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Napoli vs Fiorentina: Preview

Two reeling squads run into each other in the Coppa Italia round of 16 in a battle of who can flail harder.

Bartlomiej Dragowski player of Fiorentina, during the match...
Welcome back, sweet prince.
Photo by Vincenzo Izzo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Fiorentina have to turn around their pathetic showing against Torino on Monday with a trip to take on 3rd-place Napoli in the Coppa Italia. In 166 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W57 D49 L60 mark, including W2 D3 L5 over their past 10 meetings, including 3 defeats on the bounce. In their league clash this year, Napoli narrowly triumphed after some execrable defending and finishing from a young Viola team.

The referee for this one is 30-year-old Giovanni Ayroldi of Molfetta. In 10 total matches this year, he’s handed out 61 yellow cards, 5 red cards, and 4 penalties; those totals are all a bit higher than his career averages. The only other Fiorentina game he’s ever handled was the snoozefest at Lazio earlier this season.

The match will be played on Thursday, 13 January 2022, at 5:00 PM GMT/12:00 PM EST, at the Stadio San Potato in Naples. It’s going to be a touch chilly but, because we’re talking abut sunny Naples here, there shouldn’t be a cloud in the sky and it’ll at least be warmer than it’s been in Tuscany for a few months.

Napoli

After a red-hot start that saw them win their first 8 games and go 12 unbeaten, Napoli are beginning to fray a bit around the edges. They’ve dropped from 1st to 3rd after home losses to Empoli and Spezia, scoring just 3 goals over their past 5 outings, and could be starting to hit the wall. They also just lost the talismanic Lorenzo Insigne to Toronto of MLS (!). On the other hand, they have an extra day of rest after playing on Sunday rather than Monday, so they’ll likely be ready to go.

Manager Luciano Spalletti has a selection crisis: Alex Meret, Kalidou Koulibaly, Kevin Malcuit, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Piotr Zieliński, Irving Lozano, Adam Ounas, and Victor Osimhen are all out. Those issues in attack are the real problem; with Insigne gone, that’s 13 goals and 9 assists gone. Spalletti could turn to Dries Mertens up front but will likely field Andrea “Chonky Cat” Petagna as the 9, with Mertens, Eljif Elmas, and Matteo Politano behind him.

Without Osimhen, Napoli don’t present the same threat of pace in behind, so Fiorentina’s high line should work much better; the only nippy players the Partenopei field up front are Politano and Mertens. What they do really well is shoot from distance, which forces defenses to close them down higher up, and then slipping in a runner. They could also look to use Petagna’s size to knock down high balls for the fellow attackers to charge onto, but the plan will likely be their usual intricate pass-and-move game in the final third.

Fiorentina

Despite the positive momentum of shooting up to 7th place and competing for Europe, the past 3 outings have been pretty disappointing for Fiorentina, featuring 2 draws to teams lower in the table and then that loss to Torino. There are whispers that the team’s style of play has been found out, although that’s probably blown a bit out of proportion. Still, this is a club that could really use a big win to rekindle that positive mentality.

Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have Lucas Martínez Quarta, Sofyan Amrabat, or Marco Benassi, but will welcome the return of Bartłomiej Drągowski between the sticks, while new signing Krzszystof Piątek makes his first matchday squad. Expect some rotation through the side, with Igor, Lorenzo Venuti, Alfred Duncan, Riccardo Saponara, and Jonathan Ikone all likely to get some minutes.

While Napoli’s defense is really good—they’ve conceded fewer goals than anyone in the league—the absence of Koulibaly makes them considerably less fearsome. There are probably two good ways to attack them: getting the wingers in behind the fullbacks, who aren’t afraid to push very high, and swarming the midfield and breaking quickly at the exposed defense. This latter approach could work but could also leave the visitors open if, say, Fabián Ruiz can slither past a marker, so seeing Italiano try to balance how many midfielders to throw forward, and how high he leaves his wingers, should be instructive.

Possible lineups

Tuanzebe or Juan Jesus; Venuti or Odriozola, Ikone or González
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How to watch

TV: Check the full international television listings, but the Coppa doesn’t tend to get a lot of coverage outside of Italy.

Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.

Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department

While the Viola look mightily fragile right now, the oddsmakers seem to be tilting a little too far towards the Partenopei in my thinking; after all, this team is missing about half of its usual starters and has looked pretty toothless for the past month or so. The over/under line is hovering just under 2, which does feel about right.

I’m going to go against the chalk and pick Fiorentina to win here. This group is much more talented than its shown over the past month and gave Napoli fits earlier this year, when only a couple of defensive miscues and some awful finishing saw them lose. Let’s call it a gritty and disjointed 0-1 with a lot of fouls, a lot of cards, and a lot of missed passes, but a Vlahović goal to win it.

I’ll also note that, with reports of further positive coronavirus tests in both teams today, we could see a postponement if there’s a further outbreak. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope that doesn’t happen and everyone stays healthy and safe.

Forza Viola!