Having ensured Serie A football for next year with a biscotto at Cagliari, Fiorentina partake in their final home game and last meaningful game of the season by hosting Napoli. In 164 official meetings (dating back to 1928’s Divisione Nazionale), the Viola hold a W57 D49 L58 record, although that drops to a less impressive W2 D4 L4 over their past 10 Serie A meetings, including an astounding 7-0 pasting in the reverse fixture.
The match will be played on Sunday, 16 May 2021, at 11:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a cold spring morning with rain for several days ahead of kickoff and continuing throughout; a wet pitch could impede the visitors’ slick passing game a bit and favor the hosts’ desire to park the bus, but it probably won’t make too much difference either way.
It’s over. It’s done. With 2 games left, Fiorentina can officially begin planning for Serie A in 2021-2022. Indeed, with the finale at already-relegated Crotone, you could argue that this is the only meaningful one, as the Viola could have some say over who winds up in the Champions League. While the team’s been in a decent run of form recently, there’s also the specter of that performance against Cagliari; if the players and staff are already checked out, we could see a repeat of the dismantling in Naples.
Manager Giuseppe Iachini will be without GK Bartłomiej Drągowski (thigh) and CM Borja Valero (old). Expect Gaetano Castrovilli and Lorenzo Venuti to return the XI, while Lucas Martínez Quarta and Franck Ribery could feature as well. What matters much more than the starting lineup, though is the mentality: if the players are as checked out as they were against the Isolani, this could wind up being a repeat of the reverse fixture. If Iachini can convince them to focus and go for it, it could be a very different story.
A lot will depend on whether Ribery starts here. Napoli play a high line with attacking fullbacks but have quick enough centerbacks to cover space in behind; those guys are also sturdy enough to give Dušan Vlahović some trouble holding up the ball, so getting support up to the superstar striker is, as always, of supreme importance. The Partenopei have the 3rd-best goals against record in Serie A, so you can’t really see this dysfunctional Viola attack lighting up the scoreboard. It’ll have to be smash-and-grab, and it’ll likely have to be from open play: Napoli have conceded just 4 goals (best in the division) from set pieces this year.
Despite some wobbles earlier in the year, the Neapolitans could well end up in the Champions League following an impressive second half of the season. They’ve gone 7 straight without defeat, scoring 20 in that span and conceding 6. They’re also just a point ahead of Juventus for the final Champions League spot and 2 behind Atalanta and AC Milan, so they have everything to play for. In fact, there’ll likely be plenty of chatter ahead of this one implying that Fiorentina intend to roll over here in an effort to keep the hated Juvenuts out of the premier continental competition even if they squeak in despite their Super League machinations.
Manager Gennaro Gattuso (hmm, narrative subtext) will have to cope without CB Nikola Maksimović (coronavirus) and CM Stanislav Lobotka (knee), while CB Kalidou Koulibaly (thigh) and AM Dries Mertens (ankle) may not be fully fit either. None of those should change Gattuso’s plans too much: he’ll send out his usual 4-2-3-1 predicated on the quick, vertical passing that’s been Napoli’s hallmark since the Maurizio Sarri days, counting on his excellent depth to cover any shortcomings.
Napoli are a genuinely fun team. They take more shots than anyone in Serie A and have a lot of guys who can hit them from distance. Victor Osimhen’s pace in behind is particularly useful with a group of midfielders who can control the pace and force opposing defenses to move around until space opens up between the lines. That’s really where the Partenopei do most of their damage: right in front of the defense on the edge of the box. If Fiorentina want any chance in this one, Erick Pulgar and Sofyan Amrabat will have to dominate that area while making sure Napoli’s wingers don’t find too much space to jink inside and shoot. It’s a very tough ask.
How to watch
TV: ESPN2 and BeIn 2 look like decent bets. Check the full international television listings.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
After the result in Naples, it’s no great surprise that the betting houses have the visitors as massive favorites. Napoli have better players in nearly every position, a cohesive tactical plan, and a need to win to ensure Champions League participation next year. Fiorentina, meanwhile, have nothing to play for besides their own pride; not to bang on about this too much, but their “effort” against Cagliari made it clear that there isn’t much of that. Maybe the prospect of the final home game of the year will be enough to elicit some fire.
Because TMBGD is a space for relentless positivity, let’s call it a 1-1 draw, with Vlahović and Lorenzo Insigne (who always seems to score against Fiorentina) on the board. Napoli will probably see something like 80% possession, most of it in the Viola half, and will probably squeeze off 18+ shots. The Viola have to hope that Pietro Terracciano has one of his patented “wait, who the heck IS this guy?” games in goal and pray for a sniff on the other end. Let’s pretend that’s exactly what’ll happen. Please.