It’s time for another clash of deeply disappointing sides as Fiorentina head west and north to the Ligurian capital to take on Sampdoria. These two have met 132 times since Samp was founded in 1946, with the Viola holding a W47 D49 L36 edge. Over their past 10, however, it’s a lot more even, as Fiorentina have managed W2 D6 L2, including the 2-1 win earlier this year that ended an 18-match Serie A winless streak for the good guys.
The referee for this one is 40-year-old Massimo Irrati of Pistoia. In 9 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 55 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and 5 penalties. In the 9 Fiorentina games he’s handled, the Viola are W2 D2 L5 (perhaps a reflection of the fact that, as a native Florentine, he’s extra-tough on them). We last saw him in the impressive scoreless draw against Juventus earlier this year, although he’s also been behind some, hm, unconventional decisions in the past.
The match will be played Sunday, 16 February 2020, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. The forecast calls for a warm day, which is nice, but it’s also likely to be rainy and windy, which is less nice. But then again, you can’t have everything.
It was always meant to be a transition year for the Blucerchiati following some big changes in the offseason, but nobody expected them to struggle this much. They’ve dropped all the way down to 16th in the table with 23 points, just 4 ahead of city rivals Genoa in the final relegation spot. They’ve rather steadied the ship in recent weeks, though, earning 7 points from their past 5 matchups, including a 1-3 triumph at Torino last week; perhaps Eusebio di Francesco was the problem after all.
Since taking over for the former Sassuolo boss, Claudio Ranieri has mostly favored a narrow 4-4-2. He’ll be without CB Alex Ferrari (knee), RB Fabio Depaoli (ankle), and CM Albin Ekdal (suspended), which should give Jakub Jankto a chance in central midfield. As with most Ranieri sides, this is an outfit that excels on the counter and will eschew possession in lieu of lightning quick transitions. That said, lacking any real pace out wide, they’ve been forced to play a bit differently than usual, but make no mistake: Samp will live and die with the counterattack.
Between Fabio Quagliarella and Manolo Gabbiadini, Samp amply a pair of attackers who are capable of out-of-nowhere, WTF goals at any moment, so cutting off the supply may be the best bet. The Blucerchiati midfield is a bit odd, given that it employs Carol Linetty and Morten Thorsby—both of whom played more centrally until now—and often looks more like Gastó Ramírez playing in front of a bank of 3. The fullbacks thus carry a lot of the responsibility for width (particularly Bartosz Bereszyński on the right) but it’s really a very fluid setup, usually with one holding midfielder and the other three roaming around and looking for space. When it works, it’s tough to stop, but Beppeball’s rigidity could give Ranieri some real problems in the middle.
Despite the doom-and-gloom from many fans after 3 straight losses to teams in the top four, the Viola are still in 14th place with 25 points, 6 ahead of Genoa and the drop. They also haven’t lost to a team outside the Champions League places in 2020, so it may be time to give them a bit of a break, especially with some much-needed reinforcements arriving.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini is still down LW Franck Ribery (ankle) but is slated to get CM Alfred Duncan for his first Viola start, which should boost the midfield considerably. Matched with Gaetano Castrovilli and Erick Pulgar in the engine room, the Ghanaian’s intelligence and versatility should bring balance and inspiration to an area that’s badly needed both. Elsewhere, a return to the starting XI for Dušan Vlahović and Martín Cáceres at the expense of Patrick Cutrone and Igor, respectively, remains possible.
Given the narrowness of the midfield, the Samp fullbacks often bear a serious burden to get forward. That means that attacking them down the flanks is often wise; while they’ll focus on staying deep and compact, there should be opportunities for Federico Chiesa and Dalbert to charge forward into space on mini-breaks. If Pol Lirola and Dalbert can win the battle on the flanks to pin their opposite numbers back, Samp will have to play through the middle, which isn’t their forte and could hand the visitors a major advantage. Between that and targeting the relatively clunky Lorenzo Tonelli, that’s probably Fiorentina’s best option outside of set pieces; Samp are among the league leaders in cards and fouls, so good dead ball delivery will also be crucial.
How to watch
TV: Seems deeply unlikely but feel free to check the full international television listings here.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
While their respective forms seem to be moving opposite directions, I firmly believe that this match sets up better for Fiorentina than for Sampdoria. The 3-5-2 should give the narrow Blucerchiati setup trouble, and a fully-fit Castrovilli paired with Duncan should stabilize the middle significantly. I’m calling this one a 0-1 win for the visitors, then, with Fiorentina mostly controlling things without seeing that much of the ball after a Vlahović goal hands them a first half lead.