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35 years of Fiorentina and Empoli

A look back at the history of our derby games with our near neighbours Empoli

Italian Soccer - Serie A - Fiorentina v Empoli Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Considering how close the clubs are geographically, and how far they go back historically, clashes between Fiorentina and Empoli don’t go back as far as any of our other Tuscan Derby rivalries. Our meetings with Livorno, Pisa, Pistoiese, and even Lucchese, all go back to before the Second World War. Empoli celebrated their 100th anniversary last year and Fiorentina have of course been in existence since 1926, and yet the first competitive game between the sides only dates back to 1986.

The sides have met a total of 28 times, all coming in either the Coppa Italia or Serie A. As we meet on Saturday at the Stadio Carlo Castellani, let’s look back at our previous short trips to near neighbours, Empoli.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

The first ever meeting between the sides came in May 1986, with Empoli still in Serie B. The sides were drawn together in the quarter-final of the Coppa Italia, and the first leg would see Empoli claim a 3-2 victory at home. Having already seen off Milan in the previous round, they had high hopes of claiming another big scalp and reaching the semi-finals. It was Fiorentina however who took an early lead through Aldo Maldera, but with less than twenty minutes to play, Empoli scored twice in quick succession to take the lead. Adelino Zennaro and Luca Cecconi had the home crowd celebrating, but just three minutes later, Sergio Battistini levelled the game. Cecconi had now scored his ninth goal in that season’s Coppa campaign, having already scored against both Inter and Milan. With the game heading for a draw, Francesco Della Monica hit the winner with just a minute left in the game. Three weeks later, Fiorentina recorded a 3-0 win at home to progress to the semi-final, where they would lose out to eventual winners, Roma.

Their cup run in that 1985/86 season didn’t hamper Empoli too much in the league, as they finally claimed promotion to Serie A. They actually finished fourth, with only three teams to be promoted, but the involvement of Lanerossi Vicenza in another betting scandal to hit Italian football, meant that Empoli took their place in the top-flight. They also avoided having to endure a promotion play-off, having finished level on points with Triestina, but they too were punished with a one point deduction for their part in Totonero-bis.

All of which, brought about the first ever meeting between the sides in Serie A, in the 1986/87 season. Empoli’s first ever game in Serie A actually came at the Stadio Comunale in Florence, but not against Fiorentina. With restructuring works ongoing at the Castellani, they needed to play their first few games at another venue, and the first two of those were played in Florence, and there were plenty of Fiorentina fans there to pack the stadium. They started the season with a 1-0 win over Inter, and two weeks later lost 1-0 to reigning champions Juventus, again in Florence.

By the end of November, when Empoli would host Fiorentina, they were back at their home stadium. In a game which saw eight yellow cards, it was Empoli who came out on top. The only goal of the game came just before half-time, scored by Johnny Ekström. An 18-year-old Francesco ‘Ciccio’ Baiano made a break down the left wing, and played a beautiful ball through to the Swede, who from outside the area, put the ball past the onrushing keeper, Marco Landucci. Walter Mazzarri made an appearance as a late Empoli substitute in that game, where Fiorentina could find no way past Giulio Drago in the Empoli goal, and so the Viola went down to another defeat at the Castellani.

The return game in Florence in April ended in a 1-1 draw, notable for the last goal in a Fiorentina jersey for Giancarlo Antognoni. Empoli managed to survive for another season in Serie A, gaining salvation on the final day of the season, but they also had the betting scandal to thank again. Udinese had been deducted nine points at the start of the season, and finished bottom of the table, eight points behind Empoli.

Before the ‘87/88 season kicked off, now it was Empoli’s turn to pay the price. Found guilty of agreeing to share the points in their games with Triestina in that promotion season from Serie B, they would start the season with a deduction of five points. In October, around 2,000 Fiorentina fans headed to Empoli on their scooters but were rewarded with just a scoreless draw. Despite Empoli also holding Fiorentina to a 0-0 result in Florence, their punishment of five points was to prove too much to overcome, as they finished bottom of the table, four points from safety.

