It’s no rest for Fiorentina as they pop back up from a typically draining draw against Juventus to begin their Conference League campaign in earnest with their first group stage match against Rīgas Futbola Skola (RFS for short). It’ll be the Viola’s first-ever meeting with a Latvian opponent and just the fifth for an Italian side.
The referee for this one is 33-year-old Pavel Orel of Czechia. In 7 appearances this year, he’s issued 33 yellow cards and 1 red card; over his career, he’s got per-game statistics of 4.3 yellow cards, 0.18 red cards, and 0.28 red cards. He’s also rated as one of his nations better refs, as he’s already handling international matches at his age.
The match will be played on Thursday, 8 September 2022, at 6:45 PM GMT/1:45 PM EST at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Florence. It’s likely going to be wet, as it’s currently thundering and pouring, but the forecast offers a bit of hope that it might clear up by kickoff. Still, don’t be shocked if the conditions are more sopping than not.
Serie A hasn’t been especially kind to Fiorentina this season—just 1 win and 6 points from 5 matches—and the team has been wildly uneven, holding scudetto contenders Napoli and Juve to draws while capitulating to a mediocre Udinese and failing to beat 10-man Empoli. With a number of changes to the squad, you get the sense that everyone’s still trying to figure things out and that things will click sooner rather than later, but 11 matches in the opening 28 days means there simply hasn’t been enough time to gel.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have CB Nikola Milenković, CB Igor, CM Alfred Duncan, or CM Gaetano Castrovilli. It’ll be, as ever, the 4-3-3, and as ever, will likely feature a heavily-rotated squad. Arthur Cabral is a good bet to start up front, while Jonathan Ikoné will go on the wing if Nicolás González still isn’t quite fit. Hopefully, the good guys put this one to bed early on so that some of the youngsters who’ve been called up for this one—Alessandro Bianco, Dimo Krastev, Constatino Favasuli—get a cameo.
Since RFS are likely to sit very deep and play almost entirely on the counterattack, Fiorentina should finish with something like 70% possession. RFS have some big, strong defenders, so lobbing in high crosses may not be especially helpful, but they struggle to track runners into the box at times, which means looking for cutbacks and low balls into the area could be fruitful. Quick switches from wing to wing have caught them out at times, so the midfield will need to focus on finding the wingers in space. They’ve also struggled to defend set pieces, although Fiorentina, sans Milenković, may not be able to capitalize.
It’s been a solid season for RFS. They’re currently 3rd in the Virsliga, 7 points behind leaders Valmiera, and look to be in good position to qualify for the Conference League playoffs again next season with 9 games left. They’ve got a chance to win silverware this season, too, as they’ve made the cup final. They’ve taken 8 points from their past 5 league matches, though, and seem to be slowing down a bit towards the end of the season.
Manager Viktor Morozs won’t have CM Artūrs Zjujins but has the rest of his squad available. He usually plays a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 built around a rugged target man and a quicker striker playing off him. While he might rotate his squad, given that RFS played on Sunday, expect leading scorer Andrej Ilić and explosive left winger Emerson to start again; the former is quite clever at getting in behind and the latter is a diminutive dribbler with surprising passing chops, so those are the two that the Viola will watch closely.
RFS play a very direct style, prioritizing long passes. They’ll look to get down the wings if there’s space but are also happy lobbing the ball in behind for Ilić to chase or knock down for a runner. Once they get the ball in the final third, they’ll look to move it as quickly as possible around the box, hoping to get space for either a cross or a shot (they’re more than happy to pull the trigger from distance) with one touch passes or darting, angled runs. They also like to chip crosses from the half spaces into the back post. Finally, because they’ve got a bunch of large humans, they’re dangerous from set pieces.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are massive favorites with every oddsmaker in the world, and it’s easy to see why: with all respect to the RFS players (and there are a number of regular internationals in the side), the Viola, despite some warts, just have more talent. The only real ways this could go backwards are Fiorentina continuing its early-season jitters against an opponent that’s been playing regularly for months, or a repeat of the Udinese match (which you know Morozs will have watched very carefully).
Even with those caveats, though, I’m taking the hosts in a 2-0 win. While they’ve had trouble scoring so far—just 1 goal in their past 5 games—this feels like the right place to bounce back. The Franchi is going to be an incredible atmosphere and the players will likely go in with plenty of confidence. As long as they don’t underestimate the opponents, they should be okay. And if they don’t win, well, it’s time for Italiano and company to do some serious thinking about this team.