Fiorentina will try to regroup from a slightly bizarre draw against local rivals Empoli and take care of business in the Conference League against Braga. As you may recall, the Viola dismantled the Arcebispos to the tune of 0-4 in the away leg last week; if you think that the home leg should be a walk in the park, though, you clearly don’t know Fiorentina.
The referee for this one is 39-year-old Benoît Bastien of France. In 22 appearances this year, he’s handed out 91 yellow cards, 9 red cards, and 10 penalties, which makes him seem like the kind of official who isn’t afraid of the spotlight. Italian teams are W3 D1 L1 under his watch. Weirdly enough, the only Portuguese team he’s ever reffed was Braga in a 1-1 draw against Gent in the 2016 Europa League.
The match will be played on Thursday, 23 February 2023, at 3:00 PM EST/8:00 PM GMT, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a chilly spring day, with temperatures around 10˚C/50˚F, but the rainshowers from the day before should be dried up and the clouds may even recede to give us a glimpse of the Tuscan stars.
It really feels like there are two Fiorentinas (Fiorentine? Fiorentinae?) this year. The bad one plays in Serie A and fails to beat cellar-dwellers Monza and Lecce. The good one blows teams out of the park in the Conference League and has hauled itself within 180 minutes of the Coppa Italia final. It’s reductive to say that all this team needs to do is ensure that the good side shows up, but it’s also just about true.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have CB Nikola Milenković or RB Lorenzo Venuti, while GK Salvatore Sirigu makes the squad but might not be ready after taking personal leave. Expect the mister to rotate heavily, given the previous result: guys like Alfred Duncan, Arthur Cabral, Lucas Martínez Quarta, and Aleksa Terzić all have a good chance to start. We could also see Riccardo Sottil make his first appearance since September after his recovery from back surgery, although he’ll likely come off the bench.
Braga probably won’t surrender like they did last week, but Fiorentina should be able to get at them. Expect the visitors to come out pressing hard in search of an early goal; if the hosts stand firm for half an hour or so, Braga should get desperate, start throwing bodies forward, and leave themselves wide open. Conversely, it could be the Viola who try to grab that first goal early to really put this one to bed, although they’ll want to keep it tight at the back to prevent any uncertainty creeping in.
Braga just seems like a weird team. They’ve won 14 of their past 17, including a 2-0 over Arouca on Sunday, but the losses—a pair against Sporting and then against Fiorentina—have seen them outscored 14-0. They’re still in 3rd place in the Primeira Liga and boast an exceptionally balanced approach (3rd most goals scored, 3rd fewest conceded) but there’s definitely the potential for spectacle with them.
Manager Artur Jorge won’t have CB Vitor Tormena, so will likely turn to Paulo Oliveira next to Sikou Niakaté in the heart of his defense. It’ll likely be the usual 4-4-2, although it’s tough to predict how seriously he’ll take this one with the domestic dogfight he’s got chasing Porto for second; we could see quite a bit of rotation, although some of his key attackers got a bit of a breather in Sunday’s outing.
Not to reduce this to the Proper Football Man Discourse™ about “wanting it more,” but it’s tough to see any team overcoming a 4-0 deficit. Braga will probably start very energetically, pressing Fiorentina and trying to get their quick forwards and wingers in space to attack directly, but it’s tough to balance intensity and intelligence in this situation. If they don’t get a couple of goals in the first half, don’t be surprised if they wave the white flag and conserve their energies for Monday’s clash with Vitoria Guimarāes.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Let’s not complicate this too much. Braga is a really good team, probably comparable to Fiorentina, but also happened to lay a stinker last week and probably can’t overcome that. The betting houses have the hosts as the heavy favorites, although a draw feels like a pretty decent bet. Really, though, the end result doesn’t matter here as long as it’s not a 4-goal loss.
I’m going to call it a 2-1 win for the good guys. I expect Artur Jorge’s men to come out with their hair (figuratively) on fire, pressing like maniacs and causing some confusion at the back, but ultimately fail to capitalize and end up getting picked off on the break by Cabral to set up a second half that looks more like a friendly, with Sottil and Djaló completing the scoring to send Fiorentina through to the Round of 16.