After last week’s no-show against against Sassuolo, it’s time to see if Fiorentina can get up for the Derby dell’Arno against next-door neighbors Empoli. In the 27 previous editions of this derby (which was first contested in just 1986, which is weird because it feels much more historic) the Viola hold a W15 D5 L7 record. Over their last 10 meetings in Serie A, they’re W6 D2 L2, including an eventful 3-1 win in Florence earlier this year (coincidentally, the last time the good guys won at the Franchi) and a comprehensive 0-4 thumping last they played at Empoli—that was back when Paulo Sousa was in charge, though, so plenty has changed.
The referee for this one is 39-year-old Massimiliano Irrati of Pistoia (born in Florence, coincidentally), which gives the derby further Tuscan flair. In 14 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 71 yellow cards, 5 red cards, and 5 penalties, so don’t be surprised if he gets involved, especially in a fiery local contest. In the 7 Fiorentina matches he’s handled, the Viola are just W2 D1 L4; it feels like, being a native Florentine, he may be extra hard on them sometimes to shut down any accusations of favoritism. Last time we saw him, Irrati stayed busy indeed, handing Bryan Dabo a second yellow after half an hour in a dreary, choppy 1-0 loss at Sassuolo.
The match will be played on Sunday, 5 May 2019, at 10:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST, at the Stadio Carlo Castellani in Empoli. The forecast calls for rain, wind, and pretty much everything you could ask for in a testy local rivalry.
With just 4 points from their past 5 matches, things are starting to look desperate for the Azzurri, who sit in 18th place with 29 points, 4 behind Udinese and safety. That means the Dumutru Effect is now in play as the Tuscans desperately try to keep the Serie A dream alive for another year. Sporting the second-worst defensive record in the league—their 66 goals conceded is only 3 better than this year’s pathetic edition of Chievo Verona—generally leads to serious problems, although the attack has been solid: 12th-best in the league, their 43 goals are just 4 behind, uh, Fiorentina.
Manager Aurelio Andreazzoli, back for his second stint with the team this year after taking over from Beppe Iacchini 2 months ago, has kept his predecessor’s 3-5-2 shape. With the ancient defensive trio CB Matías Silvestre (hamstring), CB Domenico Maietta (thigh), LB Luca Antonelli (calf) unavailable along with record signing CF Antonino La Gumina, things look dire. On the other hand, Andreazzoli can call upon former or future Fiorentina players in GK Bartłomiej Drągowski, CB Jacob Rasmussen, LB Manuel Pasqual (we still miss you), RB Kevin Diks, CM Leonardo Capezzi, and CM Hamed Junior Traorè (whose health concerns seem to have blown over). Considering that fully half the first XI could have Viola ties, this one could get tricky, given Fiorentina’s penchant for allowing exes to take their revenge.
The dangerman is 31-year-old journeyman Francesco Caputo, whose 15 goals have quietly made him one of the most surprising and pleasant stories in the league. He’ll drop deep to receive the ball and turn to shoot or work the channels and look for crosses from the wingbacks, particularly the impressive Giovanni di Lorenzo. The midfield trio of Traorè, Ismaël Bennacer, and Rade Krunić excels at breaking into space, but doesn’t defend that well, so expect a lot of fouls from them as they try to compete. The defense will sit deep and pray that Federico Chiesa is in a merciful mood, since that’s probably their best chance to stop him from having his way all over the pitch.
While at first glance this may not look like a team in crisis, it truly is. The players last week clearly didn’t care about playing; that’s how you wind up 12th in the league, trailing the likes of Torino, Sassuolo, and Cagliari, with SPAL, Bologna, and Parma breathing down your neck. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Viola finished at their lowest point in the table since 2004-2005, when they just barely escaped the drop and ended up 17th. With just 1 league win in 2019, it’s no surprise that the staff at the club are dropping like flies and wholesale changes are expected this summer.
Manager Vincenzo Montella will have his full roster to choose from. Don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of turnover from last week’s miserable XI, with Federico Chiesa, Alban Lafont, Germán Pezzella, and Nikola Milenković the only players assured of keeping their spots. Jordan Veretout will probably get another chance to sleepwalk through the midfield, with Gerson and Marco Benassi being his most likely partners. Giovanni Simeone surely deserves a chance up top by now, as the attack simply hasn’t had any cutting edge; while Cholito may not provide it, something needs to change. Finally, expect another cameo or two for the youngsters, with Tòfol Montiel and Dušan Vlahović the most likely to feature.
The conditions—nasty weather, the combustible nature of the derby, a team that’s not suited for his tactics and checked out even if it was—hint that this may not be the week that we see Montella’s famously slick, possession-based football take flight. Instead, Vinnie will continue doing what Stefano Pioli did, which is hope that Chiesa or Luis Muriel can do something magical. The new mister has at least tried to get his charges to keep the ball, but that’s mostly manifested itself in sterile, sideways passing across the back with no real urgency. As it has been all year, any chance for goals will come from the minds and feet of the two star forwards.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina need to tie three of their last four games in order to set the record for draws in a Serie A season. That means that they must split points with at least three of Empoli, AC Milan, Parma, and Genoa. That seems very doable. Thus, far be it from us to stand in the way of calcio history. We’re calling this one a draw in hopes of the Viola earning a spot in the record book this year; it’s all we deserve after suffering so much self-inflicted damage. Let’s call it a 1-1 draw behind goals from Chiesa and Caputo in front of a bunch of crazed Empoli fans.