Fresh off a richly deserved point at Lecce, Fiorentina return to the friendly confines of Florence for a clash with (oh no) Inter Milan. In 183 previous meetings, the Viola hold a record of W49 D58 L76 against the Nerazzurri, including 10 straight without a win and a 1-3 defeat in this fixture last year that’s more memorable for a round of applause.
The referee for this one is 44-year-old Paolo Valeri of Rome. In 3 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 14 yellow cards but nary a red or a penalty, which is very unlike him: he’s averaged a sending off and a PK about every 3 games in his career, so he’s due. He’s also consistently one of the most controversial officials in Italy, so don’t be shocked if he does something wacky. Fiorentina are W10 D13 L6 under his direction. Last we saw him was the 1-0 loss to AC Milan last year, in which he was unusually quiet. Weirdly enough, he was the ref last time the Viola beat Inter: a 5-4 carnival in 2017.
The match will be played on Saturday, 22 October 2022, at 6:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a warm, damp autumn night, although the rain should cut out by the time the match kicks off. It’s worth noting, too, that the ultras are growing increasingly restless with the team, so another silent first half from the Curva Fiesole (as we saw against Heart of Midlothian) could be on the cards.
Those wins over Hearts sure feel like they signified nothing, since they preceded a pasting from Lazio and that draw against Lecce. As a result, Fiorentina are sitting in 13th place with 10 points (including a -4 goal difference), which is good for even with Salernitana and Monza. Those 10 points are just 1 more through 10 games than the cursed 2020-2021 season, in which the club ended with 40, their worst performance in 20 years. Oh, and the return leg against Başakşehir looms on Thursday, too. So yeah, sub-optimal vibes.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have LW Riccardo Sottil, but gets CF Luka Jović back. The real question, as ever, is how many changes Cousin Vinnie wants to make. Arthur Cabral should get the nod up front, likely with Christian Kouamé and Nicolás González flanking him. Sofyan Amrabat will anchor the midfield with two of Giacomo Bonaventura, Alfred Duncan, and Antonín Barák in front of him. Lucas Martínez Quarta should partner Nikola Milenković at the back.
Fiorentina’s policy of crossing the ball more than anyone—they lead Serie A in crosses—isn’t going to work here. Inter’s back 3 is a bunch of big, rugged dudes, and even the wingbacks have some aerial ability. That means the wingers will need to cut inside to find 1-v-1s they can win against slower opponents. It’ll be particularly tricky since the Nerazzurri are happy to maintain a low block, minimizing space in behind. Since the Viola striker will likely be swallowed up by 3 opponents, the midfielders in particular will need to step up and make some runs over the top to stress the defense. The fullbacks, too, will need to combine in the wide areas to tempt Inter out of shape. Given how they’ve looked so far, it’s hard to be too hopeful.
After winning the Scudetto in 2021 and finishing just 2 points behind the top spot last year, it’s fair to say that the current edition of Inter Milan has been rather disappointing. They sit 7th with 18 points, having already lost at Lazio and Udinese by identical 3-1 scorelines and fallen to Milan in the derby. The silver lining, of course, is that they look ready to knock Barcelona out of the Champions League, and that their xG and various other statistics rate them as having been unlucky more than anything else this year.
Manager Simone Inzaghi won’t have LB Dalbert, CM Marcelo Brozović, CM Roberto Gagliardini, or CF Romelu Lukaku, but that won’t affect his usual 3-5-2 shape. Lautaro Martínez seems to be rounding into form, so he’ll get one spot up front, while Edin Džeko and Joaquín Correa will compete to join him. Hakan Çalhanoğlu has been surprisingly good as a regista and should continue there, joined by Nicolò Barella and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in an absurdly technical engine room. It’s at the back where they’ve looked a bit lost, with Milan Škriniar and Stefan de Vrij in particular falling off a bit this year.
Inter are 3rd in possession this year and just 3 of their 18 goals are unassisted, which indicates just how well they’ve worked together as a unit going forward. They cross almost as often as the Viola, which makes sense considering that their central midfielders are repurposed wingers who love drifting wide to create overloads. They’ll likely drop into a deeper block without the ball to give themselves room to break into, but they’re particularly good at tempting opponents into pressing them high up, then playing through and exploiting that space. If Amrabat can shut down the middle, that’ll be half the battle won.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Let’s not make any bones about it. Inter Milan are the overwhelming favorites with the bookies for obvious reasons: they’ve looked miles better than Fiorentina this year. The former have beaten Barcelona, while the latter got spanked by Başakşehir. Sometimes, it’s pretty simple.
Still, because TMBGD is always a place of relentless, remorseless optimism, how’s a shocking 2-1 sound? I’ll back Nico (from the spot) and Cabral (finally getting a break) for the good guys and Martínez for the bad guys in a game that’s just plain weird, with periods of open, inspired play matched by periods of insipid, unwatchable play. And, with Valeri in there, let’s say a truly bizarre red card as well.