After holding a potent Napoli attack to a draw on Sunday, Fiorentina get a rather different challenge in the midweek with a long trip up to Friuli to take on the ever-recalcitrant Udinese. In 104 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W52 D28 L24 record, including W6 D2 L2 over their past 10 in the league. The good guys triumphed 0-1 in this fixture last year and haven’t lost at Udinese since 2016, which is a truly bizarre streak.
The referee for this one is 40-year-old Maurizio Mariani of Aprilia. In 4 appearances this year, he’s handed out 19 yellow cards and 2 red cards. He’s always had a reputation for letting things go in the middle but getting involved when it’s most dramatic, so don’t be surprised if he takes center stage. In 13 previous outings under his watch, Fiorentina are W7 D2 L4.
The match will be played on Wednesday, 31 August 2022, at 5:30 PM EST/12:30 PM EST, at the Stadio Friuli (or Dacia Arena, if you’re more into corporatespeak) in Udine. It’s going to be a typical day in the northeast of the country: gray, rainy, and rather unwelcoming. The only wrinkle is that, since it’s the height of summer, it could be quite warm as well. So yeah, the forecast sounds a bit gross.
Udinese have won, lost, and drawn so far, although they’ve yet to produce a particularly good performance; they barely hung on against Salernitana and scraped past Monza, and also squeezed by FeralPisalò in the Coppa Italia. This being Udinese, of course, it feels like they always start slowly while the new players bed in, then end up doing enough to finish 14th without any real trouble.
Manager Andrea Sottil (yes, he’s Handsome Ricky’s handsome dad) won’t have RB Nehuen Pérez but should have the rest of the squad available. This being Udinese, they play a 3-5-2, but Sottil has changed them a bit: instead of relying exclusively on counterattacks and set pieces, they’ve added more quick passing combinations around the area, so they’re not quite the same old thing. The dangerman is still Gerard Deulofeu, of course, who constantly wavers between sublime and utterly bonkers, but there’s a surprisingly deep stable of quick, technical midfielders behind him.
While the Zebrette won’t try to control possession, they won’t just thump it up the pitch every time they have it in defense. While the hulking Beto means that route one is always an option, they’ve had a lot more success in letting the forwards combine and then get the midfielders and wingbacks charging into the box. They’re also not afraid to send Rodrigo Becão raiding forward on occasion to add another body into the mix. While they’re not quite lethal yet, this could be a much more interesting Udinese than we’ve seen in a long time.
After a rather sputtering start, Fiorentina produced a deeply impressive defensive display against Napoli to announce that they might be a very different kind of outfit than they were last season. They remain undefeated on the season and, if they can untrack the attack a bit, have a chance to really make some noise in a post-hype year.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano will sweat the fitness of CM Alfred Duncan and RW Nicolás González. It’ll be the usual 4-3-3 for him, but, with the fixtures coming thick and fast, expect a healthy dose of squad rotation. Igor, Lorenzo Venuti, Rolando Mandragora, Youssef Maleh, Christian Kouamé, Riccardo Saponara, and Arthur Cabral are all decent bets to start this one.
It’ll be the usual approach from Fiorentina, who should control possession and territory. While Udinese occasionally venture high up to press the defense, they’ll mostly sit deep and force the Viola to unlock them. They’ve looked particularly vulnerable at set pieces and have left a bit too much space in behind at times—both of which feel very strange to say about this team—so there could be some unexpected sources of goals here, but it does feel like Fiorentina will need to keep grinding their way through the middle to really guarantee themselves the necessary goal(s).
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers mostly have Fiorentina as significant favorites despite being on the road and playing so many matches right at the start of the season. In fairness, being in Udine doesn’t really provide much advantage for the hosts, given how empty their stadium usually is.
I’m calling this one a 0-2 win for the good guys, who are building a very impressive defense and look like they’re very close to figuring out the attack. I’m backing Nikola Milenković to score, given how vulnerable Udinese have looked from set pieces, and I’ll say that Arthur Cabral gets the other courtesy of a Kouamé assist. The game should be a good one, quite back and forth, and with plenty of neat combinations, but I think the Viola should be able to ride their current form to victory.