Fresh off an astonishing, shorthanded win over AC Milan, Fiorentina take a short trip for an entirely different sort of challenge when they take on noisy neighbors Empoli in the Derby dell’Arno. In 28 previous meetings, the Viola hold a mark of W15 D7 L6, although they haven’t met since the Azzurri beat them 1-0 in this fixture back in 2019.
The referee for this one is 37-year-old Juan Luca Sacchi of Macerata. In 4 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 18 yellow cards and 1 penalty; he’s earned a reputation for allowing things to get mighty rowdy, so don’t be surprised if the hosts’ strategy involves booting the stuffing out of their visitors. He’s only ever handled one other Viola match: a 2-3 defeat to Atalanta last year in which he, hm, didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.
The match will be played on Saturday, 27 November 2021, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Carlo Castellani in Empoli. The forecast calls for a continuation of some pretty miserable weather. Expect rain, wind, low temperatures, and a bunch of unhappy-looking Tuscans. The pitch could be pretty well soaked, too, after several days of precipitation, so watch out for that.
Back in the top flight for the first time since 2018-2019, the Azzurri haven’t struggled the way you might expect. They’ve rocketed to a comfortable 12th place with 16 points, closer to European qualification than relegation, despite Serie A’s 7th worse defensive record, on the strength of a surprisingly effective attack. They’ve harvested 8 points from their past 5 matches, highlighting their excellent form, so this is far from a given.
Manager Aurelio Andreazzoli should have his full roster at his disposal, including former Viola players Szymon Żurkowski, Patrick Cutrone, and Filippo Bandinelli. The former could well be involved after a long injury layoff, while the latter has also impressed through his third loan down the road. The real danger man, though, is Inter Milan loanee Andrea Pinamonti (4 goals, 1 assist), although the rotating cast of attackers around him have also been reasonably productive.
Despite using a formation usually considered strongest attacking through the middle, Empoli tend to work the ball down the wings, particularly the right. The midfielders drift wide and, while Pinamonti usually stays central as the reference point, his fellow attackers often drift around, looking to combine in the wide areas. Stylistically, this is a team that wants to get the ball forward quickly, looking for combination play from the tridente to unlock opponents, although they’ve been caught offside more than anyone in the league. They’re also more than willing to tee off from distance, so closing them down will be very important.
Following that big win against Milan, the Viola have surged to 7th in the table on 21 points, equal with Lazio and Juventus, on the strength of 9 points from their past 5. The feast-or-famine kings of Serie A—the only team in a big 5 league besides Borussia Dortmund yet to draw in league play this year—will desperately want to build on the momentum from last week’s big win, especially since their next 9 Serie A games are against teams in the bottom half; this is the time to stack up the points and put themselves in a good position to qualify for Europe.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano should bring Nikola Milenković, Lucas Martínez Quarta, and Nicolás González back to the XI; the only injury doubt is Bartłomiej Drągowski, who’ll likely be a game-time decision. The mister needs to figure out who will play at rightback (Lorenzo Venuti or Álvaro Odriozola) and in central midfield (2 of Giacomo Bonaventura, Alfred Duncan, and Gaetano Castrovilli), but should field something much closer to his usual XI. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Drągowski, Pietro Terracciano, and Riccardo Saponara are all former Empoli players and may have that extra urge to get the win here.
The Azurri have been particularly vulnerable to crossing this year and aren’t good in the air, so the Viola fullbacks could have a busy day, as could Dušan Vlahović and the central defenders at set pieces. They’re surprisingly willing to press high up, although they’ll drop deep as soon as that initial line of defense is breached and try to minimize space. While the theory fits their approach, they simply haven’t executed very well this year.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Coming off that big win, most of the betting houses have Fiorentina as somewhere around 2:1 favorites, and it’s not hard to see why. Empoli have conceded at least 2 in their past 7 home games and it’s hard to imagine that they’ll have the firepower to keep up with their visitors if the scoreboard gets a workout, even if the Viola defense has been fairly unconvincing as well.
That’s why I’m calling it a 1-3 win for the good guys. I’ll go with Vlahović, González, and Martínez Quarta (gotta quench that goal thirst) on the scoresheet with Żurkowski (of course) netting a consolation. I’d also expect Fiorentina to pretty well dominate proceedings here, keeping the ball and exerting all the pressure en route to a fairly comfortable victory. But this being the Derby dell’Arno, you can never be too sure.