Fiorentina 0-2 AC Milan: Balotelli free-kick gives Seedorf breathing space
In one of the Rossoneri’s best performances of the season, a first-half goal from Phillipe Mexes was doubled after the interval by a Mario Balotelli free-kick to give the San Siro outfit their first win in four Serie A matches.
Fiorentina’s victory at Napoli on Sunday put them back in the hunt for Champions League qualification and the first opening of the game fell to Alessandro Matri, however the Italian couldn’t direct his header goal-wards.
An injury to Manuel Pasqual forced Vincenzo Montella into an early substitution, Facundo Roncaglia replacing the Italian defender.
Despite the Viola’s early possession, it was the Rossoneri who took the lead in the 23rd minute courtesy of Mexes. The Frenchman nodded in a rebound after Neto could only parry Balotelli’s speculative free-kick back into the Frenchman’s path.
It was a goal out of the blue and the home-side went in search of an instant reply, Juan Cuadrado bursting into the box, but his effort was deflected wide.
With Clarence Seedorf’s job under increasing scrutiny this was a game he could ill-afford to lose and his side grew in confidence as the half went one, Sulley Muntari stinging the hands of Neto with a half-volley from range.
The away side looked menacing on the counter-attack, Adel Taarabt broke with pace and his measured effort from the right-hand side forced the Brazilian shot-stopper to tip the ball over.
AC Milan then threatened again, Taarabt switching the play to Keisuke Honda whose instant cross found Muntari at the back-post but the Ghanaian could only blaze his first time effort high and wide.
The Gigliati pushed and probed but struggled to engineer a clear cut chance in the first-half and they went into the break a goal down.
AC Milan got off too a sluggish start after the interval and Matri had a golden chance to punish them, but once again the man on loan from the Rossoneri failed to convert, his free-header sailing narrowly wide from eight yards.
Up the other end Balotelli shook off Stefan Savic as he drove to the by-line and pulled the ball back to Taarabt, the Morrocan could only fire his first time strike over the bar.
Borja Valero came close to leveling things for the Viola, his touch opening up space for a strike however the Spaniard couldn’t direct the ball on target.
On the 64th minute the Diavolo gave themselves a two goal cushion via a sumptuous free-kick from Balotelli. The Italian international curling the ball into the top-right corner from a central position, however – similarly to the first goal – Fiorentina’s defensive wall was suspect to say the least.
Despite their exertions, the home-side seemed short of ideas and it was Seedorf’s men who offered a more potent threat going forward, some slick inter-play releasing Nigel De Jong on a rare foray forward but the end product failed to match the build-up.
The home side offered little in the last 10-minutes and the Rossoneri were able to see out the game with relative ease.
The win gives Clarence Seedorf some much needed breathing space and continues AC Milan’s impressive record away to Fiorentina, having not lost in Florence since 2005.
Follow Luca Hodges-Ramon on Twitter: @LH_Ramon25