Having secured advancement to the Coppa Italia quarterfinals with the ugliest imaginable win over Parma, Fiorentina get a very different sort of challenge with a trip to the capital and AS Roma. In 193 previous competitive meetings, the Viola hold a W59 D66 L68 mark, including a W2 D2 L6 over their past 10 Serie A meetings; the last win over the Giallorossi in Rome came in 2018 under Stefano Pioli. Last year, this fixture ended in a 2-0 win for the hosts after Dodǒ was sent off to mark the 4th straight defeat at the Stadio Olimpico.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Antonio Rapuano of Rimini. In 5 matches this year, he’s handed out 19 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 2 penalties; he’s got a reputation for handing out yellow cards pretty quickly, but at least he’s honest. Fiorentina has won both of its matches under his direction; last we saw him was the 2-0 win over Hellas Verona a couple years ago, in which he did a perfectly acceptable job.
The match will be played on Sunday, 10 December 2023, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The forecast calls for rain in the morning but it should die out by kickoff, although the pitch will probably be pretty slick. The mercury won’t drop too low, though, so it should be a perfect day for the fans. The Viola Park will be open for those who can’t make the trip south, too.
Roma’s in the Champions League places by the slimmest of margins, having grabbed 24 points and leading Napoli on goal difference. The Giallorossi have taken 10 points from their past 5 league games and has qualified for the next round of the Europa League despite a couple of hiccups along the way. You might think that would lead to optimism among the supporters, but the nature of those wins has them awfully jumpy, and the pressure on the club to qualify for the Champions League is only increasing, especially with an absolutely brutal run of games coming up.
Manager Jose Mourinho won’t have Chris Smalling, Marash Kumbulla, or Tammy Abraham, but should recover Renato Sanches. He’ll use his usual 3-4-2-1, with the danger coming from Paulo Dybala (4 goals, 5 assists) and Romelu Lukaku (6 goals) up front. That pairing is why Roma’s scored the 2nd-most goals in the league (27), and slowing them down is a tall task indeed; if Fiorentina can do so, the chances of victory increase exponentially.
Roma has been very un-Mourinho this year, averaging the 3rd-highest possession share in the league so far. They like to build from deep with the attackers drifting wide to overload defenders. The wingbacks have good pace and pick their moments to get forward really well, while the midfielders are more reserved. Make no mistake, though: this team is all about Lukaku and Dybala and will go as far as that pair can take them, despite the excellence of several other players.
With just 6 points from its past 5 Serie A games, the Viola season feels balanced on the edge of a knife right now. Factor in that slightly alarming win over Serie B leaders Parma in the Coppa and you can see why the natives are restless, although a strong Conference League campaign has quieted some nerves. Still, if this team is serious about taking a step forward this year, this is a game it has to win: 3 points here will vault it over the Romans, and, pending the Juventus-Napoli result, possibly into 4th.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano should have Jonathan Ikoné back in the fold but won’t know Nicolás González’ until kickoff. Having rested a number of key players in the Parma match, expect to see guys like Giacomo Bonaventura, Arthur, and Alfred Duncan from the start. Fabiano Parisi could start at rightback again, too, as Kayode played all 120 minutes. The only real questions are up front—Lucas Beltrán or Christian Kouamé—and at the back—Lucas Martínez Quarta or Luca Ranieri.
Roma have been much more aggressive out of possession than you’d expect from a Mourinho team and will likely try to press high up. It’s worked really well, too: the Giallorossi have been very disruptive and are probably a better defensive team than their record shows. They’ve got big bodies at the back and in midfield and are as well organized as you’d expect, given who their manager is. It may behoove Fiorentina to play a bit more directly than usual in hopes of catching them out on the counter, although Italiano may not want to cede that control.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Roma’s definitely got the backing of the bookmakers, which makes sense given Italiano’s failure to win in this fixture throughout his career. Too, the possible absence of Nico González is enough to give even the most optimistic Viola fan pause. Add in some iffy form, especially away from home (Fiorentina haven’t won away in the league for 2 months), and you’ve got a pretty clear picture of where the odds lean and why they’re leaning there.
Since TMBGD isn’t a place where we worry about that kind of thing, though, let’s call it a surprising 1-2 win for the visitors, with goals from Jack Bonaventura and Kouamé for the good guys and Dybala for the bad guys. I’m expecting a game that’s cagey for long stretches as neither team commits too many numbers forward, but with exhilarating moments breaking up that dreariness and making the whole thing worth watching.