With a full week to put a simultaneously frustrating and impressive 1-1 draw with Parma behind them, Fiorentina travel to Sardinia to take on high-flying Cagliari. In their 80 meetings—the first was a Coppa Italia clash in 1964—the Viola hold a W34 D22 L24 record. Over their past 10 meetings in Serie A, though, it’s a much more even W4 D2 L4, including 3 straight without a win. In this fixture last year, the Gigliati slumped to a 2-1 defeat behind a dire defensive performance that not even a Federico Chiesa goal could rescue.
The referee for this one is 36-year-old Federico La Penna of Rome. In 6 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 28 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and 5 penalties; that this counts as an almost restrained record speaks volumes about the quality of officiating in Serie A. This will be the first Viola match he’s ever handled, although he’s been scheduled for one previously: it was on the 2018 trip to Udinese which resulted in a postponement after Davide Astori’s death.
The match will be played on Sunday, November 10 2019, at 11:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST at the Sardegna Arena in Cagliari. The forecast calls for a lovely autumn day that should be perfect for a game of soccer, featuring a stiff breeze and some light rain. Perfect conditions, in short.
It’s a good time to be a fan of Sardinia’s biggest club, as the Isolani are sitting pretty in 6th place with 21 points in the final Europa League spot. Over their past 5 matches, they’ve piled up 11 points and they’re on a 9-match unbeaten run, including wins at Napoli and Atalanta. Powered by the third-best defensive record in Serie A, this team looks built to collect some serious results from a long, arduous season rather than a flash in the pan.
Manager Rolando Maran has fully stamped his brand of ruthless shithousery on this squad. You know what to expect from his teams: a 4-3-1-2 formation that sits very deep, a tough and disciplined group of players who defend as a unit, strikers who pull wide into the channels to chase myriad long passes, and a steady diet of chances created on the break and via set pieces. With CB Luca Cepitelli (heel) and AM Valter Birsa (foot) absent, we can expect to see Ragnar Klavan at the back and, of course, Viola loanee Giovanni Simeone up top.
The danger men are João Pedro, whose 5 goals lead the team this term and who has a knack for popping up in areas you really don’t want him in; Radja Nainggolan, who can still belt a long shot of unholy beauty; and of course Cholito, who’s going to run the channels like a man possessed. CM Nahitan Nández has been of Serie A’s breakout performers this season, an iron-lunged runner and disciplined defender who’s also got the ability to start attacks with excellent passing, so keep an eye on him as well.
After that shorthanded fixture against Parma, Fiorentina still sit 8th in the table with 16 points. That’s 5 behind the Isolani and the final Europa League spot. They’ve still taken 8 points from their past 5 matches, which isn’t a terrible record, but that needs to improve if continental competition is a real goal for this squad. Draws against the likes of Brescia and Parma simply aren’t going to cut the mustard.
Manager Vincenzo Montella, who hasn’t won in Sardinia since 2014, is still missing Franck Ribery (suspension) and Martín Cáceres (hamstring), but will have Germán Pezzella and Pol Lirola back. He’ll have some selection headaches: Lirola or Lorenzo Venuti in defense and Riccardo Sottil or Kevin-Prince Boateng or Pedro or Dušan Vlahović up top. He also has to sort out if he wants to play three at the back, which would likely require the services of Luca Ranieri or Federico Ceccherini) or run with the 4-3-3 again; he’ll doubtless earn criticism for either choice, as it’ll dictate his tactics considerably.
Gaetano Castrovilli is the most important player for the Viola here, both because his form over the past month has been incredible and because he’s the only creative option in the middle for Fiorentina. You know that stopping him will be Maran’s primary directive, as the former Cremonese man is the only playmaker in the middle; if he’s bottled up, Fiorentina are unlikely to create much through the middle. Hoping for a moment of brilliance from Tano or Chiesa may well be the best way to break through this red-hot defense, as nobody else really has the magic necessary to tear down a wall of this sturdiness.
How to watch
TV: Doesn’t look likely, but feel free to check the full international television listings here.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This has the feel of a serious slog, the sort of midfield puncher’s battle that ends up being a war of attrition more than a brilliant flowing contest. On the one hand, that’s the kind of match that Rolando Maran teams tend to excel in, so it’s pretty easy to see the hosts getting a result. On the other hand, Fiorentina presents a tough matchup even for the best-drilled defensive midfield unit in Italy mostly through Castrovilli, who should win some fouls and give Fiorentina’s big men a few chances. We’ll call it a 1-1 draw, with a Cholito goal (of course) cancelled out by a Nikola Milenković header from a free kick. We’d be quite pleased with that, honestly.