After getting shelled by Lazio in the second half on Saturday, Fiorentina get a nice, easy bounce back game and SURPRISE SUCKER IT’S ATALANTA IN THE COPPA ITALIA NOW SUFFER ALL THE PAIN. Weirdly enough, this will be the third Coppa meeting between these sides in the past 4 years. And, while la Dea is the team against which Fiorentina has collected the most wins across all competitions, their record over their past 10 meetings—W3 D2 L5—isn’t exactly fodder for excitement. On the other hand, the Viola triumphed in Bergamo earlier this year, so maybe it’s more open than you’d think.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Michael Fabbri of Ravenna. In 11 games across Serie A and Serie B this year, he’s handed out 47 yellow cards, 5 red cards, and nary a penalty. In 12 matches under his watch, Fiorentina are W4 D3 L5. And, if you’re trying to remember him, he’s the ref who tossed Nico González for clapping earlier this year; you can find more of his work in the preview from that link. Yep, he’s been suspended for various other offenses as well. How this guy keeps getting work in big matches is beyond me.
The match will be played on Thursday, 10 February 2022, at 12:00 PM EST/5:00 PM GMT, at the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo. The forecast calls for a gloriously sunny day, which isn’t exactly what you associate with February just below the Alps, but there you are. Really can’t ask for better conditions.
While the Atalanta juggernaut looks to be going about its business as usual—5th place on 43 pointswith a game against Torino in hand and trailing Juventus by 1—the Goddess looks to be chasing golden apples and slowing her progress of late. Bergamo’s best have gathered just 6 points from their past 5 league matches, including a shocking 1-2 loss to Cagliari last time out. With a clash against Juve looming on Sunday that could well determine who goes to the Champions League next year and a Europa League tie in the midweek, they’ll be desperate to right the ship now.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini has a headache in attack, where Aleksey Miranchuk, Josip Iličić, and Duván Zapata are all out. Gasp has also tinkered with his beloved 3-4-1-2 a bit, trying out various permutations and even trotting out 4-man defense recently, although that may be more due to the injuries than anything else. The danger man is, of course, old friend Luis Muriel (6 goals, 4 assists), although Mario Pašalić (9 goals, 6 assists) and Ruslan Malinovskiy (6 goals, 1 assist) are also worth keeping an eye on.
Regardless of whether it’s 3 or 4 at the back, Atalanta mostly plays the same way: the whirling positional interchanges, quick vertical passing, and uncanny ability to find space are all present no matter the formation. While they’ve got a bunch of players who can belt them from distance, the bread and butter is still clever movement in the area to free up teammates for tap ins, so expect the defense to sit a bit narrower than usual, although letting Muriel run in behind that high line could prove catastrophic. That’s probably the early battle to watch, along with how well the Viola can squish space between the lines. If they win those battles, they should have a pretty good chance on the defensive end.
With just 5 points from their past 5 matches, it’s safe to say that a bit of the shine has come off this new Fiorentina project. Getting thumped by Lazio certainly won’t help dispel the criticism that the Viola were a 1-man team and sold that man last month, but it’s a bit early to hit the eject button. After all, this team’s still solidly 8th with 36 points and could still easily qualify for Europe with a few adjustments. It’ll just take some work.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have Bartłomiej Drągowski but has everyone else available. With Lucas Torreira and Giacomo Bonaventura suspended for Monday’s league tie at Spezia, they could both start here. The real question is who plays across the front three: Arthur Cabral and Krzysztof Piątek are both possible up front, while any of Riccardo Sottil, González, Jonathan Ikone, and Riccardo Saponara (and, ugh, José Callejón) could get the nod on the wings. The XI could help us determine just how seriously Italiano’s taking the Coppa.
Atalanta are a very solid group defensively, which is always astonishing given how many players they hurl into the attack. They counter-press really well and generally look to win the ball high up to prevent opponents from building dangerous moves. They can leave a lot of space in behind at times and that makes them vulnerable to pace on the break (at least in theory), so that may be the way forward, especially since they’re excellent in the air and defend crosses quite well; to me, that sounds like King Arthur’s music more than Pum Pum Piątek’s.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Atalanta are really big favorites here and there’s a pretty good reason. They’re the better team, for one thing, and sit higher in the table. They’ve also gotten made the semifinals in the Coppa in 3 of the past 4 years (the only failure came when the Viola knocked them out last year). The smart money here is taking the chalk in something like a 2-1 scoreline.
Because TMBGD isn’t for the chalk or the fainthearted, however, I’m calling for the upset. Fiorentina showed that they can win at Atalanta earlier this year, and while their own struggles have been well-documented, la Dea’s been mighty flat of late as well. I mean, Cagliari? Even 10-man Fiorentina managed to not lose to Cagliari. Combined with the crazy schedule coming up, I can see the Viola sneaking this one in a game that veers between cagey and wide the hell open, so I’ll say 2-3 to the visitors, with Muriel and Pašalić scoring for the hosts and Cabral, González, and Piątek netting for the good guys. But yeah, that’s probably more aspirational than anything.