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Fiorentina vs Cagliari: Preview

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This could be a get-right game, a trap game, or both simultaneously and consecutively for the Viola.

Nikola Milenkovic of Acf Fiorentina looks on during the...
Why does it look like the Mountain is casually whistling as he walks away from the scene of an arson and why is it so good?
Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

It can be tough to find positives from yet another frustrating loss, this time to Lazio, but Fiorentina will have to try as they return to Tuscany to host the familiar faces of Cagliari. In 82 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W34 D23 L25 edge; they haven’t won against the Sardinians in 5 attempts, though, so the pendulum’s swung the other way of late.

The referee for this one is 43-year-old Piero Giacomelli of Trieste. In 5 matches this year, he’s handed out 24 yellow cards and 4 penalties; he’s always been pretty quick to point to the spot, so there’s a very good chance we’ll see someone score from 12 yards out. In 19 previous matches under his direction, the Viola are W6 D6 L7. Last we saw him was the third match week, when Fiorentina lost 1-2 to Sampdoria on the back of a Federico Ceccherini catastrophe and a Valerio Verre wondergoal.

The match will be played Sunday, 10 January 2021, at 8:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for cold, gray, and rain, so expect to see a lot of puffy coats out there.

Fiorentina

16 games. 15 points. Averaging less than one of the latter per the former isn’t good and has left Fiorentina in 15th place, just 3 ahead of Parma and the final relegation spot. Per Understat, a lot of that is down to plain bad luck, as the Viola’s Expected Goals and Expected Goals Against are 8th in the league, but the inability to finish (only 3 teams have worse scoring records this year) is teetering between unfortunate and indicative of what’s gone wrong.

Manager Cesare Prandelli has to plan around the absences of Gaetano Castrovilli (suspension) and Franck Ribery (knee) Giacomo Bonaventura will likely continue in midfield with Borja Valero slotting into the other spot in the engine room, although Erick Pulgar or Alfred Duncan (nah, I’m kidding) could conceivably get a run out as well. Up front, we could finally get to see Christian Kouamé start with Dušan Vlahović, especially after the Serbian expressed that he enjoys playing with the Ivorian, but José Callejón could get the call as well. Either way, it’ll be the usual 3-5-2, likely with Martín Cáceres at wingback and Nikola Milenković returning in defense.

Cagliari’s awful defending is partly because the players just don’t seem to be on the same page, but part of it is physical too. Without Godín, there’s no reliable presence in the air (they average the 3rd fewest aerial wins), so lumping it in for Kouamé feels like a decent approach. They’ve also conceded the most goals from set pieces, so good delivery will be crucial here, perhaps paving the way for a Pulgar cameo.

Cagliari

Trailing Fiorentina by a single point and a single place in the table, it hasn’t been the regenerative season that the Isolani had hoped for; in fact, you could argue they’ve been even worse than their point total demonstrates. They’ve failed to win 10 straight games (the last was over Torino in mid-October) largely on the back of the second-worst defensive record in the division, having conceded 33 already.

Manager Eusebio di Francesco should get CB Diego Godín, CB Ragnar Klavan, RB Paolo Faragò, and RW Adam Ounas back from injury this week, although CB Andrea Carboni (coronavirus), CM Nahitan Nández (suspension), and CM Marko Rog (knee) will miss out. EDF has immediately incorporated newly-arrived Inter Milan loanee Radja Nainggolan into a floating role behind the striker, but could use him deeper in a 4-3-3 or as the trequartista in a 4-2-3-1 as well in order to get his beloved wingers involved. You’ll want to keep an eye on Giovanni Simeone (5 goals, 1 assist) and Riccardo Sottil (2 and 1), both formerly of Fiorentina, who’ll likely want to make a statement against their former employer, but the main man is João Pedro (10 goals, 2 assists), who’s kept up his remarkable form from last year and looks like a genuine star.

Di Francesco’s tactics aren’t a secret to anyone at this point: he wants quick, vertical passing to isolate his wide attackers in space to either run at defenders or pick out the killer pass. Unless Leonardo Pavoletti or Alberto Cerri sneak into the lineup, there’s no aerial presence here, so expect the focus to be on working the channels and using the attackers’ athleticism to get in behind. Nainggolan and João Pedro can both shoot from distance, too, so the midfield will have to be quick to close them down outside the box.

Possible lineups

Pulgar or Valero, Kouamé or Callejón; Simeone or Pavoletti
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How to watch

TV: Not likely, but check the full international television listings here if you want to be certain.

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

Despite the presence of Simeone and Sottil, I’m fairly optimistic about this one. EdF teams tend to play a fairly high line and none of their defenders are particularly well-suited for that; the prospect of Dušan and Kouamé in a footrace against, say, Ragnar Klavan bodes well. I also think that the good guys will defend decently this time out, as the Isolani need space in behind and between the lines to excel. If Pulgar starts, he’ll help minimize the former, and that could make all the difference.

Therefore, I’m going to jinx the absolute bejeezus out of this one and say that the Viola come away with a 3-1 win. A Vlahović penalty, a defender from a set piece (feels like a great spot for Igor to open his account), and a late breakaway on the counter for Kouamé to salt it away are all very much within in the realm of possibility, with Sottil naturally assisting Simeone for the visitors. I’d guess that Fiorentina will slow things down and keep the ball in Cagliari’s half for a lot of the game but will look much better when things break down and it degenerates into a slippery, messy, end-to-end affair. And again, I apologize profusely for the jinx.

Forza Viola!