Fresh off a solid win over Empoli in the Derby dell’Arno, Fiorentina head south to take on high-flying Napoli. In their 167 previous meetings, the Viola own a W58 D49 L60 mark, although that plummets to W2 D2 L6 in their past 10 Serie A meetings. The reverse fixture ended with a 1-2 defeat in which the good guys really undid themselves with some poor defending, although this group did knock the Partenopei out of the Coppa Italia in an absolutely bonkers 2-5 extra time triumph.
The referee for this one is 40-year-old Maurizio Mariani of Aprilia. In 11 Serie A games this year, he’s handed out 53 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and one penalty. He was most recently in the news for his performance in the Milan derby, making a couple of contentious decisions. In 11 games under his watch, Fiorentina are W6 D2 L3; last we saw him was the 4-0 romp over Salernitana.
The match will be played on Sunday, 10 April 2022, at 1:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Diego Maradona in Naples. The forecast calls for a pretty dang nice day. There’s likely to be some cloud cover and there’s a slight chance of drizzle, but it should be a relatively warm and pleasant afternoon in Campania.
Napoli are flying this year, sitting in second place with 66 points, just 1 behind capolista AC Milan. That means they’ll be desperate to win in order to keep up, as this is as good a chance to win their first scudetto since 1990. Having won 5 straight games, it seems that the players are up for the challenge, so you know that they’re going to bring their best, especially in hopes of gaining some measure of revenge for the Coppa defeat.
Manager Luciano Spalletti may not have RB Giovanni Di Lorenzo, RW Adam Ounas, CF Victor Osimhen, or CF Andrea Petagna. He’ll trot out his usual 4-2-3-1, possibly featuring Dries Mertens up front if the other strikers are unavailable. The saturnine mister has enough depth all over the pitch to spring some surprises, but we know what to expect from his group: slick passing and lots of shots.
In fact, Napoli’s 56 goals this year is good for 3rd-best in the league. They have a bunch of guys who can shoot from distance, and that forces teams to close them down higher up, creating space for runners to exploit. They won’t cross, instead using the wide areas to force the defense to shift around and then find gaps when it moves. This doesn’t sound all that interesting, but make no mistake: this is just about as good an attack as you’ll find in Serie A, packed full of technical ability and fun.
With 8 points from their past 5 games, Fiorentina’s European dream is still alive, although it’s far from being assured. They’re in 8th place with 50 points (including a game against Udinese in hand), just 2 behind Lazio in 6th—the Conference League spot—and 4 behind AS Roma—the Europa League spot. With Atalanta also in the mix, the end of the season could come down to the wire, although the Viola run-in is so difficult that getting an unexpected win could take them a long way towards Wednesdays on the continent next year.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have RB Álvaro Odriozola, DM Lucas Torreira, or CM Giacomo Bonaventura. While Lorenzo Venuti will fill in for the Real Madrid loanee and Sofyan Amrabat (who’s fasting for Ramadan, so keep an eye on his fitness) for the Uruguayan, it’s a tossup between Alfred Duncan and Youssef Maleh for Jack’s spot. Arthur Cabral and Krzysztof Piątek will jockey for a spot up front, and the carousel of wingers will likely keep spinning unpredictably.
Napoli boast the best defense in the league, having conceded just 23 goals so far. The team is very good at dropping back into its defensive shape quickly, and the quality in the backline is enough to keep most forwards quiet on sheer talent alone. The midfield can look overrun at times, so finding the wingers in the half-spaces could help overload that zone. Too, with Di Lorenzo out, the options at rightback are Kevin Malcuit (ugh) and youngster Alessandro Zanoli, so testing them should be a priority; Nico González, Jonathan Ikoné, and Riccardo Sottil will all likely relish the opportunity to attack that zone.
How to watch
TV: Maybe BeIn, but probably not. Check the full international television listings to be sure.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The gambling houses have Fiorentina as massive underdogs, which isn’t too surprising. After all, we’re talking about a genuine scudetto contender with Serie A’s best defense coming up against a mid-table side whose performances oscillate wildly. When you factor in the hosts’ need to win if they want to win the division, their desire to avenge the Coppa loss, what will likely be a rabid home crowd, and the absence of Torreira, the math looks even worse for the visitors.
On the other hand, Fiorentina have played Napoli very well twice this year, including a big win at the Maradona, and haven’t lost in 5 straight. Since these are both teams that want to keep the ball and impose themselves, expect lots of space in behind and some frenetic action in the middle of the park. As we’ve seen, those conditions often favor the Viola. And, because this group seems to spring surprises at the weirdest times, I’m calling for a 2-2 draw with goals from Lorenzo Insigne, Piotr Zielińsky, Cabral, and González enough to split the spoils in a really enjoyable game.