The sides would never meet in Serie B, as when Fiorentina found themselves in the second tier in ‘93/94, Empoli were struggling near the bottom of Serie C1.

It would be another ten years before Fiorentina would travel to the Castellani again, when Empoli finally reappeared in Serie A for the ‘97/98 season. The promoted side had already won in Florence early in the season, despite Gabriel Batistuta putting Fiorentina ahead, and now the Viola travelled in hope of revenge in February 1998. Alberto Malesani had taken over from Claudio Ranieri at the start of the season, and he was up against Luciano Spalletti, the man who had won promotion with Empoli.

2,500 Fiorentina fans arrived in Empoli without a ticket that day, but they were allowed entry to the stadium to avoid any issues outside the ground. Luis Oliveira put Fiorentina ahead seven minutes after the break, but the equalizer from Carmine Esposito left Fiorentina still without a win over Empoli in Serie A, after six attempts. Esposito would join Fiorentina the following season, and the Empoli side that day also included Claudio Bonomi, a player who would play a part in Fiorentina’s season in Serie C2 some years later.

The ’98/99 season saw Fiorentina finally claim victory over their neighbours in the league, winning both games that season. After a 2-0 win in Florence on the opening day of the campaign, Fiorentina travelled to the Castellani in January as Winter Champions. The gap between the sides in the table before the game was 21 points, as Empoli languished at the bottom of Serie A. They had yet again been handed a points deduction, this time a two points penalty for attempted bribery of a referee earlier that season. Depressing days for Empoli then, and Fiorentina were in no mood for mercy, although it took them a while to get going.

The game was still scoreless with just 13 minutes left to play, but Fiorentina went on to win 3-0. The goals came from Jörg Heinrich, and the two reported enemies, Rui Costa and Edmundo. The win pulled Fiorentina three points clear of Lazio who had won earlier that day, but this was all before Batistuta’s injury and Edmundo’s trip to Rio, as Giovanni Trapattoni’s side eventually came up short. A third-place finish, added to defeat in the Coppa Italia final, was a disappointment in the end, after such promise earlier on. Empoli meanwhile, never even came close to survival, bottom of the table with just four wins all season.

Just three years later, and the clubs would have contrasting fortunes yet again. This time, however, it would be Fiorentina suffering relegation, and then bankruptcy, while Empoli were back in Serie A. After two more seasons, the sides swapped places once more, with Empoli relegated as Fiorentina won promotion back to Serie A. Empoli came straight back up, and finally in 2005/06, both clubs were once again reunited in battle.

Cesare Prandelli took his side to the Castellani in December, and it was the first time that Andrea Della Valle visited Empoli’s stadium. He was full of praise for the home crowd, having been able to watch the game in peace from the stands. Fiorentina were challenging for a place in the Champions League, but were unable to claim all three points, despite going ahead through a Giampaolo Pazzini goal. It was Ighli Vannucchi who scored the goal which earned Empoli a draw, in a game which saw Christian Riganò line out for the home side. He did score against the Viola when the sides met in Florence in April, but Fiorentina won that game, as they went on to claim 4th spot, before the Calciopoli scandal saw them drop down to 9th, one point behind Empoli.

Soccer - Italian Serie A - Empoli v Fiorentina - Carlo Castellani Stadium Photo by Nigel French - PA Images via Getty Images

2006/07, and it was the turn of Fiorentina to start the season with a points deduction, and a big one at that! Originally the punishment was 19 points, then reduced to 15, but it meant that when they travelled to Empoli for the sixth game of the campaign, they were still well adrift at the foot of the table. Empoli meanwhile, were closer to the top sides than to the relegation zone. The home side looked like inflicting even more pain on the Viola, when they took a first half lead through Davide Matteini. After the break, however, it was Fiorentina who came out on top, with Luca Toni and Adrian Mutu combining to take a much needed three points back to Florence.

