Fiorentina have to stick a cork in the celebrations after an unlikely win at Atalanta to advance to the Coppa Italia semifinals, because they dive back into league play with a Monday trip to Spezia. In 9 previous meetings, the Viola are undefeated (5 wins, 4 draws), including a breezy 3-0 triumph in the reverse fixture.
The referee for this one is Matteo Marchetti of Ostia. This will be just his 7th ever Serie A game; he’s handed out 27 yellow cards and 2 penalties in his previous 6, so we’re still very much in the information-gathering stage on him, especially since this will be his first Viola game.
The match will be played on Monday, 14 February 2022, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Alberto Picco in Spezia. The forecast calls for rain (you know, because it’s Liguria) all day, so expect a slick pitch and some runny hair gel. On the plus side, it shouldn’t be too cold.
Despite losing a certain superstar manager and several key pieces from their impressive campaign last year, the Aquilotti are flying above the relegation zone again. They sit in 15th place with 26 points, 5 out of the drop zone, and look like they should survive comfortably. In fact, they’re really rounding into form, have gathered 10 points from their past 5 games, and have won at Napoli and at AC Milan in the past couple of months.
Manager Thiago Motta won’t have LB Simone Bastone or DM Léo Sena. He’s changed shapes frequently this year, so he could go with a back 3, but a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 look more likely. The danger comes from the wingers: Emmanuel Gyasi (4 goals) is as quick as anyone in Serie A, while Daniele Verde (5 goals, 1 assist) has enjoyed a season of long range bangers. Gone are Motta’s days as the prophet of the 2-7-2 formation, so expect a somewhat more pragmatic approach.
As you might expect from a team whose top scorers are the wingers, a lot of what Spezia does is work down the flanks. Gyasi will run in behind, while Verde’s more a direct dribbler. This is one of Serie A’s dribbliest teams, in fact, and a lot of what they do is predicated on the wide men winning individual battles. They average the longest shot distance in the league, so closing down Verde in particular is crucial, and they average the 2nd-fewest crosses per game as well. Really, this one’s about keeping the offside line right and not letting dribblers get by. If Fiorentina do that, they should be in a good place to win.
With just 1 win in their past 5 league games, Fiorentina sure could use a win here. Sure, the Coppa win was great, but slipping below Hellas Verona into 9th doesn’t feel great, even if the Viola have a couple of games in hand. After selling the unnamed Serbian striker, it does feel like the rest of this season is more of an evaluation period than anything, but they still need to win some games.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have DM Lucas Torreira or CM Giacomo Bonaventura, which leaves the team looking very light in midfield. Sofyan Amrabat and Alfred Duncan should both start, with Gaetano Castrovilli and Youssef Maleh competing for the last spot. It sounds like we’ll see a very exciting tridente of Arthur Cabral, Riccardo Sottil, and Jonathan Ikone in this one as well, so expect to see a couple of dazzling combinations on the break.
Spezia are, frankly, not a good defensive team, having conceded 44 goals in 24 games. They’ve been too easy to carve open, but without Torreira or Jack, finding those line-breaking passes could be trickier, so Ikone may be forced deeper in an effort to unlock the defense. They also haven’t defended crosses well (they’re the worst aerial team in the division), so attacking set pieces are a likely avenue of attack, especially since they commit a lot of fouls, and Krzysztof Piątek could make for a useful Plan B.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are, as you might expect, big favorites here, and it’s hard not to feel like the betting houses have this one right. While this will be Vincenzo Italiano’s first return to the Armando Picco and that could provide the hosts a boost, the gulf in quality is likely enough to keep the Viola’s record against the Aquilotti intact.
I’m calling a 0-2 win to the good guys, with Arthur Cabral getting his first goal in Italy and Cristiano Biraghi adding another free kick goal to provide the final margin. It should be a relatively fiery and entertaining game with the visitors controlling proceedings while looking to avoid getting caught on the counter. And yes, a nice, controlled game in which everything goes according to plan sure would be fine.