Even though a game feels like the least appropriate thing to write about write now, we have to do our jobs and push through. I’m going to try to confine myself to only discussing the football here, as we’re never going to be able to write enough about Davide Astori to make anything right ever again.
The referee for this one will be Fabrizio Pasqua, who’s never officiated a Viola match. This season, he’s handed out 30 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 1 penalty in 12 matches.
The match will be played Sunday, 11 March 2017, at 11:30 AM GMT/7:30 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence.
It’s obviously been a heartbreaking week in Florence following the sudden death of club captain Davide Astori at 31 years of age. While it feels gross to discuss the footballing impact of such a loss, this is the sort of horror that can either pull a team together or destroy it for the rest of the season. Frankly, the results don’t matter too much to me. I’m most interested in seeing the players’ body language, if they seem ready to compete again or if they need more time to heal.
Stefano Pioli obviously has a massive hole to fill in his lineup without Astori. It’s unclear if he’ll persist with a 3-man defense with so few central defenders on the roster now, so we don’t know if Germán Pezzella will be partnered by Nikola Milenković, Vitor Hugo, or both. Further forward, the identity of the final attacker—Gil Dias, Cyril Théréau, or Diego Falcinelli—remains a mystery as well.
In what is going to be a very strange stadium atmosphere, expect the Viola to come out with energy and conviction, trying to pin the Stregoni back from the get-go and put a goal or two past Serie A’s worst defense, which would settle things down nicely, before dropping into a deep block and trying to see the match out with minimum fuss.
It’s been a rough stretch for the Campanians, who’ve lost 5 of their last 6 (they did beat fellow relegation strugglers Crotone) by a combined score of 17 to 5. With just 10 points over the course of the season thus far, they’re certain for the drop to Serie B, so there’s not quite a Dumutru Effect (the tendency of sides that could still avoid the trapdoor to play really well) to worry about, but there are a few talented players who will certainly be snapped up when the Stregoni go down, so they’ll be auditioning for Serie A moves this summer and will thus be ready to go.
Manager Roberto de Zerbi has a number of selection headaches facing him. Centerbacks Luca Antei (Achilles) and Fabio Lucioni (suspension) are both long-term absences, but losing midfielders Sandro (thigh) and Nicolas Viola (suspension) as well as wingers Achraf Lazaar (suspension) and Marco D’Alessandro (thigh) makes this one tricky for him. He’ll probably set out his usual 4-3-3. At rightback, Fiorentina loanee Lorenzo Venuti could get the call, but veteran Bacary Sagna is also an option. Up top, keep an eye out for Sassuolo loanee and Viola academy product Pietro Iemello.
I can’t tell you in good faith that Benevento are going to do anything besides bunker back, play on the break, and try to win fouls up the pitch for set pieces, because that’s really been their modus operandi under de Zerbi (and under Marco Baroni before him). They’ve got some pace up front and out wide, but the midfield is more suited to slow down opponents rather than manufacture chances.
How to watch
TV: If you have RAI, this would be the time to use it. Check the full international listings here.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
I want to say 2-0 to the hosts as Giovanni Simeone gets one early and Marco Benassi smashes one home late, with long periods of grinding, nigh unwatchable football between them in front of a crowd that never stops singing.