Following a defeat against archrivals Juventus on Sunday (albeit without the full strength of the Curva Fiesole), Fiorentina return to Conference League group play with a trip to Čukarički. The return leg—a genuinely fun 6-0 thrashing at the Artemio Franchihas been the only positive result for the past several weeks
The referee for this one is Robert Schröder of Germany. In 10 appearances this year, he’s handed out 40 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 2 penalties; he’s always been slow to book players, which could play into the hosts’ hands, and he’s had some recent controversies in the Bundesliga around his use of VAR. This will be his first full European club match, although he did work a couple Conference League qualifiers earlier this year and has 1 UEFA international under his belt. He’s never handled a game involving teams from either Italy or Serbia, so communication with the players could add a level of complexity.
The match will be played on Thursday, 9 November 2023, at 5:45 PM GMT/1:45 PM EST at the Čukarički Stadium in the Banovo brdo neighborhood of Belgrade, Serbia. The forecast calls for a really nice autumn day, clear and crisp and generally very nice. The concern, of course, is how the home support will react to the racist garbage from the Fiorentina fans leveled against Serbian star Dušan Vlahović at the weekend. Hopefully the atmosphere doesn’t turn too ugly.
Čukarički’s blah season just keeps rolling. Since that 6-0 loss at Fiorentina, the Brđani drew fellow mid-table side Vojvodina at home, edged past second tier side Radnički Beograd on penalties in the cup, then lost at TSC on Sunday, leaving them in a disappointing 7th place, in danger of dropping into the bottom half of the table. It’s been even worse for them in Europe, as they’ve lost all 3 Conference League group games and sit bottom of Group F with 1 goal scored and 11 conceded. The supporters seemed to expect a rough year after a chaotic summer, but still hoped for something a bit less catastrophic.
Manager Igor Matić won’t have CB Vujin Serafimović or CB Luka Subotić, which could impact his tactical plans, as he tried out a 5-3-2 on Sunday after sticking to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for most of the year, but he may opt for an extra defender after what Fiorentina did the last time these two crossed paths.
Expect to see more of the same from Čukarički. They’ll see maybe 30% of the ball and generally look to thump it forward at the first opportunity, hoping to get an attacker in behind or out wide to cross for runners from deep. Don’t be surprised if they to sell every foul in hopes of getting some favorable refereeing decisions in front of a raucous crowd; since they have nothing to lose, it behooves the Viola to keep their heads more than the Brđani.
It’s been a bad month for Fiorentina, particularly in Serie A: 3 straight defeats (vs Empoli, at Lazio, vs Juve) have the fans feeling a bit restless. That winless streak has dropped the Viola from 5th to 8th in Serie A. As the league form has nosedived, however, the Conference League form has rocketed upwards, leaving our boys in first place of Group F despite a pair of underwhelming draws, so they’ve got a good chance of pushing on and winning the thing so long as they take all 3 points here.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have RB Michael Kayode but has questions all over the XI, starting between the sticks, where Oliver Christensen may hope to replace Pietro Terracciano. Nikola Milenković, Rolando Mandragora, Giacomo Bonaventura, and Jonathan Ikoné all could return as well. There’s even a tiny, tiny chance that Yerry Mina will get his first start for the Viola and even play in defense instead of as a rudimentary target man, but let’s not get too crazy.
Remember how Čukarički set up last time? With everyone in the box, including the mascots? This time out shouldn’t be any different. Fiorentina will get a lot of opportunities to create something against a packed-back defense. If the wingers and midfielders can find a bit of space, particularly with their off-ball running, they should be able to trouble Nenad Filipović’s goal quite a bit. Also keep an eye out for some hm rugged tackles, as the hosts will likely try to stamp their authority on this one early and intimidate their visitors as much as they can.
How to watch
TV: Check the international television listings, but you’re probably streaming this one.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are pretty massive favorites with the bookmakers for obvious reasons. Winning this fixture at home just a couple weeks ago by a score of 6-0 automatically tilts the odds even before you see which clubs are involved. Yes, the Viola are a bit fragile right now after some poor performances in Serie A, but it’s hard for a recent huge victory to not color your thinking for the return leg.
I’ll make it a 0-3 win for the visitors, with goals from Beltrán, Nzola, and (why not?) Gino Infantino. I’d expect a fair number of yellow cards and probably some forehead-to-forehead shouting in a game that could turn ill-tempered—Fiorentina won’t forget that injury to Michael Kayode and won’t be in any mood for Čukarički’s aggression—but probably only has one real possibility in terms of the final result.