Having started 2023 just as they ended 2022—by frustrating everyone—in a 1-1 draw against Monza, Fiorentina have a second chance to get it right at home when Sassuolo come to Florence. In 20 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W7 D7 L6 mark, although they’ve failed to win any of the past 5 meetings (2 drawn, 3 lost), including a 2-2 draw in this fixture last year that featured a 2-goal comeback and a red card.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Gianluca Manganiello of Pinolo, who’s no stranger to controversy. In 7 matches across Serie A and Serie B this year, he’s issued 26 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 1 penalty; he’s historically been a lot more active in the latter categories, so don’t be surprised if he gets back to normal, although he’s also got a reputation for letting midfield fouling go unchecked. Under his watch, Fiorentina is undefeated: 4 wins and 3 draws, including a 1-1 draw against Hellas Verona last year in their most recent interaction.
The match will be played on Saturday, 7 January 2023, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a grey day and maybe some light precipitation, but it shouldn’t be too cold. Indeed, the Curva Fiesole will likely be quite warm indeed, especially if the Viola are slow out the gate.
The Viola once again judder into life without actually getting moving. They’ve now taken 6 points from their past 5 matches despite looking the better side for most of those 450 minutes, leaving them in 10th place with 20 points. That’s already 10 behind AS Roma in the final Conference League spot, which is a sizeable gap this early in the season, especially with the fixtures piling up as the Viola compete on 3 fronts.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have DM Rolando Mandragora, LW Riccardo Sottil, or CF Luka Jović, but welcomes back RW Nicolás González, who’ll likely start from the bench. With most of his personnel decisions effectively made for him due to injuries (and I cannot recall a team that’s ever emerged from a lengthy break with so many injuries), the only real question is whether or not Gaetano Castrovilli is ready to start; I’d guess that he’ll be eased back in, so expect Giacomo Bonvanentura as the 10 instead.
Sassuolo are the least aggressive defensive team in Serie A, rarely bothering to press and rarely winning the ball back. That means Fiorentina should dominate possession and territory, which means they’ll need to find the cutting edge; that, of course, has been the rub for years. The Neroverdi will bunch up in their own area and try to wall off the goal, but they simply haven’t been that good at it, so it’s on Italiano to figure out where the gaps are. One significant one is that they’ve been really poor in the air, which makes a Nikola Milenković set piece goal feel particularly likely.
As you’d expect from a side that lost Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca, Sassuolo have struggled this year, slumping to 16th in the table with 16 points due in part to the league’s 5th-worst attack (16 goals scored). They’ve gone 5 straight without a win and on Wednesday conceded twice against a Sampdoria side that had only scored 6 goals in its 15 previous matches, so the defense, which has failed to keep a clean sheet in 8 straight, is also pretty suspect.
Manager Alessio Dionisi won’t have RB Mert Müldür or CM Maxime Lopez, while RW Domenico Berardi is a fitness concern as well, even if he makes the squad. It’ll be the usual 4-3-3 for the Neroverdi, with most of the quality coming from a midfield featuring Davide Frattesi and Hamid Junior Traoré (Fiorentina beffata!). Andrea Pinamonti is big and quick at striker, while Armand Laurienté, Kristian Thorstvedt, and Augstín Álvarez are all interesting young-ish players, but this is probably the least talented squad Sassuolo has had in a few years.
Although they don’t keep the ball as well as they have in seasons past, the Neroverdi are still good on the ball with excellent technical players from front to back. They like to get it forward quickly, although they’ve opted for more long passes than usual, often trying to get their wingers in space early. Indeed, the wide players bear much of the creative burden, looking to beat a fullback and either shoot or find an onrushing midfielder (Frattesi’s been particularly good, scoring 4 goals). Despite Pinamonti’s height, they’re not great at crossing, but their buildup patterns are always good and interesting, even if the results haven’t really come this year.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
There’s a bit of discussion amongst the betting houses on this one, with Sassuolo’s recent history of success against Fiorentina weighed against either side’s recent form. The hosts remain the favorites by a decent margin, but there’s clearly some doubt in there. You get the sense that the odds could shift as soon as we know Berardi’s status: if he can’t make it, the Viola are going to shoot into the catbird seat as massive favorites.
Based on Sassuolo’s recent form, I’m going to bank on Fiorentina righting the ship here in a fairly high-scoring game, given that both defenses have been mighty prone to mistakes of late. I’ll call it as a 2-1 for the good guys, with a Milenković header off a Biraghi set piece and a González goal set up by Castrovilli providing the margin against a Traoré strike in a game that’s fairly open but mostly dominated by the Viola.