Fresh off a historic 7-1 win over AS Roma in the Coppa Italia, Fiorentina return to league play with a journey to Udinese, 11 months after captain Davide Astori tragically and unexpectedly died there; you have to think that the team will feel his presence even more strongly than usual. In 96 meetings since 1931, the Viola are W48 D26 L22 against the Zebrette with a +59 goal difference. In their last 10 league matches, the good guys have lost one, drawn two, and won the rest, including a 1-0 win at the Franchi earlier this year and an emotional 0-2 victory in this fixture last year.
The referee for this one is slakas favorite Daniele Orsato of Vicenza, who may be Italy’s best referee, considering that he handles internationals and Champions League work. In 11 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 67 yellow cards and 3 penalties, which is pretty low-key for a guy whose reputation is for being a bit card happy. In 30 the Fiorentina matches he’s overseen, the Viola are W9 D7 L14. Both times he’s headed up a Viola game this year, it’s resulted in a defeat: the 1-0 reversal at Lazio and the 0-3 crunching to Juventus in Florence.
The match will be played on Sunday, 3 February 2019, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST at the Dacia Arena (or the Stadio Friuli to those who refuse to buy into the corporate-sponsored name). The forecast calls for grey skies and a steady rain for at least two days previous, so expect yet another soaking wet pitch and chilly conditions.
It’s been another typically scuffly season for the men from Udine, who sit in 16th place with 18 points, just 4 outside the drop zone. They’ve been making heavy going of late, with just 1 win in their last 7 matches. They also got hammered 4-0 at Sampdoria last week, which means they’ll be smarting. Even so, their defense is tied for 10th in the league (even with Roma, if you can believe it); it’s been the attack that’s a problem: with just 17 goals on the year—as many as last-ranked Chievo Verona—they simply haven’t put the biscuit in the basket often enough.
New manager Davide Nicola, appointed in mid-November, hasn’t really changed that. He’s moved to a 3-5-2 system in an effort to solidify things, but his side basically goes as far as Rodrigo de Paul can carry them on any given day. Given that he’s got 6 goals and 3 assists already, that’s not too bad a thing, but the only other source of offense seems to be set pieces featuring three rugged centerbacks battling in the area. Injuries to CB Samir, CM Antonin Barak, CM Emmanuel Badu, and ST Łukasz Teodorczyk shouldn’t alter the approach too much.
With Barak and Badu out, though, the Zebrette could be even more negative in midfield than usual. Expect lots of fouling, with captain and ex-Viola standout Valon Behrami leading the shithousery. De Paul will try to drift to the left wing and cut inside to shoot or feed a teammate, while everyone else will pack it back and break forward only if there’s an obvious goalscoring situation or if they think they can win a foul. It’s going to be a ground-out, physical day for the Viola, and one in which they’ll really have to seize the initiative to break down their hosts.
While an emphatic Coppa Italia victory over Roma certainly papers over some of the cracks, let’s not forget that Fiorentina is still in 9th place with 30 points, even if they’re only 2 points back from 7th-place Atalanta and could qualify for the Europa League via the Coppa. Still, they’ve taken 8 points from their past 5 matches in Serie A and seem to be rounding into form; the start of the new year, they’ve scored 16 goals in 4 matches (although they’ve also conceded 7).
Manager Stefano Pioli hasn’t really changed his approach. Rather, the arrival of Luis Muriel has finally provided him with another nuclear option on the break, and the Colombian has returned to calcio with a vengeance. He and Federico Chiesa have created a terrifying combination on the wings, with Kevin Mirallas and Giovanni Simeone alternating in the other attacking spot. Pioli will have to scheme around the absence of CM Marco Benassi (suspended) and probably CB Vitor Hugo (hip), but otherwise gets his full squad to choose from; Chiesa should be fully recovered from a minor knock against Roma. That could well mean a start for Bryan Dabo, who was held out of the midweek tie in an apparent effort to keep his legs fresh, and the Burkinabé’s power could well be the key this week.
With Chiesa, Muriel, and Cristiano Biraghi occupying the wide areas and stretching Udinese’s backline, there could be a lot of room for Dabo and Gerson to storm into down the middle. However, given the advantage in pace he’s got on the wings, Pioli’s first plan of attack will probably involve direct play over the top for his wingers to chase and intense pressure elsewhere in an effort to overwhelm the hosts. However, given that Udinese are going to defend very deep, the onus could fall to Jordan Veretout in midfield to unlock the defense as well.
How to watch
TV: Here are the full international listings. Check DAZN, RAI, and BeIn if you have them, but don’t be surprised if you have to stream this one.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legals streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
You have to think the visitors have the edge here, what with the rip-roaring offense and the hosts’ inability to score, but this feels like the sort of game which brings everyone back to earth with a bump. Udinese are going to make it as difficult as possible for Fiorentina to play and are likely to kick the legs off of Chiesa and Muriel, as well as anyone who takes a touch in midfield. That said, the Viola probably have too much firepower out wide to be kept quiet for 90 minutes. Therefore, I’m calling it a 0-2 win with goals from Giovanni Simeone and Muriel, with Chiesa heavily involved in both.