Despite their best efforts, Fiorentina are undefeated this year, having vanquished Cremonese on the opening matchday and Twente in the midweek, but the ever-fiery Derby dell’Arno could prove to be an entirely different beast, especially for the first away fixture of the year. In 30 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W16 D7 L7 record against Empoli. That drops to W4 D2 L4 over their past 10, though, including a stunning late collapse in a 2-1 loss in this one last year.
The referee for this one is Matteo Marchetti of Ostia Lido, who hasn’t gotten a game this year. He’s a relative newcomer, having handled just 10 previous Serie A matches and issuing 44 yellow cards and 4 penalties in them. The only Fiorentina game he’s ever reffed was the 1-2 win over Spezia last year, in which the hosts were perhaps lucky to finish with 11 after they spent much of the game hacking the Viola to pieces.
The match will be played on Sunday, 21 August 2022, at 4:30 PM GMT/12:30 PM EST, at the Stadio Carlo Castellani in Empoli. The forecast calls for a blistering day under the Tuscan sun, with temperatures at kickoff expected to exceed 32C/90F, so the conditions could have a major impact on the game.
The noisy neighbors have had a quiet mercato; their marquee signing is Mattia Destro on a free, although they did pay a big €8.5 million to Cagliari to make Guglielmo Vicario’s move permanent and snagged Sam Lammers on loan while losing Mattia Viti, Kristjan Asllani, and Leonardo Mancuso. They crashed out against SPAL in the Coppa Italia and lost at Spezia in their league opener but created plenty of chances, so there’s room for some optimism, but they’ve also lost 20 of their past 22 matches in Serie A dating back to last year.
New manager Paolo Zanetti (last seen with Venezia in Serie A) used a 4-3-1-2 last week but has usually favored a 4-3-3, although Empoli don’t have too many wingers on the roster. He won’t have CB Lorenzo Tonelli but will rely on former Viola prospect and current captain Filippo Bandinelli, who gleefully scored in this fixture last year. The danger comes from the front three: Destro is an experienced Serie A striker, Lammers is probably better than he’s shown at Atalanta, and trequartista Nedim Bajrami is good enough to spark considerable interest in Daniele Pradè.
Empoli’s front three is quite fluid, spreading across the pitch to cover ground and interchanging easily to confuse opposing defenses. Keep an especial eye on Bajrami pulling to the right wing to offer an outlet. The Albanian 10 is the main creative outlet, so keeping him in check will be priority number one. Without him, Destro and Lammers offer the versatility to run in behind or hold up the ball on the edge of the area and look for runners. This is a side with more technical quality than you might expect, too, so don’t be surprised if they pass out from the back and play with a bit more swagger than anticipated.
It’s tough to complain too much about two wins from two matches, but the second half collapses Fiorentina have suffered twice in a week are enough reason to worry. Still, the attack is clearly humming along on the back of some superb wing play and the defense should improve as Igor and Dodô get healthy and settled, respectively, so there’s not too much reason for worry despite the pall that constantly hangs over the fanbase.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano will have doubts about CB Igor, CM Szymon Żurkowski, and CM Giacomo Bonaventura but should have everyone else available. Expect further squad rotation, with Riccardo Saponara, Christian Kouamé, and Jonathan Ikoné vying for spots on the wing. Lucas Martínez Quarta will probably step in for Igor should the Brazilian fail to pass his fitness test, while Dodô and Rolando Mandragora could be in line for their first starts.
Empoli have looked particularly vulnerable in the wide areas, which suits Fiorentina very well. Specifically, they’ve struggled to pick up fullbacks overlapping and wingers attacking the back post, so expect the Viola focus to be the wide areas as per usual. They’ll likely try to press the Azzurri high up, as they’ve been prone to coughing up the ball in dangerous spots, but it’ll likely be the usual blood-and-thunder approach, at least for the opening period. After that is when it’ll get really interesting.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers seem to have Fiorentina as favorites by a decent margin and it’s easy to see why. After all, this is a team that spends more money and has won two games in a row, albeit in unconvincing fashion, after adding some talent in the summer. Empoli, on the other hand, barely avoided relegation last year and haven’t really impressed so far while not adding too much talent.
Of course, a heated local clash like this often ignores that context—the events of 27 November 2021 bear that out—and the Viola have looked rather fragile at times. Still, I think they’ve got enough in the tank to do the business here, so I’m calling it as a 1-2 win for the good guys, with Jović and Milenković on the scoresheet in the first half and Bajrami grabbing a consolation as the hosts rally in the second half but ultimately fall short. That, after all, would fit all the narrative beats that Fiorentina has established this year, and we love us some narrative.