The international break is over and Fiorentina stagger back into action with a trip north to take on Genoa. In 111 previous competitive meetings (dating back to 1928’s Divisione Nazionale), the Viola hold a W47 D29 L25 record, although that falls to a lamentable W1 D7 L2 over their past 10 league meetings. That includes an unbelievably bad 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture, which required a stoppage goal from a defender to rescue a point. Joy.
The referee for this one is 39-year-old Fabio Maresca of Naples. In 10 Serie A matches this year, he’s issued 61 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 1 penalty; he’s usually a lot more involved in proceedings, so it’s a little bit strange to see him so passive. That said, he’s already been disciplined by the league office 3 times this year for messing up games—ignoring VAR for penalties and red cards seems to be his favorite—so brace yourself for something really stupid. In 5 outings under his watch, Fiorentina is W1 D2 L2. Last we saw him was the 2-1 defeat at Sampdoria earlier this year.
The match will be played on Saturday, 3 March 2021, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. The forecast looks lovely: a reasonably warm spring day with some clouds to block the sun. Basically, it’s everything you could want from April in Liguria. Shame no fans will be there to enjoy it.
13th place with 31 points and a -10 goal difference feels about like the ceiling for the Grifoni this year, so you have to call it a successful campaign. They’ve ground out 5 points from their past 5 outings but looked quite competent, largely on the back of the league’s 8th-best defense. They need that, because their 30 goals are the 3rd worst in the division. Still, they deserve to be where they are: safely in mid-table rather mired in yet another relegation slog.
Manager Davide Ballardini has done a fine job this year, using a deep 3-5-2 to frustrate opponents and hit on the break (sound familiar?). He’s also got a host of ex-Viola players to pick from—Valon Behrami, Milan Badelj, Marko Pjaca, Giuseppe Caso—so the possibility of a rate dell’ex is quite good. The real threat, though, is Mattia Destro, whose outstanding form (9 goals this year) have earned him a few mentions as a dark horse candidate for an Italy return. Towering but technical Gianluca Scamacca, crafty senior citizen Goran Pandev, and shifty grifter Eldor Shomurodov have all looked sharp as well.
This is a pretty dang basic side. They sit deep and compact, crowd the middle, deny space behind or between the lines, and look to hammer the ball into the channels for the forwards to link up. The wingbacks and maybe a midfielder will look to get forward at times, but the primary brief is to keep it packed in deep. It’s worked largely because the Grifoni forwards are finishing their chances as well as any group in the league; they’ve all equalled or surpassed their xG on the year. Basically, the home team won’t craft too many chances for themselves, but if Fiorentina makes any mistakes, Genoa will punish them. It’s what they’ve done all year.
Just 2 points behind their hosts, the Viola would leapfrog them with a win here and put themselves in striking distance of the top half of the table. That feels impossible, considering how negative everything’s been for the team this year and that they’ve taken just 4 points from their past 5 games, but it’s true. Despite the results, the attack has been figuring things out, having scored 14 goals (40% of their season total) over those 5 outings.
New/old manager Giuseppe Iachini is back in charge for the second time this year after Cesare Prandelli’s slightly mysterious exit and will get to work without CB Igor (ankle) or CF Aleksandr Kokorin (hip). We all know what to expect from Beppe in terms of tactics (and if you don’t, we’ve got you covered); the real question is if he can get this group of players to dig in and give their all for these last 10 games. How they respond here should give us a pretty good idea. It’ll be interesting to see if he picks Lucas Martínez Quarta’s exuberance or Martín Cáceres’ experience. Similarly, whether Sofyan Amrabat returns to his role at the base of midfield or if Erick Pulgar continues there will likely determine how the rest of the team sets up.
Much like Ballardini, BeppeBall is a 3-5-2 aficionado whose calling card is denying opponents space and maybe hitting on the break. The concern, of course, is that Dušan Vlahović will revert to his haplessness from the start of the year under Iachini from his current, top-echelon-of-Serie-A level over the past several months. The idea is that the ballcap-wearing mister will lock things down and ensure that Fiorentina don’t get relegated, even though that’s not a particularly likely outcome. On the plus side, the players do know Beppe’s approach already, so there shouldn’t really be a bedding in period here.
How to watch
TV: Very no. Check the full international television listings if you think I’m lying.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The funnest thing about this game will probably be all the Zamparini Spiderman memes it generates with Ballardini and Iachini matching up against each other. Since they play the same formation with the same negative approach, expected this to be a low-scoring affair: it feels like the first team to score will likely come away with the points.
With the wingbacks and midfielders all set to mark each other tightly and probably cancel each other out, this one will likely come down to two factors: which team can make the fewest mistakes, and which team has players who can summon something from nothing. In Vlahović, Franck Ribery, and Gaetano Castrovilli, Fiorentina definitely have the edge in that latter category. Playing mistake-free, though, hasn’t been their thing, especially with guys like Cáceres, Cristiano Biraghi, and Martínez Quarta at the back. Still, though, the good guys have an undeniable edge in talent, so let’s call it a mostly unwatchable 0-1 with Dušan netting a winner and nobody enjoying the game itself.