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Reassessing Fiorentina’s relegation prospects (again)

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With 10 matches left and a decade’s worth of chaos this year, Viola supporters are experiencing ever sweatier palms.

Pescara v Foggia - SerieB Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A few days ago, Fiorentina looked likely to cruise to a comfortable mid-table finish. The attack was starting to come alive and the team seemed to be finding its best self under Cesare Prandelli. Flash forward to now and everything’s exploded. Prandelli resigned his post under a cloud of mystery and Giuseppe Iachini, sacked in November, returned to the helm. With 10 games left in this awful season, let’s figure out if Fiorentina are really in danger of going down.

The math

I’m going to start with the assumption that Crotone are doomed here. Sitting in last place with just 15 points and a -38 goal difference, they’re not going to climb out of the hole they’ve put themselves in. Therefore, I’m going to look at the next two teams on the relegation trapdoor—Cagliari and Parma—and the 5 teams with 10 points of the drop zone—Torino, Benevento, Spezia, Fiorentina, and Genoa.

Torino have one more match to play than anyone else.

There are 30 possible points to be won. To mathematically ensure survival, the Viola need 23 more. Because this is the real world, though, they’ll need way less than that. If you prefer, 40 points is the magic number, but that’s more myth than anything. That means that Fiorentina need another 11 points, or an average of 1.1 over the remaining fixtures. Four wins would get them over that line, but drawing every remaining fixture would put them right on the cusp as well. For a team that’s averaged just over a point per game thus far, 40 points feels like a reasonable number.

For the past 20 years in Serie A, though, the average 17th-place team has finished with 35.2 points, although Bologna did get relegated with 42 in 2005. That means that Fiorentina would only need another 6 points to feel pretty good about continuing in the top flight next year. That’s reasonably attainable without even notching another victory, although that would be plenty embarrassing in and of itself. However, with so many teams on pretty low point totals here, it feels like 17th is probably going to wind up being under 34 rather than over it, especially since some of these teams are just plain bad.

The schedules

*midweek fixture

Benevento have, on paper, the easiest remaining schedule, with only 3 fixtures against sides chasing Europe and the remainder against mid- to lower-table sides. Having Cagliari sandwiched between trips to AC Milan and Atalanta, though, means that’ll be a particularly tricky couple of weeks. Everyone else has roughly equivalent difficulty of schedule from here, although let’s remember that any ratings like this can go out the window within two weeks or so.

It’s tough to project Fiorentina getting anything against Atalanta, Juventus, Lazio, or Napoli, although they’ve shown a surprising propensity to at least trouble the big sides at times this year and can maybe hope for a point or two from that quartet. Genoa, Sassuolo, Cagliari, and Crotone should all be beatable; Hellas Verona and Bologna could go either way. Taking into account how disappointing the Viola have been all year, two wins and three draws feels about right there. Scraping a result or two against the big sides, that would put Fiorentina right on 40 points, which would, barring something absolutely bizarre, be more than enough for safety.

The tiebreakers

Just in case anyone’s worried, though, there are tiebreakers to consider as well. For Serie A, the tiebreakers are:

  1. Head-to-head record
  2. Goal difference in head-to-head matches
  3. Overall goal difference
  4. Most goals scored
  5. Coin flip

Of the 6 other teams we’re looking at here, Fiorentina already own tiebreakers over Spezia, Benevento, and Torino. With 9 more goals than Parma, they should hold the advantage over the Ducali as well. A win against Genoa (tied 1-1 earlier in the year) would assure the tiebreaker there as well, but Fiorentina have scored 6 more than the Grifoni and should be safe even with a draw; a loss, though, would shake up both teams’ goal difference. The Viola also beat Cagliari in the reverse fixture, so a draw will assure the tiebreaker stays with the good guys as well. A loss, so long as it’s by no more than a single goal, wouldn’t be too problematic either, as the Sardinians are 7 behind in goal difference.

Other factors

It wouldn’t be a VN article without a whole bunch of qualifiers, would it? First and foremost, of course, is how Fiorentina will change with Iachini back at the wheel. If he can continue his point-per-game production, he’ll probably see his charges finish safely. It’s worth pointing out, too, that none of Fiorentina’s remaining opponents have seen BeppeBall this year, so they might have a bit of trouble planning how to stop the Viola, although that’s probably optimistic considering how well known Iachini’s methods are.

The next issue is the infamous Dumutru Effect, which states that, as the season approaches its conclusion, teams towards the bottom of the table become more dangerous as they desperately try to avoid relegation, while teams in the mid-table can slack off a bit without the threat of the drop or the motivation of Europe. That can, at times, lead to some weird results (Benevento beating Juventus qualifies). With Fiorentina still not clear, that could play into their hands until they’re entirely safe.

There’s also the regular attritional chaos of Serie A during coronavirus. As we’ve seen, the Viola have very little depth; if Dušan Vlahović misses a month, for example, Fiorentina's odds of scoring any goals take a significant hit. The lack of bodies in the attack and midfield are of particular concern.

And, of course, Serie A is wildly unpredictable even without the coronavirus wreaking havoc. With Juventus set to lose the title for the first time in a decade, there’s a sense of newness around the league, with various teams vying to reestablish the pecking order. Between incompetent refereeing, a maddeningly opaque executive process, and Italy’s penchant for the unexpected, you can’t be too certain about anything on any given match day.

Conclusions

Looking at all this, it’s pretty hard to imagine Fiorentina going down. That’s not an endorsement of the Viola, mind you, so much as indictment of the teams they’re laboring against. Cagliari won two in a row after sacking Eusebio di Francesco, but that dead coach bounce seems to be well and truly over; they may make up enough ground to pip Torino, but it’s tough to see them pulling out 2 more wins and threatening Fiorentina as well. Parma are in even worse shape and are almost certain to to spend next season in Serie B.

Dodging relegation is good news, obviously, but hardly something to celebrate for a team with the 7th-highest wage bill in the league. For the second year running, Fiorentina are in the lower mid-table and have Iachini at the helm. While that’s enough to keep them afloat for now, it’s surely not what Rocco Commisso wants from the hundreds of millions of euros he’s already sunk into this club. This escape from Serie B shouldn’t be a sign of stability; it should be a call to arms. Again.