Aiming to pull five points clear in the race for the Scudetto, AC Milan host a Fiorentina side keenly pursuing European qualification on Sunday afternoon.
Playing just before city rivals Inter, the Rossoneri meet their fellow beaten Coppa Italia semi-finalists at San Siro, with a first Serie A title since 2011 almost within touching distance.
Events over the past week have put Milan in pole position to secure a 19th national title, more than a decade after their last, and they have the Scudetto’s destiny in their own hands with just four games left to play.
Stefano Pioli’s men arrived at Stadio Olimpico last Sunday having seen a 13-match unbeaten run ended by old foes Inter, after crashing out of the Coppa Italia 3-0 on aggregate, but they were to enjoy better fortunes against fellow top-six side Lazio.
Following an early setback, when Capocannoniere leader Ciro Immobile fired the capital club into a fourth-minute lead, Olivier Giroud’s equaliser at the start of the second half was followed by a precious last-gasp winner from Sandro Tonali, who stayed composed to control a header from substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic and steer home in the 92nd minute – sparking wild celebrations among the travelling Rossoneri faithful.
Having entered this week leading the Serie A standings by just two points, and with once fewer game to play, Inter’s subsequent slip-up at Bologna – from where the Nerazzurri returned empty-handed – leaves Milan effectively three points ahead due to a superior head-to-head record in the league.
Since the beginning of 2022, Pioli’s side have responded to a decrease in their attacking output – with Ibrahimovic sidelined for several weeks, and others failing to fully fire in the final third – by tightening up even further at the back.
Conceding just eight goals in 15 league games since the turn of the year, only Liverpool have let in fewer across the top five European leagues during that time.
With clean sheets in each of their last three home fixtures in Serie A, the Rossoneri will now seek a fourth on the bounce for the first time in over three years, as they attempt to inch closer to Calcio’s ultimate prize.
After a spectacular 4-3 victory in November’s fixture – when both Ibrahimovic and the now-departed Dusan Vlahovic bagged a brace – Fiorentina could not only dent Milan’s title hopes on Sunday, but also do the double over their second-city counterparts for the first time in 21 years.
However, still reeling from a disastrous defensive display that contributed to their third straight defeat in all competitions, the Viola will visit San Siro amid a worrying stumble towards the finish line.
Though the Tuscan outfit previously allowed struggling Salernitana to claim all three points at Stadio Artemio Franchi, the end of a six-game unbeaten league run coincided with Juventus, Roma and Lazio also failing to win; leaving Fiorentina sixth in the Serie A standings.
However, Vincenzo Italiano now sees his side on the brink of posting three successive losses for the first time since the end of 2019, after they were humbled by mid-table Udinese on Wednesday night – conceding two late goals to end up on the wrong end of a 4-0 result.
Despite their recent setbacks – which also include a cup exit to old foes Juventus – Fiorentina still possess the second-best home record in Serie A this season, having accumulated 35 points from 16 matches – one more than Milan. Their form on the road, though, has been modest by contrast, and could be the cause of them missing out on a return to Europe.
Italiano’s men have conceded in each of their last 13 away matches in the top flight – taking only as many points home as Tuscan rivals Empoli this term – so troubles on their travels may well continue at the grand old Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
AC Milan Serie A form:
AC Milan form (all competitions):
Fiorentina Serie A form:
Fiorentina form (all competitions):
We say: AC Milan 1-0 Fiorentina
Milan and Fiorentina have not drawn a Serie A fixture at San Siro since 2014, but this weekend’s encounter could be a close-run affair, given the stakes for either side.
An aberration against Inter aside, the Rossoneri have been defensively resolute for the past few months, so they can keep their visitors at arm’s length and rely on their established ability to nick points by the slimmest of margins.