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Empoli vs Fiorentina: Preview

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The Derby dell’Arno is always tough, but this time the Azzurri may smell blood in the water.

ACF Fiorentina v US Citta di Palermo - Serie A
This still messes me up.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

We get to rise out of our Viola-inspired despondency this week for the Derby dell’Arno, which pits Fiorentina against Empoli in an always-intriguing matchup. These two sides have squared off 26 since times since 1986, with the Gigliati holding a W14 D7 L5 edge. Over their last 10 meetings in Serie A, the Azzurri have improved a bit, although the record still tilts Fiorentina’s way to the tune of W6 D2 L2.

The referee for this one is Piero Giacomelli of Trieste. In 7 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 23 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 1 penalty; he’s actually gone easier on the cards this year than he has through his career, which is a surprise. In 10 matches under his direction, Fiorentina are W4 D3 L3, most recently the 1-1 draw against Cagliari which saw Federico Chiesa win a penalty after a VAR consultation that enraged folks in Sardinia but made perfect sense to everyone else.

The match will be played on Sunday, 16 December 2018, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence. The forecast calls for a grey and chilly day with a strong chance of rain beginning right around kickoff, which could impact the match for the players and the fans.

Fiorentina

12th place with 19 points from 15 games is not what we hoped for from this team, but the way that it’s gotten there is even worse. Fiorentina haven’t won since a controversial victory over Atalanta in September. 4 points from their last 5 matches, including a failure to beat relegation-battlers Frosinone and Bologna as well as a comprehensive 0-3 home loss to archrivals Juventus will have fans resembling the manager, having torn out most of their hair in frustration.

Stefano Pioli, at least, can take comfort in the fact that his team got in the goals last week, running up 3 against Sassuolo. Of course, their furious late rally was still only good enough for a draw, so this team remains in crisis, and now he goes into a derby against an in-form opponent. He’s also missing RB Nikola Milenković, CM Jordan Veretout, and CM Edimilson Fernandes to suspensions picked up for yellow cards last week, while CM Bryan Dabo (hip) and RB Kevin Diks (unknown) could miss out as well.

With a slight crisis in midfield, Pioli could opt to switch shape to more of a 4-2-3-1 with Valentin Eysseric or Kevin Mirallas in the middle. It’s perhaps more likely, though, that he’ll stick with the 4-3-3 and hand a debut to Christian Nørgaard in the holding role if Dabo can’t go. It’ll be the usual tactics for the mister: grind it out, hope for a moment of Federico Chiesa magic, and keep it tight at the back. This strategy hasn’t worked for at least two months, but it seems to be the only one Pioli likes.

Empoli

After a rocky start in their return to the top flight, the reigning Serie B champions have righted the ship and look likely to stay up. They’ve taken 10 points from their last 5 matches, including a run of 4 straight without a loss, highlighted by a 3-2 win against Atalanta at the Castellani a couple weeks ago. Now in 14th place with 16 points, they should feel confident about their prospects in Serie A next year despite an unimpressive -7 goal difference.

That 4-match unbeaten run has coincided with the hiring of manager Giuseppe Iachini, who’s shaken the goals out of this group; they have yet to score fewer than 2 since he took over, although they haven’t kept a clean sheet during his brief tenure, either. He favors a 3-5-2 formation with two out-and-out strikers getting a steady supply of crosses from the wingbacks. The midfielders, as a group, are a bit more technical than you might expect and have permission to drive forward to support the attack. With so many players who can dribble and win a foul as well as a fair amount of height, Iachini’s put a lot of focus on set pieces, too, so keep an eye out for dead ball situations.

The dangerman is Francesco Caputo, who’s notched an impressive 8 goals this season; his pace and movement in the box will keep the Viola backline on their toes. There’s no shortage of familiar faces for Fiorentina fans here, either, as Manuel Pasqual, Luca Bittante, Leonardo Capezzi, Lorenzo Lollo, and Iachini himself all spent time in purple. The baseball-capped mister will have to do without CB Lorenzo Polvani (knee), LB Luca Antonelli (leg), RB Bittante (suspension), CM Rade Krunić (knee), and CF Alejandro Rodríguez (knee).

Possible lineups

Pasqual or Untersee, Zajc or Krunić; Dabo or Nørgaard, Mirallas or Pjaca
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How to watch

TV: Forget it. Everyone’s showing Sampdoria-Parma match instead, which is fair. Check the listings here if you don’t believe me.

Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.

Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department

Derbies are always tough to predict, but this feels like the kind of match where the Viola could surprise everyone. This could well be a frantic, fast-paced affair with an open midfield. Chiesa should have the beating of Pasqual all day long, and Giovanni Simeone ought to have the legs to cause trouble as well, especially since he finally got a goal last week. Therefore, I’m calling a 1-2 win for the good guys behind strikes from Simeone and (why not) Marko Pjaca.

Forza Viola!