It’s time for Fiorentina to put last week’s draw against Lazio behind them and lie to themselves that they can still qualify for Europe with a string of good results. That’ll require a win against Cagliari under the Friday night lights. In their 79 meetings since the first in 1964, the Viola are W34 D22 L23 with a +26 goal difference. Over their last 10, the good guys have won 5, drawn 2, and lost 3, including a 1-1 shithousery masterclass from the Rossoblu earlier this year and a 0-1 victory in this fixture last year.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Daniele Doveri of Roma. In 11 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 44 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and 4 penalties, so you know he’s not afraid to get involved. In 19 games under his watch, Fiorentina are W11 D2 L6; most recently, he took charge of the 1-2 win at Bologna that featured not one but two Olimpico goals. For a fuller analysis, ask slakas.
The match will be played Friday, 15 March 2019, at 7:30 PM GMT/3:30 PM EST, at the Sardegna Arena in Cagliari. The forecast calls for no rain and some fairly mild temperatures, but the wind could be a serious factor in this one, with gusts expected to hit 40 km/h (25 mph), which could lead to a mighty disjointed game.
While they’re only 5 points away from the final relegation spot, the Sardinians will feel that they’ve got a good chance to keep their spot in Serie A for the 4th consecutive year. Currently in 14th with 27 points and a -16 point difference, we could start seeing the Dumutru Effect come into play if they’re worried about maintaining that cushion. With a shock win against Inter Milan two weeks ago offset by a loss to Serie B-bound Bologna last time out, this outfit can be tough to figure.
Manager Rolando Maran has, as expected, worked his defensive magic on the Sardi, turning them into the league’s 9th-stoutest defense, particularly at home, where that record improves to joint 5th. He’ll be without CB Ragnar Klavan (Achilles) and CM Lucas Castro, but we know what to expect from his teams: a 4-3-1-2 formation that sits very deep, plays very physically, disrupts opponents magnificently, and scores exclusively on the counter or via set pieces.
The dangermen are striker Leonardo Pavoletti (10 goals) and João Pedro (4 goals, 3 assists), although Fiorentina loanee and world-class dingus Cyril Théréau could well make an appearance as well. Expect the Isolani to spend much of the match sitting in their own penalty area before sallying forth occasionally at speed; we could see a very choppy game in the middle given their knack for niggling fouls, and they’ll try to grind the Viola attackers down over 90 minutes with some bruising play at the back.
The Viola are 10th place in the league with 37 points. Unless they win their remaining 11 games, it’s hard to see them qualifying for the Europa League at season’s end unless they win the Coppa Italia. With just 5 points from their last 5 outings in Serie A, it’s safe to say that they aren’t exactly on a run of scintillating form, and Cagliari are the exact sort of opponent that tends to frustrate them badly.
The real question for manager Stefano Pioli is the health of RW Federico Chiesa (abdominal strain); if Fede can’t go, this could get ugly. The mister could also wind up without GK Alban Lafont (ankle), although Pietro Terracciano showed in his Viola debut that he’s more than capable of holding down the fort. The bigger issue is the absence of Jordan Veretout (suspension); the Frenchman is the only remotely creative passer in the Fiorentina midfield, and it’s hard to see the visitors unlocking a deep defense without him.
No matter who’s out there, though, we’ll see the usual Pioli-ball. Against a deep-lying side like Cagliari, that could lead to a very sloppy game in midfield with a lot of fouls and a lot of hoofs up the pitch for the forwards. If Luis Muriel and Chiesa (if he plays) can get the ball in space, the Viola will like their chances. Making that happen, though, is very tricky, and reverberates all the way through the lineup. Pioli will have to decide between the power of Vitor Hugo or the clever passing of Federico Ceccherini at the back, the forward drive of Bryan Dabo or the calm distribution of Christian Nørgaard in the middle, and, uh, prayers that Fede’s ready to go up top. Or he could just keep trusting the regular starters who’ve underwhelmed so much. Who knows?
How to watch
TV: Probably not, but check the international listings here if you’re an optimist.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Any Maran team is excellent at dragging opponents to its level with physicality and grinta, and the combination of wind and absences mean that we could see a pretty hideous spectacle. If Chiesa’s ready to go (and current reports indicate that he is), I think that he and Muriel can provide just enough class to overcome their hosts to the tune of a sloppy, chippy, and nigh unwatchable 0-1 win for the good guys.