Prandelli had reverted back to a 4-2-3-1 / 4-4-2 system, having withdrawn Cristiano Zanetti for the young Brazilian Keirrison. This allowed Milan to dominate the midfield, and their pressure increased towards the end of the game, even if their win was slightly fortunate.

Given the redundant nature of the contest for both sides, it would be foolish to analyse the game in great detail. Nevertheless, Fiorentina’s experience this season possibly says a great deal about the 4-2-3-1, where the central attacking player has been a forward – Jovetic or Adrian Mutu. With such an offensive-minded attacking quartet, it is perhaps not possible to field a creative player in a deep-lying midfield role, unless you have a real midfield enforcer alongside him.

A 4-2-3-1 might be exciting in an attacking respect, but can also become very flimsy if the correct players are not played in the right positions. That could be said of every formation, but when Fiorentina have a talented and versatile first-choice XI, Prandelli’s commitement to 4-2-3-1 has been a little disappointing. a 4-3-3 with Jovetic wide-left, Vargas moved back to the left-back role he excelled in at Catania, and an additional central midfield player would surely have been a good choice away from home (where Fiorentina’s record this season has been P18 W4 D5 L8) and against the big sides (Fiorentina used to be a tricky game for league challengers, but against the top three this season they have picked up one point from six games).

Fiorentina are the ‘What if?’ of 2009/10.

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