It’s hard to pretend that Fiorentina’s competitive draw against Sassuolo was the turning point in this accursed season, but we’ll do our best to pretend that it’s generating positive momentum before the quick turnaround to take on Hellas Verona. In their 74 competitive meetings (dating back to the Divisione Nazionale in 1929), the Viola hold a W36 D20 L18 edge, including a W5 D2 L3 mark over the past 10. Last year, this fixture resulted in the smashiest-and-grabbiest of points with a last gasp goal from Patrick Cutrone while Sofyan Amrabat ran the show.
The match will be played Saturday, 19 December 2020, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Florence. The forecast calls for relatively mild temperatures, which will be nice, but we could get some showers before and during the proceedings, which isn’t as nice.
Despite a surprisingly competitive draw with high-flying Sassuolo, Fiorentina remains in 17th place with 10 points, just 3 ahead of Genoa and the final relegation spot. That’s what happens when you compile all of 2 points from your previous 5 games, scoring just twice and conceding eight times. Things may be looking up after a brief ritiro and a call from owner Rocco Commisso to the squad, but this team isn’t out of the woods. Heck, all they can see is woods.
Manager Cesare Prandelli will likely stick with the 3-5-2 he trotted out against the Neroverdi on Wednesday, although he won’t get the element of surprise that helped him against Roberto de Zerbi’s men. With 3 matches crammed into this week, he’ll likely rotate his side quite a bit, so expect to see some new faces; Igor, Pol Lirola, Christian Kouamé, and maybe even Patrick Cutrone and Alfred Duncan will get a run in.
Having conceded 11 goals in 12 games, the Gialloblù are very tough to break down. They win more aerial duels than any team in the league and haven’t conceded from a set piece this year, so Fiorentina will likely have to beat them in open play. Jurić likes to pack the midfield, minimizing space in the middle, and force opponents to play in the wide areas; they want teams to cross the ball into their box, where their size makes them very difficult to beat to high balls. The Viola will have to pull them out of their area to find any space in the final third; that means either dribbling or shooting from distance, neither of which has been a strength this year. If Prandelli still wants to get the ball wide and cross it, low balls across the box might prove more fruitful. Really, though, the best bet may be to get in behind on a counterattack.
Having sold off stars like Amrabat and Marash Kumbulla this summer, nobody expected the Mastini to repeat their surprising top half finish in just their second year after promotion, so naturally they’ve been even better. With 19 points, a +5 goal difference, a healthy xG, and the league’s second-stingiest defense, everything indicates that these Gialloblù are no fluke. They’ve only picked up 6 points from their past 5 matches after losing to Sampdoria last time out, but with wins against AS Roma and Lazio and draws against AC Milan and Juventus, this group is for real.
Manager Ivan Jurić, who’s looked like the smartest guy in the room for the past couple of seasons, will have to cope without a number of players: CM Marco Benassi (calf), CM Ronaldo Vieira (hamstring), CM Antonín Barák (suspension), CF Nikola Kalinić (hamstring), and CF Andrea Favilli (hamstring) are all likely out for this one. That won’t impact the Croatian mister’s selections too much. Keep an eye on standout performers Marco Silvestri (perhaps Serie A’s best goalkeeper this year) and Mattia Zaccagni (3 goals, 2 assists), as well as former Viola players Federico Ceccherini and Samuele di Carmine.
With just 16 goals this season (14th best in Serie A), Verona aren’t going to blow the doors off anyone. They don’t worry too much about keeping the ball, averaging just 48% possession, and they don’t shoot all that much either. What they do pretty well is create a few outstanding chances per game. Di Carmine hasn’t scored once this year and is mostly there as a target man, serving to knock down high passes (2nd most long passes per game) and crosses (3rd most per game) for the guys playing behind him. They feature a lot of pace at wingback and like to isolate the back side wide player against a single opponent, then switch play to him and let him try to beat his man. Otherwise, it’s generally a pretty basic attack that relies on some clever, technical players behind the striker when their route one approach fails.
How to watch
TV: Not likely, but check the full international television listings here if you want to.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like a low-scoring game with a lot of scuffling in the middle more than a wide open affair. As the visitors like to sit deep, Fiorentina will be tasked with breaking them down, which hasn’t really been something they’ve shown any ability to do. They also lack the control to keep opponents from countering with regularity. The best hope for the good guys is probably a 1-1, with Kouamé scrambling one home for the good guys and Zaccagni for the villains, but a 0-2, with Hellas Verona scoring first before sitting back and adding a second on a quick break, wouldn’t be at all surprising either.