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Sassuolo vs Fiorentina: Preview

Feels mighty strange to gazing at the Neroverdi from so far below them.

ACF Fiorentina v UC Sampdoria - Serie A
Happier times.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Fiorentina resume their dismal march through the season with a trip to the province of Modena, where Sassuolo await. These two teams have only met 10 times, with the Viola holding a W5 D3 L2 edge and a +7 goal difference. This fixture last year, though, was one one of those two defeats: a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Matteo Politano in which Bryan Dabo was sent off after just half an hour.

The referee for this one is Daniele Chiffi of Padova. In 5 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out an impressive 27 yellow cards, along with a single red. This will only be the 15th top flight match he’s handled; he’s never given a penalty in those games either. He hasn’t refffed a Viola match, so we don’t know too much about him yet.

The match will be played on Sunday, 9 December 2018, at 11:00 AM GMT/6:00 AM EST at the Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore (seriously, that’s the official name) in Sassuolo. The forecast calls for a crisp day with a temperature around 55 F/13 C. There may be a pretty significant breeze, but nothing too crazy. Basically, it should be a perfect day for a spot of fitba.


It’s been quite a year for the Neroverdi. Following a disastrous start to last season that seemed like it would end the brief and unlikely Serie A dream, they fought back for a midtable finish. It looked like it would be more of the same this year, but instead they’ve raced out to 8th place with 20 points, just 1 out of the final Europa League spot. While they’ve slowed down a bit after a blistering beginning to the year—a mediocre W1 D2 L2 over their past 5 in the league—they eased past Catania in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday by a score of 2-1, and did so with a rotated squad that should mean most everyone’s fresh for Sunday.

A lot of the credit for the performance this year goes to manager Roberto de Zerbi, who’s done a heck of a job with his new charges. While he won’t have forward Kevin-Prince Boateng (hip) or rightback Claud Adjapong (fibula), there’s plenty of quality to replace them, starting with ex-Viola man Khouma Babacar, who’ll start up top. The tridente is filled out by Domenico Berardi and Federico di Francesco, who both offer a goal threat. Also watch for Alessandro Matri, another former Fiorentina striker, who will lurk on the bench. In midfield, Francesco Magnanelli has enjoyed a resurgence despite the presence of AC Milan product Manuel Locatelli; Alfred Duncan and Stefano Sensi provide a nice combination of grit and passing. The weakest link is at the back, where the centerbacks are good on the ball but occasionally a bit absent-minded.

De Zerbi’s tactics are fun to watch. He insists on a positive approach, playing out from the back at all times and looking to keep the ball before probing forward to find space. Magnanelli and Locatelli are the key men in the buildup, moving the ball where it needs to go quickly and efficiently while mixing in the occasional long ball to test opposing defenses. The wingers generally stay wide to stretch play and leave gaps for the striker to exploit. Defensively, Sassuolo isn’t as good; they press high up and stay compact, but their passing style does leave them at risk of turnovers in dangerous spots. However, this is a good team, well-built and well-coached, and they fully deserve their spot in the table. They’ll be a tough nut to crack at home.


Wailing and gnashing of teeth doesn’t even begin to sum up the feelings in Florence these days. Fiorentina have taken a pathetic 4 points from their last 5; while last week’s 0-3 pasting by a Juventus that never even got out of second gear hurts, draws against relegation strugglers Frosinone and Bologna are every bit as embarrassing. Sitting in 12th place with 18 points (and with just 18 goals scored in 14 matches), the dire form shows little sign of abating, especially with how this group has struggled on the road—winless in 7 with just 4 draws, including a miserable 4 goals and 7 conceded—so don’t expect a lot of optimism right now. A win here would be the first since September.

Manager Stefano Pioli seems like he should be on the hot seat (although we doubt he is) due to his unwillingness or inability to get his team on track. The attack and midfield have been unwatchable and even the defense, sturdy enough thus far (last week aside), will have to cope without Vitor Hugo (yellow card suspension). That probably means that Federico Ceccherini will step in again after getting crushed by Bologna’s Federico Santander a couple weeks ago; Babacar provides another big, powerful opponent who may cause him problems. We’ve also heard that Marko Pjaca is in line to start after a spell on the bench, so maybe this will be the game where he finally breaks out, although that seems more wishful than anything at this point.

Pioli will deploy his usual set of tactics and usual formation. Sassuolo’s tendency to find space and keep the ball means they may well run the Viola ragged through the middle; if Fiorentina can press well, though, they could win the ball high up a few times and create some chances. Of course, that’s been the plan all season and hasn’t been particularly successful for the past couple of months, so hopefully Pioli has some backup measures prepared.

Possible lineups

Locatelli or Magnanelli, Sensi or Đuričić; Ceccherini or Laurini, Gerson or Fernandes or Dabo, Pjaca or Mirallas
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How to watch

TV: Check DAZN and BeIn (full international television listings here), but this one’s probably going to be for the streamers, especially if you’re in the Western Hemisphere—not a lot of bars and restaurants open early enough.

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

Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department

This doesn’t feel like a win to me, particularly with the Babacar Named Desire starting up top for the hosts. I don’t think there’s any way he doesn’t score. That said, this feels like the sort of match in which Cholito could pounce on a lazy backpass and accidentally put it away, so I’m going to call this one a hideously ugly 1-1 draw, with Sassuolo pinning Fiorentina back for most of the match and only the heroics of Germán Pezzella and company preventing a bloodbath.

Forza Viola!