There’s not a lot of history between these two sides: this will be just their fourth meeting. Each club has a win, and they’ve drawn the other one. When they met earlier this season, the Squali buffeted the Viola 2-1, looking much the stronger side.
The referee for this one is Paolo Valeri of Rome. In 13 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 40 yellow cards, 4 red cards, and 2 penalties, so expect him to have his hand hovering around his pocket all day. He’s handled 21 league matches for Fiorentina since 2009, and the Viola have a decent record of W6 D11 L4 under his watch. Most recently, he oversaw the dramatic 1-1 draw with Inter Milan.
The match will be played Saturday 31 March 2018, at 2 PM GMT/9 AM EST at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence.
That demoralizing loss at the Enzo Scida feels like a lifetime ago, as the Viola have been on a pretty good run of late, notching 10 points in their past 5 matches, including 3 wins on the trot. That’s shot them up the table to 9th place, which doesn’t feel particularly accomplished until you realize that the lads are just 3 points away from Europa League qualification, which pretty much everyone agreed was a reasonable goal at the start of the season.
Stefano Pioli will have to do without a few pieces, as both Cristiano Biraghi and Marco Benassi are suspended and Milan Badelj (knee) got injured on international duty. While Maxi Olivera is a pretty obvious replacement for Biraghi, Benassi and Badelj’s absences are trickier. We could see a 4-3-3 with Bryan Dabo and Sebastian Cristoforo stepping in, or Pioli could opt for an extra attacker in more of a 4-2-3-1. The latter seems a more appealing option, but don’t expect the mister to tip his hand until the lineups are published.
No matter the formation, Pioli’s tactical approach will remain constant: pressure the opposing backline and midfield, force mistakes, and capitalize on easy chances. He’ll have to find a good balance, though, as Crotone are dangerous on the break. Finally, finding a balance in the wide areas will be tricky without Biraghi’s ability to stretch play. We could see Bruno Gaspar perform the same function on the other side, with Olivera staying at home more.
The Squali are in trouble. Sitting 18th in the table, they’ve won just 1 of their past 7 and have 4 points from their past 5 matches. The biggest problem is the defense, which has conceded an even 50 goals, good for 3rd-worst in Serie A. Even so, they’re just a point away from safety in what’s shaping up to be a heck of a relegation scrap—SPAL, Chievo Verona, and Sassuolo are all within 3 points—so this could easily be the sort of match that an overconfident team trips itself up in. Around here, we call it the Dumitru Effect.
Manager Walter Zenga, who replaced Davide Nicola back in December, has stuck with his predecessor’s 4-3-3 shape. He’s missing a bunch of guys through injury: centerback Stefan Simić (thigh, although he may be ready by Saturday), midfielder Mariano Izco (thigh), and strikers Ante Budimir (toe) and Marco Tumminello (knee).
With a front three of Federico Ricci, Marcello Trotta, and Adrian Stoian, expect a lot of balls into the channels for the attackers to chase. The overall approach, though, will be counter-attacks and set pieces, with little attempt to play through the hosts. The midfield has a tendency to creep up, leaving Juventus loanee Rolando Mandragora stranded in the middle, which could mean that Riccardo Saponara will have acres of space in which to pull the strings. Finally, Alex Cordaz is perhaps the most underappreciated goalkeeper in Italy and always manages some heroics against the Viola, so don’t be too shocked when he pulls off a miracle save or two.
How to watch
TV: Doesn’t look like it, but feel free to check the international listings here.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Crotone has quickly made themselves a team that I hate to see Fiorentina play because they’re very good a sticking to the script that the Viola struggle with. That said, I think the good guys keep their momentum rolling with a 2-0 win behind goals from Saponara and Simeone, who has to score again some time, right?