It’s another short break for Fiorentina, who’ve been inexplicably scheduled for their third match in a week. This time, they travel south to take on Napoli. This will be the 159th meeting between the sides; the Viola hold a record of W56 D48 L54 since their first clash in 1931. Over their last 10 matchups in the league, though, it’s been less even, as the Gigliati have gone W1 D4 L5; their last win on the bay came in 2009. When these two met earlier this season, Napoli came away with a 3-4 win marred by some truly miserable refereeing.
The referee for this one is 37-year-old Fabrizio Pasqua of Tivoli. In 8 Serie A appearances this year, he’s handed out 33 yellow cards and 1 penalty; he’ll basically let players get away with pulling a screwdriver out of a sock and stabbing an opponent as long as they aren’t too mean about it. In the 6 Fiorentina matches he’s handled, the Gigliati are W2 D2 L2; most recently, we saw him take the reins in the season opening Coppa Italia win over Monza, although he hasn’t exactly endeared himself to us before that; just ask slakas.
The match will be played on Saturday, 18 January 2020, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples. The forecast calls for fairly mild temperatures, but there’s probably going to be some rain earlier in the day that could even continue past kickoff, so look for a slick surface atop the famously pockmarked playing surface of the San Potato.
Perhaps the most underwhelming team in Serie A this year, Napoli have slumped to 11th place with 24 points. Despite firing Carlo Ancelotti last month and bringing Gennaro Gattuso on board, they’ve taken just 4 points from their past 5 games in the league, although they did put paid to Serie B’s Perugia on Tuesday in the Coppa Italia by a score of 2-0. They’ve been particularly poor at the San Paolo, where they’ve only won 3 times this season.
Gattuso has some serious concerns in defense, where CB Kalidou Koulibaly (hamstring), CB Nikola Maksimović (hamstring), LB Faouzi Ghoulam (leg), LB Mário Rui (suspension), and RB Kevin Malcuit (knee) are all doubtful, as well as CF Dries Mertens (hip). Despite those absences, though, there’s no shortage of talent in midfield or attack, especially with recent engine room reinforcements Stanislav Lobotka and Diego Demme possibly ready for a cameo.
Forced to start Giovanni di Lorenzo at centerback against Perugia, this could be a spot for bench options Lorenzo Tonelli or Sebastiano Luperto to step up next to Kostas Manolas in the middle. Gattuso’s favored a 4-3-3 this year, spearheaded by Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne. Napoli plays a high line due to their pace in the back, so finding space in the channels can be tough against them. The best road to goal is probably to isolate whoever partners Manolas and try to win that individual battle with Cutrone and Chiesa.
If not for Napoli’s struggles, the Viola would probably be Serie A’s most disappointing club this term. 14th place with 21 points and a -6 goal difference isn’t a particularly good look. However, the club hasn’t lost in 2020, scrapping to a draw against Bologna and then notching an ugly win over SPAL last week as well as a thrilling triumph over high-flying Atalanta in the Coppa Italia yesterday.
New manager Giuseppe Iachini has to worry about fatigue with the 3rd match in a week, so we could see Lorenzo Venuti come in at some point. With Federico Chiesa and Patrick Cutrone playing limited minutes in the Coppa, it’s likely that they’ll start up top together. Milan Badelj could see some minutes too, as Gaetano Castrovilli, Erick Pulgar, and Marco Benassi are surely exhausted; we could even get that rarest of rarities in a Szymon Żurkowski, but let’s not get our hopes up too much.
Expect Iachini to set out a very deep block away from home and rely on the pace of Chiesa, Castrovilli, and Dalbert to make things happen in attack. Allan trying to contain Castrovilli in the middle should be a particularly fascinating battle. On the back foot, expect Nikola Milenković and Pol Lirola to double up on Insigne, while Germán Pezzella, Germán Pezzella, and Dalbert match up with Milik and whoever’s on Napoli’s right wing. That’ll put a massive burden on the midfield to contain potent attackers like Fabián Ruiz and Eljif Elmas, so keeping things tight between the lines is probably priority number one.
How to watch
TV: Might be on RAI, but odds are you’re going to need to stream this one. Check the full international television listings here to be sure.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams. If you’re in the US, ESPN+ is showing it; sign up using this link if you don’t have an account yet and Viola Nation will get a little bit of cash (Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.).
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This one’s honestly tough to figure as it pits two severely underperforming sides with new managers against each other. On the scale, Napoli have more talent (and an extra day of rest) but Fiorentina are on a much more impressive run of form. A low-scoring affair seems likely after the fireworks earlier this year. Given the shortfalls at the back for the Partenopei and the prospect of a fresh Chiesa running at backups, we’ll give the Viola a slight edge. Let’s call it a 0-1 win for the good guys, with Fede assisting Cutrone for the goal in one of the rare forays forward. This definitely seems like another game where the Viola will suffer, but also where they can strike at any moment. Let’s go with that.