Fiorentina will try to put a tumultuous 2018 behind them with their first Serie A match of the new year when they welcome Sampdoria to Firenze. In 130 clashes since 1946, the Viola hold a W46 D48 L36 edge with a +22 goal difference. Over their past 10 league meetings, though, the Blucerchiati have proven to be a tough matchup, as the hosts’ record against them falls to an underwhelming W2 D5 L3. That includes a deeply frustrating 1-1 draw earlier this year at the Luigi Ferraris and a 1-2 loss in this fixture last season.
The ref for this one is Marco di Bello of Brindisi. In 7 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 25 yellow cards and 3 red cards (all straight sendings off); he’s yet to award a penalty this year, although he’s typically been unafraid to point to the spot in his top flight career. Under his watch, Fiorentina are W3 D1 L1; last we saw him, he was overseeing the scoreless snoozefest of a Derby dell’Appenino back in November.
The match will be played Sunday, 20 January 2019, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence. The forecast calls for a lovely crisp day with light cloud cover, little wind, and no rain. All in all, should be pretty much perfect conditions for a match in January.
With 7 points from their last 5 matches, it’s safe to say that the Viola are struggling a bit of late, especially considering that the loss came at home to Parma and that they were unable to earn more than a draw against low-flying Genoa. On the other hand, that’s been the norm for the whole season, so maybe this is the new baseline. After all, 26 points from 19 matches that record just about perfectly and is more or less what you’d expect from Serie A’s 10th-place team. The only real bright spot is from the Coppa Italia, where Fiorentina dismissed Torino 2-0 in the Round of 16 last week.
We’ve heard rumblings that manager Stefano Pioli is set to scrap the 4-3-3 due to the arrival of Luis Muriel, instead going to a 3-5-2 to make room for the Colombian up top while maintaining a midfield 3. That would nominally push Federico Chiesa to wingback, but he’ll almost certainly stay high up the pitch as more of a winger while Marco Benassi reprises his hybrid role and shuffles across. With a new formation and a new focal player, then, we could see Fiorentina struggle a bit to link up (although that’s nothing new for fans this year) despite having a full week of training. Farther back, this may the best chance that Bryan Dabo or Christian Nørgaard will get to start for awhile; their energy and discipline, respectively, may help combat a numerical inferiority in the center.
Given Samp’s quick-hitting attack and compact approach, discipline will probably be the biggest factor here. Making sure that someone—probably Jordan Veretout—sticks tight to the opposing trequartista will be key, but the Viola will be outnumbered in the middle and will probably drop deep, hoping to let the visitors play in front of them and leave space on the counter. Alternatively, Pioli could try to push higher up while instructing Muriel to drop deeper to negate the midfield disadvantage. With two pacy frontmen, Fiorentina’s passing will probably remain very vertical, although Samp’s habit of leaving a lot of space out wide could leave Chiesa and Cristiano Biraghi a lot of space to work in.
Sampdoria currently sit in final Europa League spot with 29 points. That’s just 1 ahead of Atalanta and 2 up on Torino, to say nothing of the 3 point lead they hold on their hosts. Over their past 5 league matches, they’ve accumulated 10 points, but things are trending a bit downwards of late following a loss to Juventus and an extra-time defeat at home to AC Milan in the Coppa Italia last Saturday.
However, manager Marco Giampaolo knows what he’s doing and will surely view this as a chance to get a big 3 points on the road and liven his side up again. The recent arrival of Manolo Gabbiadini (who was strongly, albeit illogically, linked to the Viola this January) from Southampton should result in a debut off the bench. Ex-Viola player Riccardo Saponara, finally healthy again, could also feature from the start, although Gastón Ramírez is the likelier option. The only injury risk is CM Karol Linetty (ankle), but Jakub Jankto, Dennis Praet, and Albin Ekdal ensure that his absence is hardly going to cripple Samp.
The Blucerchiati have been one of Italy’s funnest sides since Giampaolo took over due to his expert deployment of strategy to best match his players, and he’s unlikely to change his approach here. The strikers will drift into the channels while the midfielders will shuttle wide, trying to create space for the number 10 to run things. Expect to see a lot of short, quick passing combinations through the middle as the wider midfielders motor all over the place to find pockets to cross or drive forward; they get into the box, too, so their Viola counterparts must track them carefully. The fullbacks aren’t as attack-minded as you might expect but still get forward well. Defensively, they stay very compact and very narrow, making it difficult to play through, so don’t be surprised to see Fiorentina consistently forced to the wings.
How to watch
TV: Maybe it’ll be on RAI outside of Italy, but this is probably one to stream. Here are the full international television listings if you want to make sure.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like it could be an excellent matchup of tactics and personnel, so now I’m worried that it’s going to be as dire as many Fiorentina matches have been this year. Samp’s defense has been excellent, so you can’t really expect a high-scoring affair, but this seems like the kind of match that Pioli’s Viola always squeak through. Therefore, I’ll call it a 1-0 to the hosts with the goal coming from a Jordan Veretout penalty, although I expect the game itself to be scrappy; both sides finishing with eleven wouldn’t be a surprise, but neither would a sending off.