Fiorentina return to the Franchi after ineffectually flailing their way to a loss at Lazio for the Derby d’Italiano (No, not the one with Juventus and Inter Milan. That was last week.) Yep, that means it’s time for Spezia. The Viola have never lost against the Aquilotti, posting a W4 D4 record in 8 previous meetings, including a Valentin Eysseric-inspired 3-0 win (no, really) in this fixture last year.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Gianluca Aureliano of Bologna. In 4 Serie A appearances this year, he’s handed out 19 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 2 penalties, which are all just about in line with his career averages. He’s only refereed one Fiorentina game in his career: a 3-1 defeat last year at Sassuolo.
The match will be played on Sunday, 31 October 2021, at 2:00 PM GMT/10:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a very warm afternoon, although there’s a chance of some showers starting right around kickoff.
You have to admire Fiorentina this year for attempting to restore balance to the Force. With 5 wins, 5 losses, and a goal difference of 0, they’re 1 of 2 teams yet to draw this year (the other being Empoli, which says weird stuff about Tuscany). That’s left them sitting in 8th place with 15 points; with dates against AC Milan and Juventus looming after this one, though, a win here feels particularly necessary to keep pace in the wide open chase for Europe.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano, in his first game against the team he led to two promotions and an unlikely Serie A survival, won’t have GK Bartłomiej Drągowski (thigh), DM Erick Pulgar (ankle), or LW Nicolás González (coronavirus). He’ll likely turn to Riccardo Saponara, who spent last year on loan at Spezia, but it’s a toss up between Riccardo Sottil and José Callejón on the other wing. In midfield, Giacomo Bonaventura should return, while Álvaro Odriozola is also likely to feature as well.
Spezia, of course, may have a better handle on Italiano’s tactics than the Viola, so Fiorentina will really count on individual quality to see them through here. With respect to former Viola defender Petko Hristov, the focus here needs to be shoveling the ball to Dušan Vlahović early and often, as he’s simply a cut above the Aquilotti defenders. If the big Serbian can win his battles, and if Jack comes out looking sharp, and if Saponara can connect all the dots again, the hosts should roll.
After astonishing everyone and finishing 15th, Spezia look like they could survive again. They’re currently in 17th with 8 points and have shown some flashes, playing Juventus and AC Milan tough in recent weeks, but they’ve only taken 4 points from their past 5 outings. Even though it’s early in the season, they’ll really want something more tangible than moral victories and could see this one as a fixture from which they could harvest at least a point.
Manager Thiago Motta has a raft of injuries to deal with: CB Martin Erlić (thigh), CB Jakub Kiwior (leg), LB Arkadiusz Reca (coronavirus), RB Jacopo Sala (ankle), DM Léo Sena (leg), DM Aurélien Nguiamba (thigh), CM Mehdi Bourabia (calf), CM Aimar Sher (arm), and AM Kevin Agudelo (foot). He’ll probably stick with a 4-2-3-1 and persist with his usual efforts to control possession, but that could be tough with such a depleted roster.
The danger that Spezia offer is pace: M’bala Nzola is big (and built like a tank) up front, and the attacking band of Eddie Salcedo, Emmanuel Gyasi, and Daniele Verde is quick and slippery, as are likely subs Janis Antiste and Ebrima Colley. If Fiorentina give them the opportunity to get in behind or run at isolated defenders, it could be a long day. The best bet might be cutting off the supply, which will mean working hard to close down Viktor Kovalenko and Giulio Maggiore.
How to watch
TV: Nah. Check the full international television listings here if you want, but nah.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
With respect, Fiorentina should roll this one. Spezia have the worst defensive record in the league, the 3rd-worst attacking record, and are missing a bunch of key players. This isn’t just hubris; the betting houses are all favoring the hosts pretty significantly, usually with the expectation of goals.
I’m in agreement there. I think a 2-0 (or maybe 3-1) win feels about right, with Spezia doing enough to make it interesting but ultimately lacking the quality to get anything from the game. Vlahović should feast, so mark him down for a goal, and let’s give the other one to Saponara, who’s facing a former club.