With 7 matches left in Serie A this year, Fiorentina host SPAL for the first time in decades. It’s a matchup up two teams with surprisingly good league form, and it could have major repercussions for where both are playing next year.
These sides have met 36 times before, with Fiorentina managing a record W15 D13 L8. It’s just the second meeting for them, though, since 1968, after SPAL earned a 1-1 draw at the Paolo Mazza earlier this year.
The referee for this one is Vicenza native and slakas favorite Daniele Orsato. In 15 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 55 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 3 penalties. In 26 matches under his watch, Fiorentina are W9 D6 L11. The last time we saw him, he was at the helm for the absolutely bonkers 3-3 against Genoa last year, which featured a debut for Marco Sportiello, a goal for Giovanni Simeone, a red card for Federico Bernardeschi, and general chaos in the second half.
The match will be played Sunday, 15 April 2018, at 10:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence.
6 games without dropping points in the league is a heck of an achievement, but the Viola have to keep it up if they want to ensure their spot in the Europa League next year, along with the money and prestige that continental competition brings. Sitting in 7th, just 2 points behind AC Milan, this is the sort of match that the Gigliati must win if they want to pass the Rossoneri in the standings, which means they’ll get to skip the playoff games over the summer and head straight into the knockout rounds.
Stefano Pioli has not endeared himself to fans of open, attacking football over this streak, but it’s awfully hard to argue with the results, especially with the defense suddenly becoming one of the best on the peninsula. He’ll continue to cope without Milan Badelj (knee) and Simone Lo Faso (tibia), but he’s certainly figured out how to make it work. Nikola Milenković may return to the back line in this one, while January addition Bryan Dabo should solidify the midfield. In attack, we can expect the usual suspects as well.
SPAL will likely defend very deep and try to work the channels while mostly bypassing the midfield, hoping to score on the break or via set pieces. As both approaches proved successful in their last meeting, Pioli may opt to leave a lot of space between the lines: this will allow the Viola defense to minimize space in behind and stretch the center of the pitch, where the hosts’ numerical advantage could pull the visitors’ defensive shape apart. Failing that, we’ll see Riccardo Saponara and Federico Chiesa tasked with providing a breakthrough.
While their opponents’ streak is the one that’s been celebrated of late, SPAL are on a 6-match unbeaten run of their own, including an impressive draws against Juventus and Atalanta. However, they still sit in 17th and are even on points with Crotone; only goal difference separates them right now. If the Spallini want to stay up, they need to win every available point, so you know they’ll be ready to go.
Manager Leonardo Simplici is very familiar with Fiorentina, having spent 3 years in Florence as the boss of the Primavera. However, he’s got problems in his own squad: leftback Boukary Dramé (calf) and striker Marco Boriello (calf) both look set to miss this one, while centerback Lorenco Šimić (thigh), rightback Federico Matiello (ankle), and midfielder Pasquale Schiattarella (ankle) are all expected to be healthy again, although may lack fitness to play 90.
Simplici will stick with his favored 3-5-2, which allows him to pack the box, keep two attackers high up to work the channels, and gives him plenty of options at set pieces. He’ll likely instruct his defense and midfield to sit very deep, accepting the risk of crosses into the box in return for minimizing space in behind. The defense and midfield will hammer the ball long into the channels at every opportunity, and the forwards will try to win free kicks if they can’t beat their markers. Semplici has his charges playing with a strong defensive organization and plenty of belief, so don’t think this will be an easy 3 points for the Viola, especially with ex-Fiorentina players Jasmin Kurtić and Felipe (the club captain, no less) wearing the blue and white stripes.
How to watch
TV: RAI has this one most everywhere, so check the full international listings here.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like the sort of physical, grinding match that Fiorentina has specialized in over the past couple of months. At home and with a chance to pass Milan in the standings, we’ll go with a 2-0 for the good guys. Giovanni Simeone will open scoring by getting onto the end of a cross—one of about 4 dozen the Viola will play in today—and Saponara will clinch it late after slithering into space on the break.