As hard as it is to believe, the Serie A season is upon us again. Fiorentina will open it up with a trip to the capital to take on AS Roma. In 189 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W57 D66 L66 record, including a W3 D2 L5 over their past 10 league meetings. They’ve dropped the last 4 straight against the Giallorossi. This fixture finished 2-0 to the bad guys last year and would’ve been worse had Bartłomiej Drągowski not performed his usual heroics.
The referee for this one is 37-year-old Luca Pairetto of Turin. In 83 career Serie A games, he’s issued 402 yellow cards, 30 red cards, and 37 penalties. The Viola are undefeated under his watch, having won 2 and drawn 2. Last we saw him was the 1-1 against Parma a couple of years ago.
The match will be played on Sunday, 22 August 2021, at 6:45 GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The forecast calls for a whole lot of sun, which means (as those of you who’ve hung out in the Italian summer well know) it’s going to be really hot out there; combined with the first league game of the year, that could lead to a rather disjointed affair.
The Lupi have strengthened last year’s 7th-place squad significantly, although depth remains a mild concern. Gone are Edin Džeko, Pau López, Pedro, Cengiz Ünder, Justin Kluivert, Juan Jesus, and Bruno Peres, but the arrivals of Tammy Abraham, Rui Patrício, Matías Viña, and Eldor Shomorudov should offset those losses. The big news (because he wouldn’t have it any other way) is the arrival of Jose Mourinho, who’ll bring his typical bombast to the Olimpico.
While he did briefly try a back five against Trabzonspor in the Conference League this week, Mourinho’s generally defaulted to a 4-2-3-1 of some sort. Abraham should get the start up front, with Lorenzo Pellegrini, Niccolò Zaniolo, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan involved as well, although Eldor Shomorudov could sneak into a wide forward position as well. Farther back, the team will be exactly what you expect.
As always, the focus with Mourinho is primarily defending deep, frustrating opposing attacks, and hitting on the counter. He has evolved a bit and now occasionally pushes higher up, but the new additions in the attack mean this team looks a bit disjointed going forward. They’ve mostly focused on quick breaks and set pieces thus far, which suits Zaniolo and Abraham particularly to a tee, but playing at home in his first game could lead the mister to order his charges to be a bit more proactive, especially with the midfielders having built up a good understanding over the past few years.
While the win over Cosenza was very fun, the Lupi are a far cry from being a top flight team, so this will prove the first real test for new manager Vincenzo Italiano. Unlike his Giallorosso counterpart, the former Spezia boss only has one big new signing to integrate in Nicolás González, although the raft of talent returning from loan could well wind up being the “big signing” of the year; in fairness, keeping Nikola Milenković (done) and Dušan Vlahović (still possible) would make for a decent window. The real question is whether Igor or Lucas Martínez Quarta will take over for recently-departed captain Germán Pezzella in the heart of defense.
Italiano’s 4-3-3 has been very different from what we’ve seen in Florence over the past couple of years. He wants his players to move the ball around very quickly, prioritizes the fullbacks and midfielders getting forward, and requires furious pressing from the front when the ball is lost; tactically, it’s the opposite of what we’ve seen under Giuseppe Iachini, although nobody’s complaining too much about that. The real concern here is that such an idealistic approach could run afoul of Mourinho’s approach, which is either pragmatic or cynical, depending on your vantage point.
The focus will be isolating Vlahović against a single defender and letting him cook, which isn’t a bad strategy. González should feature prominently moving infield from the left wing and providing a second option for crosses, with two of Jack Bonaventura, Gaetano Castrovilli, and Youssef Maleh breaking forward from midfield while Erick Pulgar mans the holding role. The defense will likely push a bit higher up to negate Abraham’s threat from crosses and crunch the space that Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini thrive in, although that could leave them open to Zaniolo’s runs in behind as well.
How to watch
TV: Maybe try BeIn or BT Sport depending on where you are, but you’re probably going to have to stream this one. Here are the full international listings.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams. For those of you in the US, don’t forget that ESPN+ no longer carries Serie A; it’s now at Paramount+, so remember to switch your subscriptions as necessary.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This looks like a fascinating tactical matchup. Both managers will, for different reasons, want to sit deep and try to catch the opposition in possession, which could lead to a slightly stilted game, especially with the temperature expected to hover around 32 C/90 F. Expect Fiorentina to come out swinging before sitting a bit deeper, and then increase pressure in the second half, while Roma remain patient and constantly look for chances to break.
Score-wise, this feels like a 1-1 to me, despite the hosts being pretty considerable favorites amongst the betting houses. I’m not totally convinced by Roma in the early going, especially as they transition from Paulo Fonseca’s positive system to Mourinho’s negative one, and especially since Abraham has been with the team for less than a week. Let’s call it with an early Vlahović goal cancelled out by (of course) a Zaniolo strike, with a superhuman display from Bart keeping it level at full time. Please?