Fresh off a pair of frustrating but excusable results, Fiorentina go back home to face high-flying SPAL. These sides have met 37 times over the years, with the Viola holding a W15 D14 L8 edge, including a +11 in goal difference. Most of those meetings occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, though; in their only two meetings since 1968, which happened last year, they played to a pair of draws, including a scoreless one in the reverse fixture.
The referee for this one is Davide Ghersini of Genoa. In 9 career Serie A matches, he’s issued 39 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 5 penalties, so he certainly seems the type to put himself at the center of the action. He’s never handled a Fiorentina match, but he’s just 33, so he should be around for quite some time.
Sitting in 5th place after 4 matches isn’t a bad place to be, but it’s a matter of “what if” for the Viola this season already, as they conceded a late goal in each of their two previous matches to finish with just a point from the pair. However, a return to the friendly confines of the Franchi, where they’ve won both their matches by a combined 7-1, should help things quite a bit.
Manager Stefano Pioli will probably keep GK Alban Lafont (hamstring) on the bench for a bit longer, which means that Bartłomiej Drągowski will continue between the sticks. The mister may opt to rotate the side elsewhere, as this is the team’s 3rd match in 7 days, so don’t be surprised if the likes of Kevin Mirallas or Christian Nørgaard feature at some point. We could also see a debut for Dušan Vlahović or Martin Graiciar up top in the second half, as Giovanni Simeone has run himself into the ground twice this week already.
Pioli needs to ensure that his charges keep the intensity up for all 90 minutes, as they can’t afford to let off for a moment against a SPAL team that has a knack for taking advantage of the slightest lapse in concentration. Since the visitors will cede the ball, he’ll need to offer a threat of goals or creativity in midfield to tempt them out of the box; Jordan Veretout will be very important in this one and should switch play from wing to wing quickly. This sets up badly for Cholito, as the SPAL backline won’t give him space in behind and will mark him out of the game, so the onus is on Federico Chiesa even more than usual. This also seems like a good match for Valentin Eysseric to drift around and play the killer pass, so the Frenchman could return to the starting lineup as well.
After narrowly avoiding relegation in their first season in Serie A since 1968, the Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor (to give them their full dignity) are flying high in the top tier again. After squeaking wins against Bologna and Parma, then falling to Napoli, gli Estensi shocked Atalanta 2-0 last week to send themselves into second place. Tough to break down at the back and opportunistic going forward, this is perhaps the worst opponent the Viola could face right now.
Manager Leonardo Semplici (who spent 3 years coaching the Fiorentina Primavera before taking his current job) has done brilliantly with this side, but he’ll be without CM Federico Viviani (calf). He’s stuck with a 3-5-2 thus far that defends deep and mostly leaves the attacking to the strikers, although the wingbacks and a midfielder may join in as well. The dangermen are, then, the forwards: Andrea Petagna is a big, strong target man, while Mirco Antenucci is the sort of poacher who always bags goals for teams in the bottom half of the table. Ex-Fiorentina players Jasmin Kurtić and Felipe are regular starters, too; the latter troubled the Viola at set pieces in both matches last year.
Semplici should do his usual thing here, which is defend deep and look for a moment of magic from his strikers, which has worked well so far. This is a veteran group who won’t be fazed by playing a bigger side, and who won’t blink in a tightly-contested affair. What’s most worrisome for the Viola fan, perhaps, is that these guys take their chances well, pouncing whenever their opponents lose focus. Against their younger and quicker counterparts, they’ll want to slow this one to a crawl, turn the midfield contest into a bloodbath, and frustrate their hosts until the cracks start to show. That’s when they’ll go for the smash and grab.
How to watch
TV: Check BeIn if you’re in the southern hemisphere, but otherwise make plans to stream this one. Check the full international listings here just in case, though.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
I think this one will be a slugfest, with each team determined to outlast the other. Even though the SPAL forwards lack pace, Pioli probably won’t push his defensive line too high so that his midfield has a safe option back at all times. Indeed, Fiorentina will dominate the ball here, and this will be the first match, perhaps, where they’ll need to show their willingness to proactively look for goals in possession rather than bursting forward on the counter. That said, I don’t think that SPAL has the quality to keep Chiesa at bay for 90 minutes, so I’m calling it a 1-0 to the hosts behind a second-half Fede strike in a match that’s not particularly fun to watch for the neutral. Don’t be shocked to see a sending off, either, as Ghersini may look to punish the visitors for persistent fouling to slow things down.