Following a big win over high-flying Spezia, Fiorentina hit the road for the ever-emotional trip to the Dacia Arena. In 101 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W51 D28 L22 edge, including a mark of mark of W6 D3 L1 over their past 10 league meetings. The good guys won the reverse fixture 3-2 behind an inspired Gaetano Castrovilli; they also knocked the Zebrette out of the Coppa Italia in extra time after (who else?) Tòfol Montiel came to the rescue. This match will also be nearly 3 years to the day that the world was horrified by the news of Davide Astori’s death in Udine, adding to the sense of surreality.
The referee for this one is 32-year-old Manuel Volpi of Arezzo (don’t expect much Tuscan solidarity). In 2 Serie A matches this year, he’s issued 4 yellow cards. He’s only ever reffed 7 top flight matches, totaling 21 bookings and 3 (!) penalties, so you might think he’s due. As far as I can tell, he’s never worked a Viola game, so we’ll need slakas to be ready with his notebook.
The match will be played on Sunday, 28 February 2021, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Friuli in Udine. The forecast calls for about as lovely a winter’s day as you’re going to find, with a bright sun, nary a cloud in the sky, and surprisingly warm temperatures. Basically, it’s everything you wish you could have from an away afternoon.
With 7 points from their last 5, Friuli’s finest have boosted themselves to 13th in the standings with 25 points. They’ve been perhaps a bit better than that, though, as they battled back from 2 down to snatch a draw against Parma last time out and have recently held Atalanta and Inter Milan to draws as well. It’s also worth pointing out that most xG models have Udinese as the unluckiest team in Serie A, particularly in defense, so this outfit may be better than the table indicates.
Manager Luca Gotti has a bit of a selection crisis here: LB Marvin Zeegelar (suspension), DM Mato Jajalo (knee), AM Roberto Pereyra (suspension), LW Gerardo Deulofeu (knee), RW Nacho Pusetto (knee), and CF Fernando Forestieri (knee) are all out. It’ll probably be a 3-5-2 with Stefano Okaka and Ilija Nestorovski up top, although Fernando Llorente could push one of those two out. As ever, though, this team goes as far as Rodrigo de Paul’s creativity can take them; the Argentine playmaker’s 5 goals and 3 assists comprise nearly a third of the club’s 25 goals.
With the massive options of Okaka, Nestorovski, and Llorente through the middle, expect the hosts to focus on hammering balls into the box. They aren’t exclusively a long-ball side, though; instead, they count on de Paul to carry them forward and either slip in a striker or a wide player to cross. With Pereyra, Deulofeu, and Pussetto out, though, the captain is the only player with any real fantasia, so Gotti could regress to a more route one approach here as well.
Even with Udinese on points with 25 but behind by 2 on goal difference, this is a great chance for the Viola to pump themselves up the standings, especially with some really tricky fixtures looming. If everything breaks right, a win could see them rise to 11th. If nothing else, passing up the Zebrette, who are the definition of a lower-to-mid-table side, would provide a shot of confidence to a squad badly in need of it.
Manager Cesare Prandelli will reportedly get CF Franck Ribery (ankle) back and should throw him straight into the XI, especially since CF Christian Kouamé (calf) picked up a niggle in training and has been ruled out along with Giacomo Bonaventura (calf). We’ve also heard rumors that Kévin Malcuit could start at wingback. Jack’s absence means it’s a tossup between Erick Pulgar’s solidity and Borja Valero’s passing. Given Udinese’s skill and quickness in the middle, the former might be a safer bet. We could also see Igor return to the XI in place of Lucas Martínez Quarta, as his size could help negate the enormous Zebrette strikers.
You know what to expect from an Udinese defense, and this year’s is nothing different. They defend very deep, inviting pressure and tempting opponents into committing numbers forward. They’re good at avoiding fouls and tough to beat from set pieces, so hoping for Nikola Milenković or Germán Pezzella to bail the attack out with a goal isn’t super likely. They have looked a bit vulnerable in the wide areas, though, so the Ribery-Castrovilli-Cristiano Biraghi triangle is probably where the Viola will live and die, although perhaps this is why Malcuit’s in the running to start as well.
How to watch
TV: Very much nope, but feel free to check the full international television listings.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina have had Udinese’s number over the past few years, last losing to them in 2015. While Gotti has the Bianconeri playing well and they have been very unlucky for much of the year, their current raft of absences will make it much more difficult for them, as de Paul is the only player capable of producing anything approaching magic.
The Viola, on the other hand, have Castrovilli in a rich vein of form along with an on-fire Dušan Vlahović and a returning Ribery. That troika feels like it’ll be just too much for the hosts to overcome, so let’s mark it a 0-2 win behind a first half Vlahović strike and a late Castrovilli goal to seal it, although the good guys probably won’t ever fully have control of this one as Bartłomiej Drągowski is forced to make at least one truly absurd save.