Toni and Mutu were on the scoresheet again when the sides met in Florence in February, and a 2-0 win saw them move to seventh in the table, just four points behind Empoli. The season ended with both sides qualifying for the UEFA Cup, Fiorentina finishing four points ahead of Empoli, despite the 15 point penalty.

The 2007/08 season saw the sides meet in Florence on the opening day, where Fiorentina won with three second half goals from Pazzini, Mutu and Riccardo Montolivo. In the Empoli side that day was former Viola defender, Daniele Adani. By the time they met at the start of the second half of the season, Fiorentina were pushing for a Champions League spot while Empoli were back struggling in the relegation zone. Former Viola manager, Alberto Malesani had taken over from Luigi Cagni at Empoli, and after the game he was furious with the referee. Fiorentina had managed to take all three points with two late goals from Mutu and Pazzini, but Empoli felt they should have had a penalty before that when Dario Dainelli took down Nicola Pozzi in the area.

(From left) Empoli’s Nicola Pozzi, Foren Photo credit should read NICO CASAMASSIMA/AFP via Getty Images

Decisions like that can cost a team, especially in the long run, and first Malesani was replaced by the returning Cagni before the end of the season, and then Empoli would find themselves relegated, just one point behind Catania in the safety zone. Fiorentina claimed fourth spot and finally a return to the Champions League.

After six seasons in Serie B, Maurizio Sarri was the man to take them back to Serie A for the 2014/15 campaign. It was close to the end of the season, in May, by the time Fiorentina visited the Castellani, and the sides served up a very entertaining game. Despite complaints about Empoli charging 35 euro for a ticket, over 1,000 fans still made the trip from Florence.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Sarri’s Empoli had already secured their place in Serie A for the following season, and so they could finally have a relaxed end to the season. Vincenzo Montella’s Fiorentina were looking to remain in the European qualification places, and just three days before this game they had lost 3-0 in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final in Seville.

It took just four minutes for Fiorentina to take the lead, through a beautiful left foot strike from Josip Iličić. Before the half hour mark, it was Riccardo Saponara’s left foot which did the damage, putting the ball past Neto to level the game. At the start of the second half, Mo Salah replaced Federico Bernardeschi, and it took him just over ten minutes to put the Viola back ahead. Set free by Iličić, his close control in the box left Daniele Rugani and Vincent Laurini chasing shadows and his strike beat Luigi Sepe in the Empoli goal.

With just over twenty minutes to play, Iličić looked to have wrapped things up. Salah’s effort was blocked but Laurini’s clearance came to the Slovenian who fired home. Empoli weren’t buried yet however, and when Sarri replaced Massimo Maccarone with Levan Mchedlidze in the 76th minute, less than a minute later the Georgian striker had pulled it back to 3-2. Fiorentina held on to claim all three points, with Sarri claiming that his side had been unlucky and also complaining that is was crazy to play a game in May in the afternoon heat.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

That had been Fiorentina’s third successive victory at the Castellani, but the following season would be a different story. Paulo Sousa was now the man in charge at Fiorentina, while Marco Giampaolo had replaced Sarri, who had left to take over at Napoli. When the sides met at the Castellani in April, both sides were going through a rough spell. Sousa’s side were without a win in the previous five games, while Empoli had gone three months without a win.

Four minutes before the break, and it was Empoli who took the lead. An attempted headed clearance by Facundo Roncaglia fell to Manuel Pucciarelli who’s shot beat Ciprian Tătărușanu. Sousa sent on Mauro Zárate, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Panagiōtīs Kone in search of an equalizer. This would be Kone’s one and only appearance for Fiorentina during his loan spell from Udinese. It was another player on loan from Udinese who would score the final goal of the game. With just two minutes left on the clock, Piotr Zieliński secured the win for Empoli. Pucciarelli’s shot this time was saved by Tătărușanu, but the ball came back out to the Polish midfielder, and his shot from outside the area found the corner of the net. This was Empoli’s first win over Fiorentina since that very first Serie A meeting of the sides back in 1986.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Fiorentina gained revenge the following season, 2016/17, when the sides met at the Castellani in November. It was an Empoli side who had only recorded two wins in their opening twelve games, and Fiorentina came away with a 4-0 win. Empoli started brightest, with Tătărușanu pulling off a fine save from a Maccarone close-range effort. It was then the turn of Łukasz Skorupski to keep out shots from both Iličić and Cristian Tello. Bernardeschi put Fiorentina ahead, but Empoli were still dangerous, and it took a Davide Astori intervention to deny Maccarone the equalizer before the break.

