Fiorentina have had the entire international break to get themselves right and head north and east to find out if they’ve managed it. They’ll take on Serie A newcomers Spezia. The Viola hold a W3 D3 record in their 6 competitive meetings, although they’ve all been in Serie B (1930 was the first meeting and the most recent was in 1939, when the Tuscans came away with a 0-3 win.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Gianluca Manganiello of Pinerolo, who’ll be taking his first top flight match of the year. In 53 Serie A games, he’s handed out 208 yellow cards, 19 (!) red cards, and 17 penalties; that’s a weird balance that indicates he’ll let play go for the most part but is happy to reach for the back pocket. This will mark the first Viola game he’s ever handled, so let’s hope he doesn’t give slakas too much to work with.
The match will be played on Sunday, 18 October 2020, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, on the artificial turf at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi in Cesena; Spezia’s traditional home ground (the Alberto Picco) doesn’t meet Serie A specifications, so the Aquilotti are traveling across the country for “home” contests. The forecast calls for a cool but humid autumn day with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds; basically, it’s everything you expect from an October in Emilia-Romagna.
Having secured promotion to Serie A for the first time in their 114-year history, Spezia are looking to be more than the wide-eyed debutantes. After getting shelled 1-4 by Sassuolo on opening day, they waylaid Udinese 0-2 before falling 3-0 at AC Milan. They’re in 15th place on 3 points and will want to add to that, although their stadium situation—the Picco doesn’t have enough seats for the FIGC’s taste—is pretty awful; they’ll be traveling farther than their “visitors” for this one, and the artificial turf at the Maruzzi means that they’re as unaccustomed to the playing surface as anyone else, as they train on regular grass as well.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano has no shortage of injury issues: GK Jeroen Zoet (thigh), CB Elio Capradossi (knee), CB Riccardo Marchizza (illness), LB Juan Ramos (hamstring), RB Federico Mattiello (calf), RW Giuseppe Mastinu (leg), and CF Andrey Galabinov (leg) are all out or questionable. That shouldn’t change Italiano’s usual 4-3-3 structure, though, which features wingers dropping deep and a desire to break quickly down the wings, exactly as you’d expect from a newly-promoted side. Galabinov is the only player on the scoresheet (the Bulgarian has scored all 3 of their goals thus far) but keep an eye on once (and future?) Viola midfielder Kevin Agudelo, who’ll likely feature off the bench.
With Galabinov out, Atalanta loanee Roberto Piccoli will likely start up top. He’s decent in the air and shows good instincts in the box, but he’s just 19. Emmanuel Gyasi and Daniele Verde offer serious pace on the wings and will look to break in behind the Viola wingbacks on winning possession. Midfielders Paolo Bartolomei and Giulio Maggiore (11 and 6 assists last year, respectively) pull the strings in the middle and look to release the wingers. The former also boasts some excellent set piece delivery. Make no mistake, though: the plan will be to sit deep, soak up pressure, and hit on the counterattack, especially with so many player absent through injury.
After that controlled win over Torino to open the season, Fiorentina have looked mighty ragged in the two games since. Shipping two goals in the final 5 minutes to cough up 3 points against Inter Milan stung, but not as much as getting roundly thumped by winless Sampdoria a week later. That’s left the Viola sitting 12th in the table on 3 points as the fans wonder whether the current staff is really capable of bringing this team back to Europe.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini will get CB Germán Pezzella (ankle) and DM Erick Pulgar (illness) back, although the Chilean will likely start from the bench. We’ve heard rumors that Beppe’s experimented with a new formation in training over the break, but until we see it, we’ll assume it’ll be the usual 3-5-2. The questions, as always, are in midfield (Giacomo Bonaventura or Alfred Duncan) and up top (Christian Kouamé or Dušan Vlahović), although we could also see new signing José Callejón get the nod on the right wing.
The veteran Spaniard feels like the turning point here. With Fiorentina likely to control possession, he could work as a very attack-minded wingback to add another threat up front. If it’s Pol Lirola instead, we’ll see something very different. Either way, the plan will be, as ever, to find Franck Ribery in pockets of space and get runners into the box for him to pick out. Set pieces should also be of critical importance: Spezia’s 16.3 fouls per game (2nd most in Serie A) should provide the Viola with myriad dead ball opportunities, and with Pezzella back, there’s a chance to make them count.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
With respect to Spezia, there’s a reason that the bookies have Fiorentina as favorites to get at least a point and likely a win. The injury list (Galabinov in particular) is a big part of that, but this Viola outfit looks well set up to win against a team like the Aquilotti. Expect Iachini’s boys to control the pace, constantly switch play from side to side, and win lots of fouls, while Italiano’s charges try to scurry forward (especially down their right) whenever they see the ball. Between their foul-heavy approach and referee Manganiello, Spezia are likely to be under constant pressure from set pieces as well and could finish a man light. Overall, we’ll call it a scrappy if ultimately comfortable 0-2 win to Fiorentina, with Nikola Milenković and Kouamé on the scoresheet.