The 1-2 win at Parma was a nice change of pace for Fiorentina, but now the team returns home in search of its first win in Firenze since mid-January’s dire 1-0 um triumph over SPAL. They’ll run up against a tough but uneven Cagliari side, though, so it won’t be easy. The Viola hold a W34 D22 L25 in their 81 competitive meetings dating back to 1964’s Coppa Italia. Over the past 10 clashes, that’s tilted much more to the Sardinians; the Viola are just W4 D1 L5 in those, including a 5-2 pasting in the reverse fixture that should’ve cost Vincenzo Montella his job.
The match will be played Wednesday, 8 July 2020, at 6:30 PM GMT/1:30 PM EST at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. It’s going to be another summer day in Florence, so expect cooling breaks and a bit of sluggishness as players try not to wither away to dust under a punishing Tuscan sun.
You read that first paragraph correctly. By game day, it will have been 178 days since Fiorentina won at home. With 8 games left and a 9-point lead on the final relegation spot, it’s deeply unlikely (but not impossible) that the 13th-place Viola will drop to Serie B. While that’s comforting, it also doesn’t feel like the huge leap we anticipated in year one of Rocco Commisso, although it’s not exactly his fault at all.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini may sweat the fitness of Franck Ribery after the winger limped off following a robust challenge against the Gialloblu and the absence of captain Germán Pezzella (suspension), but will welcome back striker Dušan Vlahović from suspension. He’ll likely persist with the usual 3-5-2 and bring most of his regular starters back into the side after some heavy rotation against Parma.
The Isolani have really struggled with three parts of defense this year: containing wingers, not fouling, and defending set pieces. For the first, Dalbert and Pol Lirola will need to be at their best to take advantage, especially if Ribery (if healthy) and/or Federico Chiesa drift to the flanks. For the second, the skill of Ribery, Chiesa, and Gaetano Castrovilli could cause all sorts of problems to a defense that’s too happy to stick out a leg. To take advantage, Erick Pulgar will need to deliver some good balls in for Nikola Milenković.
Despite what that win over Fiorentina earlier this season might have you believe, the Isolani aren’t the best team in Serie A. They’re 11th in the table with 39 points, equally insulated from the drop and from Europe, which could mean the Dumutru Effect could take hold here, although 7 points from their past 5, with the losses coming in respectable fashion against Hellas Verona and Atalanta, show that they may still have something in the tank.
New manager Walter Zenga has opted for an out-of-character 3-5-2 since taking the reins. He’ll be nervous (or as nervous as Zenga is capable of being) without starting defenders Luca Ceppitelli (ankle) and Andrea Carboni (suspension) but probably won’t change too much despite the absences. The real interest for Viola fans is on the other end, where the attack, led by Fiorentina loanee Giovanni Simeone and Fiorentina-linked João Pedro, have combined for 27 goals and 8 assists this year, including 5 and 2 since the restart.
This is a team that likes to shoot from distance and attack down the wings rather than pass the ball around to create opportunities to slip in a striker. They’re often profligate in the final third, though, setting themselves up for opposition counterattacks, so sitting deep and breaking quickly may be the gameplan against them. Closing down Radja Nainggolan is critical, as he can hit them from distance; the other midfielders don’t offer as much creativity or goal threat, so expect the focus to rest on the Inter Milan loanee and on shutting down the wingbacks.
How to watch
TV: ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes in the US look like they’re a go. Check the full international television listings here.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This one could turn very ugly, as both teams are in the top 5 in Serie A for yellow and red cards. The Viola will likely sit back and hope to hit on the break (again, the Isolani tend to lose the ball a lot), while Cagliari will try to work the ball wide with midfielders and forwards drifting to the flanks to provide crosses. We’re calling this one a close-fought 2-1 win for the good guys, with Milenković heading in the opener before Cholito pulls one back, setting the stage for a dramatic and redemptive winner in stoppage time for Chiesa. We’d also be a bit surprised if both sides finished this one with 10.