Whoo boy, this ought to be fun. A reeling Fiorentina hosts an in-form Napoli in the final fixture before the holiday break in a match that could have major implications for both transfer activity and the employment status of a certain Viola manager. There are, in fact, quite a few juicy little subplots at work in this one: the Neapolitans are publicly trying to poach the Florentine striker, while the Florentines have been linked to the Neapolitan manager. While we consider this a bit of a rivalry, it’s probably not close enough to qualify, in all honesty. Over their last 10 matches, Fiorentina are a dismal W1 D2 L7 against the Partenopei.
The referee for this one is Paolo Tagliavento, who handled this same fixture last year (it finished 1-1 with goals from Marcos Alonso and Gonzalo Higuain). He was also in charge of the 2-2 against AC Milan in which he refused to award 2 penalties and unfairly sent off Nenad Tomovic. Overall, the Viola are W9 D5 L12 under his watch.
The match will be played Thursday, 22 December 2016, at 7:45 PM CST/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
While the pessimists moan about impending relegation, Fiorentina are sitting 8th in Serie A, which is hardly the sort of spot you expect to see a trapdoor side in. However, things are beginning to look rather grim for European competition next season, as the Viola have slumped to a dismal W2 D0 L3 over their past 5 mtches in Serie A. Paulo Sousa is very much on the hot seat, with calls for the sack rising in volume and pitch in recent weeks as his squad has played insipid and flat football.
Borja Valero (leg) remains injured, which will make an already difficult task even tougher. Nenad Tomovic is also unlikely to go after his battering at the hands of Lazio. Gonzalo Rodriguez, however, is expected to play after sitting out against Lazio with a leg injury. Milan Badelj should also return to central midfield, and Federico Chiesa surely ought to replace the dumbfoundingly ineffective Cristian Tello on the wing. Khouma Babacar, now recovered from illness and a knee ding, is fit enough for the bench, while Nikola Kalinic should return to the starting lineup.
Tactically, Sousa will probably instruct his squad to press much higher up than he usually does, seeing as how he’s fighting for his job. The fullbacks will remain typically reserved, and the central midfielders will probably be a bit more cautious as well as they try to shield the back four against a very fast and very good Napoli attack. The Viola are undefeated in their past 9 matches at the Franchi, which is about the only good statistic we can dredge up.
The Partenopei are in sizzling form right now, having gone W4 D1 L0 in their past 5 Serie A matches. They’ve also won their Champions League group, although they’ll have to face Real Madrid as a reward. Nevertheless, with 13 goals scored over their past 3 matches, they’ll certainly be feeling confident.
Maurizio Sarri will field his usual 4-3-3. Striker Arkadiusz Milik (knee) remains injured, of course (hence the Kalinic interest), and centerback Kalidou Koulibaly may miss out as well due to a knee injury. However, the presence of free-scoring Dries Mertens—7 goals in the past 2 matches—up top, as well as Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, and Marek Hamsik, mean that this team certainly isn’t lacking in firepower to go with its typically stout defense.
Sarri will, as usual, press high up the pitch and look for his clever midfield to find through balls for that lightning-quick front 3 to run onto. He’ll certainly want to stay on the front foot, as a minor defensive meltdown last week against Torino will be fresh on his mind. Facing fullbacks that like to get forward and 2 central midfielders who are very positive as well, Fiorentina’s best chance may be to sit deeper than usual and play on the break, hoping to catch out their opponents.
How to watch
TV: This one looks like a no-go for television. Sorry, folks.
Online: Here is a list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like it could end up being a high-scoring affair, so let’s call it a 3-2 for the hosts behind goals from Kalinic, Federico Bernardeschi, and Chiesa overcoming strikes from Mertens and Hamsik.