Fiorentina emerge from the final international break and charge into the home stretch of the season with the Derby dell’Arno against Empoli. In 29 previous editions, the Viola hold a record of W15 D7 L7. Weirdly enough, though, they’ve lost 3 of the last 4 against the Azzurri, including the 2-1 reversal (also in the rain) earlier this year. As an extra treat, dive into the history of this fixture from earlier this year.
The referee for this one is 33-year-old Luca Massimi of Termoli. In 10 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 49 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 2 penalties. The only Fiorentina game he’s ever officiated was that 0-1 loss earlier this year at Venezia; while he wasn’t terrible, he looked a bit uneven with the bookings and managed a not-great sending off.
The match will be played on Sunday, 3 April 2022, at 10:30 AM GMT/6:30 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a chilly spring day, but the real issue is the rain, which should be coming down pretty hard for several days before the game and continue unabated throughout, although don’t expect that to dampen the Tuscan spirits too much in this derby.
With 8 points from their past 5 league matches, Fiorentina are chugging along at a decent clip, but probably not one that’ll get them into continental competition, given that they’re in 8th place with 47 points, 4 back of AS Roma in 6th. While the Viola do have a game in hand against Udinese, the schedule is punishing for these last 9 games: Napoli, Roma, AC Milan, and Juventus all loom, as well as the away leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal against Juve. Basically, dropping any points against a mid-table side knocks Fiorentina out of Europe.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano will sweat the fitness of CM Giacomo Bonaventura and CF Krzysztof Piątek and likely leave LW Nico González on the bench following his international commitments. That means we could see Arthur Cabral up front, flanked by Jonathan Ikoné and a Ricky (Sottil or Saponara). Gaetano Castrovilli, having just signed a new contract, should start in midfield with Lucas Torreira; Bonaventura, Youssef Maleh, and Alfred Duncan will fight for the last spot. In defense, Álvaro Odriozola is healthy again and should retake his spot from Lorenzo Venuti.
Empoli have conceded 55 goals this season, which is the second-worst mark in Serie A; there’s really no bad way to attack them. They try to press high but aren’t very good at it, which means they’re often cut open and concede quick attacks, and yes, that is music to Italiano’s ears. They’ve also defended set pieces as badly as anyone in the league and aren’t good in the air, so backing Nikola Milenković to score seems like a smart bet.
Like most newly promoted sides, Fiorentina’s noisy neighbors were expected to spend the season fighting the drop. Instead, they flirted with the top half of the table before settling into mid-table safety with 33 points, 11 above the relegation places. Weirdly enough, they’ve won 21 of those points away from home, so they’ll be ready and more than willing to make a day at the Franchi difficult for the Viola. The good news is that the Azzurri are winless in 13 (!) straight league matches, with 6 of those counting as losses, so they’re not quite a juggernaut.
Manager Aurelio Andreazzoli won’t have LB Fabiano Parisi, LB Riccardo Marchizza, or CM Nicolas Haas. Despite a Viola-flavored midfield with impressive loanee Szymon Żurkowski and former Primavera standout Filippo Bandinelli, the danger comes from Inter Milan loanee Andrea Pinamonti (9 goals, 2 assists), who’s been superb leading the line this year, with Nedim Bajrami (6 goals, 3 assists) providing the fantasia behind him in a 4-3-2-1.
The Azzurri have looked their best when working the channels, letting Pinamonti get into space and then bring runners into support. Bajrami and Federico di Francesco are both clever with their movement, while Bandinelli and Żurkowski constantly motor forward as well. The latter is also an excellent ball carrier, so ensuring he can’t burst forward in possession should be a top priority for his opposite number. Really, though, the priority is Pinamonti: if the Viola defense can shackle him, Empoli should be mostly de-fanged.
How to watch
TV: Eh, no. Check the full international television listings if you want to, though.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Most of the betting houses have Fiorentina as prohibitive favorites and it’s not hard to see why. This is a good team in decent form, coming up against a smaller team that’s been unable to win for months. While you do worry about the volatility of a derby and Empoli’s win in the reverse fixture, Fiorentina seem like a pretty safe bet to take the points.
And that’s what I think they’ll do, to the tune of a rollicking 3-1 win. Like I said earlier, Milenković has a good chance to get on the scoresheet from a set piece. I also like Arthur to scramble one over the line in his second start, and let’s say that it’s Castrovilli who rounds out the scoring for the good guys, with Żurkowski netting the consolation against his parent club in a very up-and-down contest.