Fresh off a very well-earned but still somewhat edgy victory over Cagliari, Fiorentina return to action with a much stiffer challenge in the Coppa Italia in the form of Inter Milan. In 179 previous meetings (dating back to 1928’s Divisione Nazionale), the Viola hold a W49 D57 L73 record, including a W1 D5 L4 over their past five clashes. That includes a 4-3 defeat in the second round this year that could’ve been so much more. It’s also worth pointing out that this is the second year in a row these two have met in the Coppa; last year produced a competitive but futile 2-1 loss.
The referee for this one is 39-year-old Davide Massa of Imperia. In 8 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 39 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 3 penalties. He’s also highly rated enough to work the Champions League this year. In 18 matches under his eye, the Viola are W8 D6 L4. Last we saw him was the 3-4 defeat to Napoli in the second week last year, which, as you may recall, included perhaps the most embarrassing dive for a spot kick we’ve ever seen from Dries Mertens.
The match will be played on Wednesday, 13 January 2021, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. According to the forecast, it’s going to be about as lovely a day as you could possibly ask for: reasonably warm, sunny with a few clouds, no rain, and barely a breeze.
The win over the Isolani means Fiorentina have collected 8 points from their past 5 Serie A matches, scoring 6 and only conceding twice. After a difficult start to the year, there’s an undeniable sense of progress in Tuscany. It’s been a month since they’ve allowed multiple goals in a single match. That said, they’ve looked a bit shaky in the Coppa Italia up to this point, having squeaked by Padova and Udinese to get here.
Manager Cesare Prandelli might be thinking about Sunday’s clash with Napoli; it’ll be interesting to see how much the club prioritizes the cup with their league position still far from assured. He is likely to have both CB Germán Pezzella (hamstring) and LW Franck Ribery (knee) healthy enough for the bench but may want to give both of them a few extra days to recover. The real question, then, is if he’ll go back to the 3-5-2 he’s favored for most of the year or try the 3-4-3ish shape he deployed against the Sardinians on Sunday.
Having Gaetano Castrovilli back could be critical, as Inter Milan have conceded a surprisingly large proportion of their goals from the penalty spot this year. It probably doesn’t make that much sense to lump crosses in for Dušan Vlahović, given the aerial power of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar, but if Andrea Ranocchia and/or Aleksandr Kolarov play, they’ll both be good options to target. Since the wingbacks will likely cancel each other out (if the Viola are lucky), playing quick balls through the midfield and into space could be the most propitious route of attack. That aligns well with Vlahović and Christian Kouamé’s skill sets, and means that Igor’s passing skill and vision from the back could be the hosts’ best way to create a chance or two. Make no mistake, though: any win will likely come from parking the bus and hitting on the counter.
Given the amount of furor around Inter’s form this year, it can be easy to forget that they’re second in the league and just 3 points behind AC Milan, although a loss to Sampdoria and a draw against AS Roma have some supporters feeling very anxious, especially after they came last in their group to crash out of the Champions League. This will be their first Coppa Italia match of the season, and with a tie against Juventus coming up on Sunday, we could see some of the bench players (we would say youngsters but there aren’t any of those on the roster), although the club may prioritize the domestic cup with the European one out of reach.
Manager Antonio Conte will be without RB Danilo D’Ambrosio (knee), CM Matías Vecino (knee), and CF Andrea Pinamonti (ankle), but none of those should surprise anyone. As always, he’ll use a 3-5-2 predicated on pressuring high up and playing quick, one-touch combinations with the strikers taking it in turn to drop deep and sprint in behind. There should be room for the likes of Stefano Sensi, Alexis Sánchez, and Roberto Gagliardini. We could even see Christian Eriksen, if reports are to be believed, which would likely push the team to more of a 3-4-1-2.
You know how Conte teams play by now, so I’m not going to go into too much granular detail here. Pezzella’s presence feels very important, as his aerial ability will help counteract Romelu Lukaku in the box; the slightly undersized Lucas Martínez Quarta would immediately become a target should the captain start from the bench. The hope will be that Cristiano Biraghi and Martín Cáceres can neutralize the opposing wingbacks and allow the Viola midfield to sit deep and deny the space between the lines that Inter thrive in; that could indicate another opening for Erick Pulgar, although Borja Valero’s familiarity with the Nerazzurri may win out as well.
How to watch
TV: Unlikely, but check the full international television listings here if you want to.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Gotta be honest here. I feel like this is probably going to go like it did last year: Fiorentina put up a valiant effort and occasionally make Inter uncomfortable, but the visitors eventually prove to have too much talent for the scrappy underdogs to overcome; the betting houses, at least, seem to think so. However, since TMBGD is a place for unbridled optimism, let’s give it to Fiorentina by a score of 2-1, with Lautaro Martínez canceling out a Vlahović strike before Kouamé grabs one just before the final whistle to complete a smash and grab. Given that the Viola played Inter very tough earlier this year and have shown some spirit against more pedigreed opponents this year, it’s not entirely out of the question.