Empoli FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

It took Fiorentina just two minutes of the second half to double their lead, through an Iličić penalty. Just after the hour mark and a pass from Hrvoje Milić (remember him, anyone?) found Bernardeschi who scored his second of the game. Six minutes later and Iličić, set up by Borja Valero, struck a nice right foot shot to the roof of the net.

Empoli did get a win in Florence on Easter Saturday later in the season, thanks to an injury time penalty from Manuel Pasqual. Having spent over ten years with Fiorentina, this was his first goal in an Empoli jersey. He didn’t celebrate, but will surely have enjoyed his moment of revenge on Sousa. It wasn’t enough to save Empoli from another relegation however, while Fiorentina finished in a disappointing eight place, outside of European qualification.

ACF Fiorentina v Empoli FC - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

Empoli came back for one season in 2018/19, and Stefano Pioli’s Fiorentina claimed a 3-1 win in Florence in December. Beppe Iachini was the Empoli manager at the time, having recently taken over from Aurelio Andreazzoli. By the time the sides met at the Castellani late in the season, Andreazzoli had been restored to the Empoli bench while Montella was back in charge at Fiorentina.

Both sides were battling against relegation, although at this stage it was Empoli who were in deeper water. Third from bottom, and four points from safety, time was starting to run out, whereas Fiorentina had a little breathing room, with eight teams below them in the table and an 11 point gap over Empoli. It was Empoli though, who claimed all three valuable points. Diego Farias scored the only goal of the game, with the Brazilian rising high to head home, where Nikola Milenković, over 20cm taller, really should have done better.

Fiorentina couldn’t find a way past Bartłomiej Drągowski, on loan to their neighbours. Impressive since his move there in January, he pulled off some great saves from Luis Muriel, Giovanni Simeone and Federico Chiesa. Chiesa had replaced Muriel on the hour mark, and Kevin Mirallas made way for Dušan Vlahović shortly after that. Fiorentina had one last chance to take a point from the game when Marco Benassi played in a cross for Vlahović, but his header from close range was spectacularly saved by the Polish keeper.

Empoli v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

To make matters even worse for Montella, Jordan Veretout earned himself a red card after the final whistle. Empoli now had three games left to attempt the great escape, while Montella needed to steady the ship before it went under. While Empoli won their next two games, Fiorentina lost both of theirs, as Montella had yet to win a game since taking over from Pioli.

By the last day of the season, Empoli had pulled themselves out of the drop zone, one point clear of Genoa, who would travel to Fiorentina for the final game. Fiorentina themselves were not out of danger, but in the end, they played out an embarrassing scoreless draw with Cesare Prandelli’s side, which was enough to save them both as Empoli went down to Inter at the San Siro. A cruel end for our country cousins, as they are affectionately known. A sad end too, to the Della Valle era at Fiorentina, as talks were already under way with Rocco Commisso to sell the club.

After two seasons in Serie B, Empoli are back, and so too is Andrea Andreazzoli. Fiorentina are riding high in the table this time, while Empoli are five points further back, away from the relegation zone. Some things remain the same, but so much has changed since our last meeting, as both clubs look set to have a more promising season this time around. It’s certainly a lot more entertaining, and whatever happens on Saturday at the Castellani, it should be a feast of football, finally.

Soccer - Italian Serie A - Empoli v Fiorentina - Carlo Castellani Stadium Photo by Nigel French - PA Images via Getty Images