Fiorentina return to action for the final midweek fixture of the year with the tantalizing prize of securing mathematical survival for next year with a win (or Benevento losing or drawing). Their opponent, however, is Cagliari, who are also desperate to stack up points. In 83 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W35 D23 L25 edge over the Isolani, including a W4 D2 L4 mark over their past 10 Serie A meetings. The reverse fixture ended with the Viola winning 0-1, so a win or draw will hand the good guys the tiebreaker in this one.
The referee for this one is 39 year old Maurizio Mariani of Aprilia, who’s highly-regarded enough to work continental competitions. In 16 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 60 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 7 penalties; he did get embroiled in a bit of a kerfuffle the Juventus brass after the Napoli game but has mostly been pretty steady this year. In 9 matches under his eye, the Viola are W5 D1 L3; last we saw him was the 3-0 loss at Atalanta, in which he was perfectly cromulent.
The match will be played on Wednesday, 12 May 2021, at 5:30 PM GMT/12:30 PM EST, at the Sardegna Arena in Cagliari. Despite the current rainy conditions, the forecast claims that it’s going to be a gloriously sunny day with nary a cloud in the warm sky. The only caveat is that there’s likely to be quite a bit of wind, which could push the ball around in the air a bit.
A string of 6 straight without a defeat (including a win over AS Roma and a draw at Napoli) have the Rossoblù feeling good about their chances. They’re now in 16th with 35 points, 4 ahead of Benevento. While it wouldn’t be shocking to see a biscotto here between two teams who just need to coast the rest of the way, a win here would pretty well assure their survival in the top flight, which could see them put in a lot more effort than you might expect.
Manager Leonardo Semplici will have to cope without RW Riccardo Sottil (thigh) and CM Gastón Pereiro (coronavirus), while LB Charalampos Lykogiannis (knee) may miss out as well. This being a Semplici side, you know exactly what to expect: a nuggety 3-5-2 packed full of grinta and well-drilled on the counter; he and Beppe Iachini are spiritual siblings in that regard. The star man is João Pedro (16 goals, 3 assists), but Viola fans will keep an eye on loanee Alfred Duncan and former star Giovanni Simeone, who loves scoring against his old employer.
We’ll be able to see a lot about how Semplici’s planned this one out by whether he starts Simeone or Leonardo Pavoletti. The latter’s been excellent of late; he’s a big, rugged 9 who’s excellent in the air and is very good at knocking the ball down for Joao Pedro and a group of midfielders who are good at shooting from distance. They’ll also look to hit on the break when possible, will occasionally press high up as well, and are decent from set pieces due to the size in the XI, but Pavoletti’s knockdowns and João Pedro’s knack for finding space are definitely the primary avenues of attack.
Having snatched 8 points from their past 5 games, Fiorentina are all but safe for this season, sitting in 13th place with 38 points. In fact, if everything breaks just right this week, they could wind up in the top half of the table for the second year running after a strong conclusion to an otherwise hopeless season. There may be some pressure on the brass to run out a few end-of-the-bench guys over these next few weeks, though, to evaluate whether they’re worth keeping around next year, so don’t be shocked at a lineup surprise or two.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini has his whole squad minus Borja Valero (old) to work with. While he might rotate following a grueling duel with Lazio on Saturday and another against Napoli looming on Sunday, let’s be real here: Beppe prioritizes continuity over almost everything and is thus going to roll with the same XI as last time. We might see Sofyan Amrabat or Igor replace Gaetano Castrovilli or Cristiano Biraghi, respectively, but that’ll be the extent of the changes. Do keep an eye on whether Martín Cáceres and Nikola Milenković swap sides in defense as they did against the Aquile, though.
Despite their recent run, we’ve seen some uncharacteristic mixups at the back from Cagliari. They’ve also struggled to defend big strikers who can hold the ball up and play in runners, so cue Dušan Vlahović’s music. Giacomo Bonaventura’s the only midfielder who tends to support the forwards, so he could be critical in this one. The only other weakness the Isolani have shown at the back is a willingness to concede shots from distance, but since Fiorentina are quite bad at those, Vlahović will likely remain the sole focal point of the attack.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
With two teams that need to avoid defeat more than they need to win, this could be quite a biscotto, with side really pushing anyone forward or doing much besides idly hoofing it back and forth. On the other hand, it could also be a surprisingly up-and-down contest between two sides that favor a direct approach, resulting in an oddly high-scoring affair. The former is certainly the likelier scenario, but don’t be shocked if the latter occurs.
With two teams playing almost identical formations and styles, every player basically matches up directly with an opponent. That means the onus is generally on individuals to win with decisive moments, rather than on carefully-schemed plans. Since Fiorentina have Vlahović, who’s the most decisive player in the game, you have to like their chances to come out of this with something. I’ll call it 1-2 to the visitors, then, with Dušan and Bonaventura on the board for the good guys and João Pedro for the bad guys, in a game that’s played with more enthusiasm than technique.