A reeling Fiorentina have a chance to put some space between themselves and the drop zone with a Saturday clash against fellow strugglers Benevento. This will be just the 4th match ever between these two, with the Viola having won home and away in 2017-2018 but losing the reverse fixture by a frustrating predictable 0-1 earlier this year to welcome a new manager after Giuseppe Iachini’s sacking.
The referee for this one is 43-year-old Piero Giacomelli of Trieste. In 11 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 48 yellow cards and 8 (!) penalties, which is a lot even for one of the spot kick-happiest refs in Italy. Under his eye, Fiorentina W7 D6 L7. The last we saw of him was the 1-0 win over Cagliari, featuring VAR correctly overturning a penalty, which is always good.
The match will be played on Saturday, 13 March 2021, at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Municipale Ciro Vigorito in Benevento. The forecast calls for a surprisingly warm spring day, with some clouds and a chance of drizzle, particularly for the second half. Keep an eye on the breeze, as well, as there could be some pretty powerful gusts to keep everyone on their toes.
In just their second-ever Serie A season, Benevento look like a decent bet to survive, although they’re certainly making it exciting. Sitting 16th in the standings with 26 points and a -22 goal difference, the Stregoni have drawn 4 of their past 6 matches and haven’t tasted victory since 6 January against Cagliari, which feels like more their level after they spent some earlier portions of the season in the top half of the table. Still, they’ve improved their record-setting defense from last time they were here in 2017-2018 (most goals per match allowed in Serie A history) and the Dumutru Effect will be starting to kick in, so watch out.
Manager Filippo Inzaghi (that’s still weird to say) will have to work without RB Fabio Depaoli (ankle), RB Gaetano Letizia (thigh), CF Iago Falque (thigh), and CM Bryan Dabo (suspension), which rules out the goal del’ex. Inzaghi’s tough to figure in terms of a formation, as he switches between a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2, but the former seems to be the likelier starting setup. However they set up, Benevento are likely to sit deep and play route one; they average the least possession and the least amount of time in the attacking third.
Inzaghi’s focus is on breaking through space with nippy players like Gianluca Caprari, Roberto Insigne, and Riccardo Improta. January loan signing Adolfo Gaich is a bruiser who’ll win long balls, hold up play, and get on crosses but won’t offer much else. Fiorentina should try to cut off Pasquale Schiatarella and Kamil Glik, who are both willing and able to hit bombs upfield to start breaks, as that will largely starve the forwards of the ball since the midfield offers very little by way of creativity or progression. Whether Prandelli wants to take such a proactive response, though, or stand off and force the hosts to play through a low block—which they are very bad at—will be the main feature of the Viola defensive plan.
Is it bad? Reader, it is bad. Fiorentina are even on points with Benevento on 26 but, due to the loss earlier this year, need a win here to avoid losing the tiebreaker; it’s embarrassing that to consider such factors, but when a team is averaging less than a point per match, that’s what happens. The Viola still have a 6 point lead over woeful Torino and the final relegation spot, so the drop remains reasonably unlikely, but weird stuff can happen over the final dozen matchdays and games against fellow stragglers start to take on a lot of meaning now.
Manager Cesare Prandelli will have to cope without CB Igor (ankle), CM Gaetano Castrovilli (thigh), and CF Aleksandr Kokorin (thigh), but will have Giacomo Bonaventura back in the XI to join Sofyan Amrabat and, most likely, Erick Pulgar. Lorenzo Venuti (who spent two years on loan with Benevento) should replace the disastrous Kévin Malcuit, but that’s probably the only other change. At least Christian Kouamé is fit enough for the bench in case Prandelli wants to make a change in the final 20 seconds.
Benevento defend very deep and don’t really apply pressure until opponents are within 35 yards or so, instead choosing to maintain their shape and compactness. They do have trouble defending against good dribblers, so Franck Ribery may be even more inclined to put his foot on the ball. They actually don’t foul much but do have a penchant for red cards (5 this season) and own goals (3), so it Prandelli’s gameplan could well devolve into having Ribery or Bonaventura try to do something magical between the lines while Dušan Vlahović battles against a bunch of rugged defenders and hopes to cause chaos. You know, the same thing we’ve seen for months.
How to watch
TV: Not even a little bit, but you can check the full international television listings if you want.
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
First and foremost, this probably won’t be fun to watch. These are two teams that play pretty unattractive soccer. Expect a lot of crosses from Cristiano Biraghi and a lot of hopeful punts upfield to go with a lot of fouls and a fair number of bookings. The oddsmakers have the hosts as slight favorites here, which seems fair considering that the teams are even in the table and the visitors are missing Castrovilli.
That said, Fiorentina feel like they could have a shot here, especially with a ref like Giacomelli looking to impose himself on the action. Ribery was sharp against AS Roma and will be rested after his suspension, and he’s the type of player Benevento struggle to contain, while there aren’t any threats for the host that Fiorentina should struggle with more than usual. A single goal feels like enough to win it, so I’ll go with a 0-1 to the Viola, with Vlahović converting a penalty won by Ribery as the only real highlight of an otherwise unwatchable game.