Fiorentina scrape themselves back off the floor following a crotch punch loss against Atalanta and head north to the province of Modena for a date with Sassuolo. In their 15 previous competitive meetings (the first was in 2013 in case you needed a reminder of how new to Serie A the Neroverdi are), the Viola hold a W6 D5 L4 record. The reverse fixture ended 1-1, although it did mark the rebirth of a certain Serbian striker, as he scored just his second goal of the season and began resembling the player he’s become.
The referee for this one is a relative newcomer: 41-year-old Gianluca Aureliano of Bologna. In 4 Serie matches this year, he’s handed out 22 yellow cards and 2 penalties. This will be just his 15th appearance in the top flight and first with the Viola, so we don’t really know much about him at this point. Don’t worry, though, ref-haters: Luca Pairetto is running VAR, so expect at least one absurdity when Aureliano goes to the earpiece.
The match will be played on Saturday, 17 April 2021, at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Mapei in Sassuolo. The forecast calls for an absolutely marvelous spring day, the sort that you don’t get nearly often enough in a region noted for its constant grey fog. Expect lots of sun, a light breeze, and maybe even some butterflies and singing chipmunks.
After bursting out the gates and even popping up in the Champions League places after the new year, Sassuolo’s fallen off a bit. They currently sit in 8th place on 43 points, 11 behind AS Roma and pretty well outside the European places. They’ve harvested 7 points from their past 5 matches, but the past 3 months have seen them lose to SPAL (in the Coppa Italia), Spezia, and Torino while failing to beat Parma and Cagliari; if they can’t turn it around for these last few matches, they could halt all the momentum they built up over the first half of the year.
Manager Roberto de Zerbi has a host of absences, too. CB Kaan Ayhan (coronavirus), CB Filippo Romagna (knee), DM Manuel Locatelli (thigh), and CF Francesco Caputo (back) are all out, although attackers Domenico Berardi and Grégoire Defrel should be ready to go. It’ll be the usual 4-2-3-1 for de Zerbi’s men, likely with almost former Viola midfielder Hamed Junior Traoré as the 10. The real question is who plays up top: Giacomo Raspadori is a very good young player, but Filip Đuričić has impressed this year when pressed into action as a false 9.
Regardless, you know how this team will play. They build from the back and try to entice opponents to close down and leave spaces that they can then exploit. That’s tough to do against a Iachini-coached side, of course, but expect the hosts to dominate possession and to spend a lot of time probing Fiorentina’s deep defense, with Maxime López tasked with keeping the temp high and switching play to get Berardi and Jeremie Boga in 1-v-1s against isolated defenders. With a number of players who can shoot from distance (2nd-most shots from outside the box in the league) and no real aerial threat, this could be a good game to push the defense forward by about 10 yards to close down a bit higher up, but that’s probably unlikely.
15th place with 30 points and a -11 goal difference is just about the definition of midtable mediocrity, and Fiorentina have certainly exemplified that so far, both in their results and their style. They’ve continued their point-per-match pace over the past one, although they’ve drawn and lost since Cesare Prandelli stepped down as manager. With 8 games to go and an eight-point lead over Cagliari and the final relegation spot, it’ll require a truly special collapse for this outfit to drop into Serie B, but despite the near-certainty of top flight soccer next year, the arrow remains firmly pointed down.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini should have is full squad (except for Alexandr Kokorin, of course) to choose from, as Igor is mostly recovered from injury while Franck Ribery and Erick Pulgar have returned from suspension. Beppe’s plan is even more obvious than de Zerbi’s, so brace yourself for the usual 5-3-2. The only real questions are at right wingback—Lorenzo Venuti or Martín Cáceres—and central midfield, where Giacomo Bonaventura and Valentin Eysseric are jockeying for places with Pulgar.
Since Sassuolo play a very high line, this is probably a decent game to sit deep and look to counter, not that Iachini would’ve done anything else. Expect to see a lot of Dušan Vlahović battling away with little support, as per usual; the real question is whether Gaetano Castrovilli and Franck Ribery will be able to push high enough to support him and offer an occasional threat in the box. Other than that, it’s really just a matter of whether the players will “gioca, gioca, gioca.”
How to watch
TV: For the second week in a row, Fiorentina will be broadcast in the US; that has to be the first time in at least half a decade. This time it’s ESPN2. Elsewhere, RAI looks like your best bet. Check the full international television listings here.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
A couple of months ago, this would’ve seemed like a walkover for Sassuolo. However, the absences of Ciccio Caputo and Locatelli are significant, as is the team’s recent form. Fiorentina have also shown a knack for looking good against opponents playing a high line and have a full squad. All in all, this seems to shape up in Fiorentina’s favor, although the betting houses are holding the hosts as slight favorites.
We’ll pick against the grain here and call it as a 1-2 win for the Viola, with goals from Vlahović and Castrovilli enough to overcome a Boga strike. Despite that scoreline, expect the real star of the show to be Bartłomiej Drągowski, who’ll have likely have a busy day as the visitors look to soak up pressure and play entirely on the counterattack.