Despite keeping it close in a 1-0 loss at capolista Atalanta on Sunday, Fiorentina are still surrounded by a miasma of negativity which they’ll have to shed on the plane to take on Hearts of Midlothian. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two; indeed, the Viola have only played Scottish opposition 6 times (most recently a hearbreaking loss on PKs to Rangers in the UEFA League in 2007-2008). The Jam Tarts, for their part, haven’t played an Italian team since the 1990 UEFA Cup, when they crashed out against Bologna.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Erik Lamberts of Belgium. In 11 appearances this year, he’s issued 47 yellow cards and 5 penalties, indicating a rather laissez-faire attitude until the ball gets into the business end of the pitch, a conclusion that his career statistics seem to back up.
The match will be played on Thursday, 6 October 2022, at 8:00 PM GMT/3:00 PM EST at Tynecastle Park in Edinburgh. This may come as a shock to you, but Edinburgh in October tends to be pretty gray, and the forecast isn’t making any exceptions for the visiting Tuscans. Don’t expect to see the sun, although at least it won’t be raining too hard.
It hasn’t been a super start for Hearts of Midlothian in league play, as they sit 7th (out of 12) with 13 points from 8 matches, including a 0-4 pasting against Rangers on Saturday, which could lead to some heavy legs as they tried to make up for a first-half sending off. Indeed, that 0-4 at home has been a bit of a theme for them, as Başakşehir put that same scoreline on them last month, although Hearts did earn a 0-2 win at RFS, which means they’re 2nd in Group A.
Manager Robbie Neilson won’t have CB Kyle Rowles, CM Beni Beningame, or CF Liam Boyce, while CB Craig Halkett could also miss out. Neilson has switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3 this year; if Halkett can’t go, don’t be surprised if he tries 3 at the back. The danger comes from CF Lawrence Shankland (5 goals, 2 assists) and wingers Alan Forrest (4 goals) and Barrie McKay (2 goals, 1 assist), while legendary GK Craig Gordon remains a very sound option for both club and country even at 39 years of age.
Neilson has spoken of his desire to get at the visitors and get the crowd behind his team. He’s also mentioned that Fiorentina play a high line, so expect Hearts to target the space in behind relentlessly rather than trying to play through the Viola block. After all, the approach has worked for literally every team the Viola have faced, and Neilson’s no dummy. He’ll try to put Fiorentina’s defense in positions to make mistakes and see what happens.
Fiorentina’s woeful start to the season is close to becoming, quite simply, a woeful season. The Viola have won just 2 league games and sit 11th with 9 points from 8 matches. They’ve also struggled in the Conference league, coughing up a lead to RFS and getting shellacked by Başakşehir. There’s growing dissatisfaction among the fans as the club management seems to be bailing water as quickly as possible, so this situation feels like it could be verging on combustible.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have RW Jonathan Ikoné or LW Riccardo Sottil, while CB Nikola Milenković, LW Nicolás González, and RB Dodô have all rejoined the group in training and could feature. Expect some rotation after that loss against Atalanta, with Luka Jović and Sofyan Amrabat back in the XI, although the fitness issues mean that the lineup could be quite similar to what it was on Sunday.
With Hearts likely to sit deep and soak up pressure before picking their moments to dart forward and press, this will probably be a matter of carving out chances against a deep defense (not a sentence any Fiorentina fan wants to read). If it’s a back 3 for the hosts, there should be even more space to operate in the middle, but a back 4 means that Jović could have more success against the innumerable crosses he’ll doubtless receive. It feels like this one is less about tactics, though, and more about someone deciding to step and make something happen.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Despite their struggles, Fiorentina are still the favorites with most oddsmakers, although the line is inching closer to even. It’ll be tough to get a good read on this one until we see the various injured players—Halkett, Milenković, and González—in the lineup. I was tempted to say that a clash between two uneven teams means that anything could happen, but only Hearts have really been uneven; Fiorentina, in contrast, have been consistently bad.
Even so, because TMBGD has only ever predicted wins for this poor team, I’m going to say that the good guys come away with a 0-2 win behind goals from Jović and González. Expect this to be a very up-and-down, physical affair, so banking on a penalty (especially with Lamberts’ track record) feels like a smart bet. Really, though, it’s getting increasingly difficult to project any confidence about this Viola club that appears more broken every week.