Abysmal Fiorentina don’t get much time to stew about getting whacked 3-0 at Atlanta on Sunday, as they return home to host high-flying Sassuolo on short rest. In their 14 previous meetings, the good guys have compiled a W6 D4 L4 record, including a 1-3 defeat in this fixture last year that represented the team’s lowest point in a season full of them.
The referee for this one is 42-year-old Paolo Valeri of Rome. In 4 Serie A matches this year, he’s issued 19 yellow cards and 2 red cards; he’s historically been pretty slow point to the spot or to punish constant fouling and has a really odd understanding of when to use VAR (almost never). Under his direction, the Viola have posted a record of W10 D12 L5. We most recently saw him in the 1-1 draw at Bologna (Giuseppe Iachini’s Viola debut), when he ignored a pretty obvious handball.
The match will be played on Wednesday, 16 December 2020, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for intermittent drizzle and chilly temperatures, so expect the players to look about as miserable as we all feel.
This squad feels like it’s about ready to collapse completely. Following a capitulation at the hands of la Dea that reportedly infuriated owner Rocco Commisso, the team’s gone into a retreat for a couple of days to get their heads right. With 9 points from 11 games, 17th place in the table, a single point from their past 5 matches, one goal scored through that stretch, and nine conceded, it’s not hard to see why the supporters are starting to get pretty angry.
Manager Cesare Prandelli won’t have LB Cristiano Biraghi (hip), likely opening the way for Antonio Barreca to prove his worth. After trying out a 4-2-3-1 against Atalanta, a return to the 4-3-3 seems most likely, with Franck Ribery, José Callejón, and Martín Cáceres likely starting again. Gaetano Castrovilli is also expected to be at full fitness. Really, though, Fiorentina have looked awful no matter who’s on the pitch in what configuration under San Cesare, and rearranging some deck chairs after a 2-day ritiro probably won’t fix that.
Sassuolo have struggled to defend forwards who are big enough to hold up play and fast enough to get in behind (hello, Christian Kouamé), so a route one approach may be the best chance Fiorentina have to score. While pressing their defenders high can produce turnovers in dangerous spots due to de Zerbi’s insistence on playing out from the back, the safer option is to sit deep and look for the counter. That means the striker and the wingers should focus on connecting and getting in behind at transitions; the visitors are likely to dominate possession, so building moves from deep probably won’t be much of a focus.
Serie A’s most pleasant surprise this year has been Sassuolo, who sit in 5th place with 22 points from 11 matches, including 8 from their past 5. They’ve played a very fun, attacking style and fully deserve their lofty ranking. However, both the xG table and their own slightly wobbly form (0-0 vs Udinese, 3-3 vs Torino, scoreless at AS Roma despite Pedro being sent off in the first half) indicate that this team is overachieving and may be due some regression at some point soon. Until then, though, they’ve been mighty fun to watch.
Manager Roberto de Zerbi has a number of absences to cope with: CB Vlad Chiricheș (hamstring), CB Filippo Romagna (knee), CM Lukáš Haraslín (suspended), CF Grégoire Defrel (leg), and CF Francesco Caputo (hip) are all out. On the other hand, the Neroverdi last played on Friday, so they’ll have two more days of rest for the starters. He’s favored a 4-2-3-1 this year that features a lot of danger from wingers Domenico Berardi (5 goals, 3 assists) and Jeremie Boga, but frontman Filip Đuričić (3 goals, 1 assist), has impressed as a false 9 in Caputo’s absence.
The Neroverdi keep the ball better than anyone other than Juventus. De Zerbi’s signature approach—having his players hold the ball, inviting opponents to press, and then exploiting the space the pressers have vacated—is quite fun to watch but relies on everyone knowing when and where to move, as well as being able to pass and/or dribble under pressure. They’re good from set pieces and excellent at winning penalties, but their real strength is keeping the ball centrally, forcing teams back, and then quickly building overloads in wide areas to create scoring chances. Without an aerial threat, expect them to mostly link up on the edge of the area rather than fling crosses in; given the Viola struggles against a similar policy from Atalanta, that’s the correct approach.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Normally, I’d say that this Sassuolo outfit looks a lot more vulnerable than their position in the table suggests, what with the injuries (especially to Caputo) and the underlying stats. However, this is a Fiorentina in crisis, a team that looks incapable of beating anyone except itself as the players lapse into apathy and a protracted battle against the drop zone, especially since Sassuolo haven’t lost away this year.
However, since TMBGD is a place for blind optimism, let’s say that the Viola snap out of it with a stunning upset win and ruin the visitors’ unbeaten away record. I’ll say it’s a 2-1 with goals from Pol Lirola and Alfred Duncan (see what I did there?) with Berardi on target for Sassuolo. And after the game, the unicorns will hand out gum drops and sunshine to everyone and we’ll all be friends forever. The end. This preview is over.