Fiorentina don’t get much time to recover from a heartbreaking extra-time loss to Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday, as they travel south to take on a Napoli side desperate for points. In 163 previous meetings (dating back to 1928’s Divisione Nazionale), the Viola hold a pleasantly symmetrical record of W57 D49 L57. That sinks to W2 D4 L4 over their last 10 league meetings, including a false dawn of a 0-2 win in this fixture last year.
The referee for this one is 36-year-old Daniele Chiffi of Padova. In 6 Serie A appearances this year, he’s issued 28 yellow cards and 3 penalties, which is unusual for him, as he’s usually about as hands off as they come. In 6 matches under his watch, Fiorentina have W1 D2 L3. We most recently saw him late last year, when he incorrectly handed AS Roma a last gasp penalty to sink the Viola to a 2-1 defeat.
The match will be played on Sunday, 17 January 2021, at 11:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST, at the Stadio San Paolo (or Stadio Diego Maradona if you prefer) in Naples. The forecast calls for a surprisingly chilly day on the bay, with a chance of some rain as well; so much for sunny Campania.
After suffering a scare against Serie B’s Empoli in the Coppa on Wednesday, it’s safe to say that the Partenopei are hitting the skids a bit; they lost to 10-man Spezia and needed a 90th minute winner to get past Udinese. That’s left them in 6th, albeit with 2 games in hand, and desperate for points to keep in the surprisingly crowded upper reaches of the table. They’ve also got the Supercoppa against Juventus on Wednesday, so they may have to rotate the squad quite a bit.
Manager Gennaro Gattuso won’t have CB Kostas Manolas (leg), RB Giovanni Di Lorenzo (suspension), and CF Victor Osimhen (coronavirus/shoulder), but should have most of his starters available after fielding a team comprised almost entirely of reserves against Empoli. He’ll probably use his typical 4-2-3-1 and should trot out most of the big guns, although we may still see some of the backups or some early subs. That could also mean that the hosts will push like crazy for an opener so they can sit back, conserve energy, and play mostly on the break.
Everyone more or less knows how Napoli want to attack. They keep the ball moving quickly, hoping to get Lorenzo Insigne cutting inside to shoot or finding Dries Mertens in pockets of space in the box. They’re not going to lob crosses in so much as get to the byline and look for cutbacks. The average the most shots from outside the box in Serie A, too, so closing down Insigne, Mertens, Chucky Lozano, and Piotr Zieliński, and Fabián Ruiz is imperative. Since they’re all quick, technical players, a deep and compact block is probably the best option to start with, minimizing space between the lines and making sure that a missed tackle doesn’t leave acres of space for them to attack.
Despite the result against the Nerazzurri, Fiorentina seem to be trending in the right direction, rising to 12th place with 18 points on the back of a recent run of form (8 points from their past 5). With the back half of the season looming, a push for Europe is unlikely—making up 13 points in 19 games isn’t realistic—but continuing the upwards pressure while continuing to show improvement as a unit is critical to convincing personnel, both players and management, that this project isn’t as moribund as it’s looked for the past half decade.
Manager Cesare Prandelli should have CB Germán Pezzella and CF Franck Ribery back, although the latter’s likely to start from the bench. That would leave space for José Callejón to start against his former club. Erick Pulgar should return as well, creating a double pivot with Sofyan Amrabat and leaving Gaetano Castrovilli, ready to go after his suspension for yellow card accumulation, more space to operate between the lines. Martín Cáceres at wingback and Dušan Vlahović up front feel pretty obvious by now.
With a classic counterattacking strategy the likeliest avenue of attack, Fiorentina should spend a lot of time looking for Callejón getting in behind Mário Rui and for Vlahović trying to outrun the hulking Nikola Maksimović. Against him and Kalidou Koulibaly, though, crossing isn’t a great strategy, so it may be better to find Gaetano Castrovilli in space between the lines. The Partenopei also boast the best disciplinary record in Serie A, so dead balls may not be a particularly frequent attacking outlet either; Prandelli’s gameplan should largely be about getting his men in behind the defense. Really, goals are a tough ask, as Napoli have allowed the fewest in the league thus far.
How to watch
TV: BeIn and ESPN2 seem like they could pay dividends. Check the full international television listings here.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Given the relative attacking quality in each team, it’s hard to see this as anything but a Napoli win; they’ve probably been unlucky this year to be as far down the table as they are. However, after a surprisingly tense tie with Empoli and with the Supercoppa just three days after this one, a slight stumble wouldn’t be much of a shock. That’s why I’m calling it a 1-1 draw, with Callejón scoring one for the narrative and Dries Mertens pulling one back for the bad guys, although the real story will likely be another heroic performance from Bartłomiej Drągowski.