Fiorentina have to dust themselves off after coughing up yet another lead, this time at Bologna, and take the long trip east to Istanbul to face Başakşehir in what was probably considered the premier matchup of Group A of the Conference League. These two sides have never faced each other, but the Viola have won all 6 of their meetings with Turkish sides (Eskişehirspor in 1972, Beşiktaş in 1975, and Fenerbahçe in 1984); Başakşehir’s only experience against Italian opposition came in 2019, when they got smushed by an aggregate of 7-0 against AS Roma.
The referee for this one is Guillermo Cuadra Fernández of Spain. In 5 matches this year, he’s handed out 34 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 2 penalties; he’s got a reputation for being unafraid to stick himself into the action, so don’t be surprised if there’s a game-changing decision or two in there, especially with VAR not in use.
The match will be played on Thursday, 15 September 2022, at 8:00 PM GMT/3:00 PM EST at the Başakşehir Fatih Terim Stadyumu in Istanbul. The forecast calls for a surprisingly mild day, considering how hot the Bosphorus can get, but it’ll still be pretty dang warm, and probably even warmer with 17,000+ fans crammed inside.
Başakşehir had the exact opposite start to their Conference League campaign as Fiorentina, going to Edinburgh and blasting Hearts 0-4. They also beat heavyweights Beşiktaş in a hard-fought game on Monday, so they may be a bit more tired. Still, their form this year is superb: they’re yet to lose a competitive match, having won 4 and drawn 1 in the Süper Lig and having marched through the Conference League qualification without a defeat. They’re good.
Manager Emre Belözoğlu should have his full squad at his disposal. He generally plays a 4-3-3 featuring a midfield that’s more gritty than glitzy. There’s no single player to watch, as nobody’s scored more than once, but there are plenty of faces familiar to Serie A fans in the side: Stefano Okaka, Lucas Biglia, Léo Duarte, and Danijel Aleksić all spent time in Italy, while Aston Villa loanee Bertrand Traoré is also pretty famous; Mesut Özil, however, probably won’t feature, as he’s been either hurt or benched all year.
Başakşehir can keep the ball well in the lower areas, tempting opponents forward to press and them hitting them with long balls over the top to a pair of very quick wingers. They’re also good at crossing, with Okaka providing an obvious target and a midfielder (usually Aleksić) breaking forward to add another body in the mixer. More than anything, they’re a really smart team, and they know exactly when to throw numbers forward on the counter. Once they have a lead, their pace means they’re a good bet to grab another one or two, so keeping it tight and not allowing runners in behind will be Fiorentina’s focus.
It’s been a nightmare start to a season that held such promise, as Fiorentina’s only win in the league came courtesy of a stoppage time goalkeeping error for the ages; they’ve slumped to 11th place with just 6 points from 6 matches. They’ve hardly impressed in the Conference League, either, producing a total of maybe 90 good minutes across 3 matches so far. Needless to say, there are rumblings among the fan base and media about what’s gone wrong and how to fix it before the season descends into real difficulties.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano has a genuine crisis on his hands: CB Nikola Milenković, RB Dodô, CM Alfred Duncan, CM Szymon Żurkowski, CM Gaetano Castrovilli, and LW Nicolás González are all out or doubtful for this one, although the latter may have a chance of suiting up. Don’t be surprised to see Marco Benassi fill in at rightback, as he’s not registered for Serie A and thus may save some miles on Lorenzo Venuti’s legs. Arthur Cabral and Youssef Maleh should return to the XI as well, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see further rotation as Italiano tries to balance continuity with preserving the health of his rapidly-dwindling roster.
Başakşehir have some large bodies in the middle, so crossing probably won’t pay massive dividends here. They do, however, occasionally look flustered when pressured high up, so closing down the defenders could make the difference. As always, the real question is whether or not the Viola wingers can win their individual battles. If they can, they could get back on track in this group. If they can’t, it’s going to be a long evening in front of a very hostile crowd.
How to watch
TV: Nah. Check the international television listings, but nah.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers generally have this one as a push, which feels a little bit odd to me. After all, Başakşehir have been on a tear and, while the underlying numbers don’t like them quite as much, they’ve been very, very good. In comparison, Fiorentina have been woeful all year in various phases and don’t look like they have a lot of anything in the tank.
And, because that’s when the Viola have generally tended to show up in a big way, that’s why I’m calling it as a 1-2 draw for the visitors. I think that, at home against an opponent they might view as fragile, Başakşehir are going to pile on the early pressure and allow Fiorentina space to break, then keep pushing forward to reduce the deficit after conceding on a quick counterattack. I’ll back Cabral and Sottil to score for the good guys, with big ol’ Okaka pulling one back for the bad guys. Because the Viola have to win again sometimes, might as well be now, right?