Fresh off a predictably infuriating loss at Juventus, Fiorentina need to get re-tracked against Serie A’s top-scoring outfit in Atalanta. In their 131 competitive meetings dating back to 1929’s Serie B, the Viola hold W58 D43 L30 record. Over their past 10, though, that looks a little bit different, as the good guys are just W2 D6 L2, including a big upset 2-1 upset victory in the Coppa Italia less than a month ago. And, since we feel particularly jinxy today, let’s mention that the Bergamo-based outfit hasn’t won in Florence since 1993.
The ref for this one is 37-year-old Maurizio Mariani of April. In 10 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 62 yellow cards, 10 red cards, and 5 penalties; as you may have guessed, he likes to be very involved. In the 6 Fiorentina matches he’s handled in his career, the Viola are W4 D1 L1. Last we saw him was the Dušan Vlahović-inspired 1-1 draw against Inter Milan in December.
The match will be played Saturday, 8 February 2020, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in Florence. The forecast calls for about as perfect a day as you could hope for in February: partly cloudy but not too cold, with barely a breath of wind and no real chance of rain. How lucky can you get?
It was bound to end some time, but the Viola managed to string together a couple of punishing losses after not experiencing defeat since Vincenzo Montella got the boot at the end of 2019. A wrenching loss to Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia and a real punch in the crotch last week at Juventus mean the momentum has rather slowed of late, leaving them at 14th in the table with 25 points. That’s 7 below the final European spot and 9 away from relegation, which is about as mid-table as you can get.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini will be thrilled to get Gaetano Castrovilli, Nikola Milenković, and Mártin Cáceres back, although Igor’s impressive work on his debut last week could see him keep his place at the latter’s expense. We could also see new signing Alfred Duncan push his way into the XI, likely at the expense of Marco Benassi. The real question is who’ll start up top, as Federico Chiesa, Vlahović, and Patrick Cutrone will all be licking their chops to get at this Dea defense.
It seems like we’ve seen this matchup a dozen times in the past couple of years, so you know what to expect. Atalanta often play a high line, which means that Chiesa and company should find space on the break. A solid, conservative midfield and a pair of very attacking wingbacks mean that breaking through the wide areas is usually the best path forward, so Dalbert and Pol Lirola will have to get through a lot of running to nullify their opposite numbers and offer something going forward. The real wild card is the Viola midfield: if Castrovilli returns to his sparkling best and Duncan can provide a balance of defensive solidity and functionally vertical passing, Fiorentina will be in a pretty good place.
Now in 4th place with 39 points (but only leading AS Roma on goal difference), la Dea have proved that they're not just a one-season wonder but rather a world-destroying attack that leads the major European leagues in goals this season. After storming back in their Champions League group, they’ve got a date with Valencia in the round of 16 next week. The only cause for concern is that they’ve been quite uneven over their past 5 in the league: after putting 5 and 7 past Parma and Torino, respectively, they’ve also lost to SPAL and drawn to Genoa at home.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini will have to work DM Marten de Roon (suspension) and RM Timmy Castagne (knee). We know he’ll use a 3-man defense, a double pivot in midfield, and the aforementioned attacking wingbacks; the question is the nature of the tridente—he’s used both a center forward with two attacking midfielders and a striker pair with a trequartista. We’re leaning towards the former, with Luis Muriel up top and Papu Gómez and Josip Iličić behind him, but there’s no real way to know until the team sheets come out.
No matter the nature of the tridente, you already know how Atalanta works. They shift the ball across quickly and let the attackers find pockets of space between the lines to either drive forward or link up quickly. The wingbacks aren't afraid to get into the box on crosses, which makes tracking runners from wide a must and necessitates really good communication at the back. The real threat, though, is those attackers, who excel at worming past markers and wreaking havoc at the top of the box. Erick Pulgar is going to be very busy in this one, and, as mentioned above, the work of his fellow midfielders will probably be the deciding factor.
How to watch
TV: Doesn’t look like it, so plan to watch via the internet. Check the full international television listings here just to be sure, though.
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
This sort of game is so hard to predict, seeing as how Atalanta are about as uneven a team over the past month as you’re likely to find in Italy. There’s a decent chance that they’ll give Fiorentina the Itchy and Scratchy treatment. I think it’s more likely, though, that they stumble here and Fiorentina get the win; the Viola are going to have Castrovilli and Duncan in the middle, which makes them a very different side from their past two outings, and will be rolling with some righteous outrage about their treatment from the refs of late. That’s why I’m predicting a 2-1 win for the good guys. There’s no way that Muriel doesn’t score, of course, but Castrovilli marking his return with a goal and Chiesa adding another after a couple of frustrating weeks feels like the right script.