Fiorentina plays on Sunday for the first time in what feels like months, returning to the fortress of the Stadio Artemio Franchi to host Atalanta in a matchup of teams that ought to be representing Italy in the Europa League. This will be the 125th meeting between these side; the Viola bost a record of W56 D41 L28 against la Dea, along with a gaudy +75 goal difference. Over their last 10 Serie A matches, they are shockingly unbeaten against Bergamo’s finest, tallying 6 wins and 4 draws (in the last 4 games), including last year’s 1-1 in this fixture. You have to go all the way back to 1993 to find the last time Atalanta won in Florence; one of the Viola centerbacks in that one was, you guessed it, Stefano Pioli.
The referee for this one is slakas favorite Paolo Valeri of Rome. Generally considered one of Serie A’s leading referees—he’s in the Champions League rotation—he’s handled 3 league matches this year, handing out 8 yellow cards but nary a red or a penalty. He’s called 25 Fiorentina matches, resulting in a W9 D11 L5 record for the Viola, although the fans may not recall his most recent one fondly, as it was last year’s penultimate 0-1 loss to Cagliari. As a side note, Silvio Mazzoleni has been relegated to VAR duty in Serie B this week, which is a pretty clear assertion from the referees’ association that he messed up.
The match will be played Sunday, 30 September 2018, at 1:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Firenze.
Fiorentina currently sit 5th in the standings, which isn’t a bad spot to be. However, it’s hard not feel like they should be higher; Tuesday’s referee-influenced loss at Inter Milan certainly deserved at least one point. Still, a return to the Franchi, where our heroes have been impregnable, bodes well for them to continue their excellent run of play against a different black-and-blue team.
Pioli has the entire squad at his disposal, and shouldn’t have to worry too much about rotation for the first time in a few weeks. That doesn’t mean he has an easy task, however. You’d have to think that Gerson has earned a spot back in the XI, but the real uncertainty is on the left wing, where Kevin Mirallas, Marko Pjaca, and Valentin Eysseric all bring rich form and very different attributes.
Pjaca feels like the right call, considering the destruction he, Federico Chiesa, and Giovanni Simeone wrought on the last 3-man defense they met. Pioli will probably look to overwhelm la Dea with runners from midfield supporting a pacy tridente that will try to stretch their visitors’ back line across the pitch, providing ample opportunities for one-on-ones. Keeping Jordan Veretout free to dictate play will be the primary goal in midfield, although that unit will also have to track their opposite numbers, who like to charge into the box as much as their Viola counterparts. However, the width and pace in the Viola attack will probably be the defining feature of the match.
It’s been a bit of a down year for last season’s surprise package; with 6 points from 6 matches, they’re sitting 13th in the table after a draw to Torino in the midweek, and already crashed out of the Europa League in the playoff round against København. However, this is a veteran team that won’t lose its composure; rather, they’ll understand the need to get a big win to build some momentum, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to do just that.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini doesn’t have any injury concerns besides CB Marco Varnier (knee), but he may feel the need to rotate the side a bit with just 3 days to rest up between matches, meaning we could see a few of the youngsters that have Atalanta in all the headlines. He’ll set out his now-familiar 3-5-2, looking to work the channels with the forwards and stay tough at the back. Gasperini is a sharp manager, too, so he’ll worry at any weakness the hosts show until he comes away with something.
The dangerman, of course, is Papu Gómez, who is perhaps the most underrated forward in the world. He’s already got 3 goals and 2 assists this year. Emiliano Rigoni is another goal threat, a winger who plays in midfield but links up with the strikers; he’s scored 3 of his own. And of course, Josip Iličić is back in the fold after a tooth (!) injury, and is always a threat to do Lurch stuff.
How to watch
TV: It’s unlikely, 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
Fiorentina are going to be playing with a righteous fury in a Stadio Artemio Franchi that is going to be a hellish atmosphere for any visitor. I’m predicting/desperately hoping for a 2-0 win for the hosts behind goals from Giovanni Simeone and Marco Benassi on either side of halftime.