With the international break neatly punctuating the end of the January transfer window, Fiorentina return to action against Lazio. In 150 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W52 D43 L65 mark, including a W2 D2 L6 mark over their past 10 meetings in the league. The reverse fixture saw the Biancocelesti win a terse 1-0 affair that probably deserved a goalless draw.
The referee for this one is 46-year-old Daniele Orsato of Vicenza. In 7 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 46 yellow cards and 2 penalties, which is about the norm for him: happy to offer a booking in the middle of the pitch but hesitant to get involved in the box. He’s a bit of a bird of ill omen for the Viola, as they’re just W9 D13 L16 under his watch in 38 games. We most recently saw him in the scoreless draw against Bologna last year.
The match will be played on Saturday, 5 February 2022, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for showers all morning, although the rain should wrap up well before kickoff, leaving a cloudy, slightly chilly evening for the festivities.
Sitting in 8th place with a game in hand (pending the replay against Udinese), things look rosy for Fiorentina if you don’t look too hard: a win here would see them leapfrog AS Roma into the Europa League spots. Of course, the transfer window wasn’t kind, as the acrimonious departure of star striker Dušan Vlahović to Juventus (boo, hiss) means that this team faces no shortage of questions over the remainder of the season.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have CB Lucas Martínez Quarta and RB Álvaro Odriozola, while DM Sofyan Amrabat, LW Nico González, and CF Arthur Cabral are all likely to start on the bench. That means it’ll be probably be Jonathan Ikone and Riccardo Saponara supporting Krzysztof Piątek up front, while Igor should fill into the back line. The only question is in midfield, where Gaetano Castrovilli and Alfred Duncan are vying for the third spot next to Lucas Torreira and Giacomo Bonaventura.
Having allowed 39 goals this term, the defense is Lazio’s weakest link. They haven’t pressed as high up as you might expect a Sarri team to press, opting instead to sit off a bit and let opponents knock it around a bit. They’ve also looked a bit vulnerable on the counter at times, so expect the focus to be getting the attackers, particularly Ikone, in space to break with direct, vertical passing to set them loose. The secondary benefit of the approach is that Lazio haven’t defended set pieces very well, so backing Nikola Milenković for a goal feels not unwise.
The Aquile has shown some feistiness in its first season in a half a decade without Simone Inzaghi at the helm, but they’re still 7th in the table with 36 points (even with Fiorentina) and, pending this result, could win the head-to-head matchup, which is the first tiebreaker and could wind up proving crucial. They’ve taken 8 points from their past 5 league outings but face some serious fixture congestion coming up, with a Coppa Italia date at AC Milan on Wednesday and then a tantalizing Europa League clash with Porto next week.
Manager Maurizio Sarri won’t have CB Francesco Acerbi or CM Jean-Daniel Akpa Akpro but should have the rest of the squad available. As always with Sarri, it’ll be a 4-3-3, and as always with Lazio, Ciro Immobile (17 goals, 2 assists) is the main danger up front, with Sergej Milinković-Savić (7 goals, 6 assists), Pedro (7 goals, 3 assists) and Luis Alberto (3 goals, 6 assists) serving as the dangerous secondary options.
The primary threat here is Immobile’s excellent off-ball movement, but Milenković has historically done fairly well against him. As we saw in the reverse fixture, Milinković-Savić’s aerial dominance, especially against the diminutive Torreira, is a real threat on long kicks from the back if Fiorentina cope well with Sarri’s vaunted pass-and-move game. All in all, it should be a fascinating test, especially seeing as how these teams mostly neutralized each other earlier this year.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina’s home form of late has been superb: they’ve scored 3 or more in 6 of their past 7 games at the Franchi and haven’t lost in 8 straight there, scoring 29 and conceding just 6. On the other hand, Lazio’s record against their hosts (only lost 1 of the last 10) is imposing, and nobody’s quite sure what to make of the Viola without Vlahović. The betting houses have the hosts as slight favorites, but it’s really a toss-up here.
However, I’m going to call it a 2-1 win for the good guys on the strength of a strong team performance despite some adverse personnel circumstances. As I said earlier, I’ll back Milinković to open the scoring from a set piece and Bonaventura to add a second with a pop from distance before Immobile pulls one back and makes us sweat as the visitors pile on pressure. Again, though, this is a very difficult one to predict. Let’s hope that Fiorentina come out and make a statement.