After snatching a point at home against mighty uh Genoa, Fiorentina head north to take on Atalanta, the club against whom they’ve notched the most wins throughout their history. For those keeping track at home, that’s W58 D43 L31, including a mark of W3 D5 L2 over their past 10 Serie A clashes, which is astonishing considering their opposite trajectories over the past couple of years.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Maurizio Mariani of Aprilia, who’s one of Italy’s top officials; he’s worked Europa League and Nations League matches this year. In 5 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 19 yellow cards and 2 penalties. He’s usually slow with the yellows but likes to hand out reds and PKs, so don’t be surprised if he decides to grab the limelight. In 8 matches under his watch, the Viola are W5 D1 L2. Last we saw him was the 2-0 win over Torino late last year.
The match will be played Sunday, 13 December 2020, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo. It’s going to be a bright but chilly fall day, but at least there’s no rain in the forecast and the wind should lay down. Nevertheless, expect to see everyone quite bundled up on the touchlines, and maybe even a return for Prandelli’s puffy coat.
Last year’s runners up haven’t quite pulled everything together this time out, slumping to 9th place with 14 points (although they have a match against Udinese in hand), largely because their historically productive attack hasn’t quite come together; they’ve “only” 18 goals in 9 games and have only won once in their last 5 league outings (over lowly Crotone). They failed to score against Spezia and Hellas Verona, which is concerning as well. Lest we forget, though, they advanced into the knockout rounds of the Champions League by beating Ajax yesterday and knocking off Liverpool at Anfield, so it’s not like the wheels have completely come off.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini has clashed with star man Papu Gómez of late, leading to rumors of the tactician’s pending resignation in protest, which can’t help matters either. The prickly mister is likely going to be missing CB Mattia Caldara (knee), CM Mario Pašalić (groin), and CM Aleksey Miranchuk (coronavirus). Having used just 2 subs against Ajax, he may need to rotate his side a bit as well, but you know what to expect from this group: quick movement, excellent passing, brilliant off-ball movement, and wonderful changes in tempo. They’re a well-oiled and joyful machine.
Understanding what Atalanta do in theory isn’t too hard, but it’s about impossible to stop in practice. With every player given permission to get forward, their fluidity moving up the pitch makes them nearly impossible to contain, especially since they’ve played together for years and everyone knows the system. They’re likely to dominate the ball but also press high and look to strike in transition when possible. Expect them to shoot from distance and get bodies into the box for low crosses and cutbacks, as per usual. The best way to stop them is probably to press them high, but that also leaves the sorts of space between the lines on which these attackers thrive, so a deep block might be Prandelli’s best option.
That a last-gasp equalizer against second-bottom Genoa felt like a big win tells you everything you need to know about the Viola. Still in 17th place with just 9 points from 10 matches, they haven’t won in Serie A since October, and that goal against Genoa was their first since then too. With the fans starting to sour on some of the club’s management, the fact that the Viola are 9th in the xG table, indicating a team more unlucky than bad, offers the slimmest of comforts.
Manager Cesare Prandelli will sweat the fitness of CM Gaetano Castrovilli (knee) but otherwise has his full squad available. While we’ve heard whispers that he may change things up substantially this week, we’d bet that he’ll make minimal alterations to that XI. Borja Valero and/or Giacomo Bonaventura may get the call, especially if Castrovilli isn’t ready, but there’s a pretty good chance that the underwhelming tridente of Franck Ribery, Dušan Vlahović, and José Callejón will try again, while Martín Cáceres likely has the inside track to start in defense as well.
As potent as Atalanta are going forward, they employ a number of defenders who seem capable of wild blunders at any given moment; expect the forwards to press la Dea’s back line furiously at times while the midfield stands off a bit to prevent too many spaces from opening up past that first line of pressure. Otherwise, it’ll be the usual stream of crosses from Cristiano Biraghi, the same ponderous buildup from the back, and the same reliance on individual players to do something remarkable, which is a big ask when those players have demonstrated no capability to do so this year.
How to watch
TV: Not looking good, but check the full international television listings here if you’re hopeful.
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
Let’s be honest. If you’re a Fiorentina supporter, you’re probably not going to have a good time in this one. That said, the Viola have proven to be surprisingly tough for la Dea in recent seasons, and between the short rest due to the Champions League fixture and the tension between Gasperini and his top players, Atalanta are perhaps a bit more precarious than you’d expect.
That’s why I’m predicting a very surprising 1-1 draw. I think that the hosts are going to dominate play and create a lot of chances while the visitors sit back, soak up pressure, and capitalize on a massive mistake from José Luis Palomino via Bonaventura, who scores against his former club. Iličić will likely return the favor and Prandelli’s men will desperately hang on, weathering a storm of Atalanta attacks that force Bartłomiej Drągowski into another succession of unbelievable saves against the Bergamo outfit and increases Gasperini’s headaches. If nothing else, it’s nice to imagine, isn’t it?