With two matches left in this Serie A season and the race for the final two Europa League places reaching extreme levels of tension, Fiorentina welcome Cagliari in a must-win match. It’s also the first meeting between these sides since the death of Davide Astori, who captained both teams.
In their last 10 Serie A clashes, the Viola are W5 D2 L3 against Cagliari, including a Khouma Babacar-inspired 0-1 win at the Sardegna Arena in the reverse fixture. In 73 Serie A matchups, Fiorentina have won 32, drawn 21, and lost 20 against the Sardinians.
The referee for this one is Paolo Valeri. In 14 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 56 yellow cards, 5 red cards, and 3 penalties. When last we saw him, he was in charge of the 2-1 win over Bologna in the second match of the season; you may recall it as the one that featured two goals direct from corner kicks. Overall, Valeri has overseen 24 Viola matches, and the good guys have a record of W9 D11 L4 in them.
It’s put-up-or-shut-up time in Florence. The odds may be against our boys in purple to qualify for the Europa League, but all they have to do is win this one and the next one. Having gathered just 7 points from their past 5 matches, they have no one to blame but themselves for their position in the table. That said, they’ve won two in a row—scoring 3 goals in each—and seem to be bursting with confidence. Also worth mentioning here is that Fiorentina also has a dubiously impressive streak of 5 straight matches involving at least one sending off.
Stefano Pioli has a full-strength squad to choose from, excepting only long-term casualty Simone Lo Faso (knee). Expect him to run out the usual 4-3-2-1 with Riccardo Saponara and Federico Chiesa behind Giovanni Simeone. The mister has preferred Fede starting on the left in these past two matches, but it hasn’t suited the youngster, who’s been rather anonymous of late; we could see him revert to the right side, where he’s always been more comfortable, although there may be more space for him on the left. Pioli may opt for the pace and man-marking of Vincent Laurini at rightback, but the physical power and penalty-box prowess of Nikola Milenković is our bet to earn the start.
The Rossoblu tend to leave a lot of space at the back, so Saponara should be the man tasked with finding half-spaces and working Simeone and Chiesa into the channels, where they should have the beating of the visitors’ defense. Jordan Veretout, who’s had a quiet few matches, is probably due for a decent one, and he could also prove crucial in overloading the Sardinian backline with his bursts forward.
If the pressure is on Fiorentina to garner full points in their remaining fixtures, so too is it on the Sardinians, who sit in 18th place—the final relegation spot—with 33 points. Salvation is well within grasp, though, as the three sides above them are even on 34 points, and SPAL has just 35. With just 4 points from their past 5 matches, including 4 winless, this team seems to be trending the wrong way. However, we’ve learned that it’s always a mistake to underestimate a trapdoor-threatened squad in Italy, and Cagliari have a number of high-profile scalps this year to remind us of the danger they pose.
Manager and club legend Diego López (who has the 2nd-most appearances in club history) has a bit of a selection crisis on his hands: midfielders João Pedro (suspension), Luca Cigarini (suspension), and Daniele Dossena (hip), as well as strikers Marco Boriello (calf) and Damir Ceter (thigh), are all unavailable. So many absences could push López to change plans, but he’ll probably stick with his usual fluid 4-3-1-2. The dangerman here is Leonardo Pavoletti, whose 10 goals comprise a third of his team’s scoring output.
As you might expect from a bottom-three side on the road at this stage, Cagliari are going to sit deep. However, their natural instinct is to go forward, using the pace of Marco Sau and Diego Farias to probe the channels and working to get rightback Paolo Faragò involved up the pitch as much as possible, which will in turn leave space for Chiesa to attack. The midfield will try to break up the Viola’s play and may attempt to man-mark in the middle at times. They’ll leave spaces at the back—they’ve kept just 4 clean sheets in 28 matches since López took over in late October—so expect to see a fair amount of end-to-end stuff.
How to watch
TV: Here are the international listings. Frankly, they’re pretty bleak, so make plans to watch this one online.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This is a fascinating tactical matchup. Both teams field three midfielders and then have an extra man (winger Saponara for Fiorentina, rightback Faragò for Cagliari) who moves in to overload the center. This tendency could expose the the latter, who’s really a central midfielder by trade, to combination play from Chiesa and Cristiano Biraghi; expect that wing to be a major focus for the Viola. Let’s go ahead and call it a 2-0 win for the good guys, with a Biraghi cross to Simeone providing the opener and a Saponara-assisted Chiesa goal adding the insurance.