Fiorentina is riding a streak of 4 straight wins and 6 without a loss, as all the huffing and puffing against Sivasspor on Thursday eventually gave them a slender 1-0 lead to take back to Turkey. The challenge this weekend is similar in some ways as they travel to take on Cremonese. In 15 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W7 D7 L1 mark, including a skin-of-their teeth win in the season opener. Too, this serves a preview of the rather unlikely Coppa Italia semifinal next month, adding another layer of intrigue.
The referee for this one is 30-year-old Matteo Marcenaro of Genoa. In 6 Serie A appearances this year, he’s handed out 32 yellow cards, 6(!) red cards, and 3 penalties, which would seem to indicate that he’s no shrinking violet. This will be just his 10th top flight game and his first with Fiorentina, so it’s time for slakas to open a new file on him; he did manage to cause a furor earlier this year by incorrectly disallowing a late winner for Juventus (with an assist from Luca Banti in the VAR room), so maybe we’ll end up liking him.
The match will be played on Sunday, 12 March 2023, at 3:00 PM GMT/10:00 AM EST (and don’t forget about daylight savings time if you live somewhere that’s a thing), at the Stadio Giovanni Zini in Cremona. The forecast calls for a chilly, blustery spring day under clear skies; in short, an absolutely gorgeous afternoon for some calcio.
It’s been a pretty miserable return to the top flight for Cremonese. In their first season back since 1995-1996, the Grigiorossi have managed just 19th points, the joint-lowest total in the league. The only thing worse than their attack—a paltry 21 goals, good for 3rd-worst—has been their defense, which has conceded 46, and yes, that’s the worst in Serie A. On the other hand, they’ve taken 4 points from their past 5 matches, including a win over AS Roma (also the side they knocked out of the Coppa in the quarterfinals, directly after eliminating Napoli) and their underlying numbers aren’t as bad recently, so Fiorentina needs to take them seriously.
Manager Davide Ballardini, who’s only had the job for a couple of months, won’t have CB Vlad Chiricheș but should have everyone else. The sunglasses-wearing mister has used a 3-5-2 system but switched to 3-4-3 in recent weeks, so could try either system. David Okereke scored in the reverse fixture and has the clubhouse lead with 5 goals along with Cyriel Dessers; both can play through the middle or on the wing if Franck Tsadjout gets the nod. Also keep an eye on Viola loanee Marco Benassi, who’s been a regular starter in the middle and has looked fine.
Cremonese are going to play exactly how you expect: sit deep, soak up pressure, and try to hit on the counter; it’s what Ballardini does best and the natural way to frustrate Fiorentina’s possession-dominant approach, especially for a side that averages the 3rd-lowest possession in Serie A. Dessers, Okereke, and Felix Afena-Gyan all offer pace in behind. The wingbacks mostly stay wide to spam in crosses rather than attacking the back post and the midfielders generally sit deep to screen the defense. It’s the same tried-and-true approach that relegation battling sides have adopted since time immemorial. We know how it’ll look.
After a season spent scuffling in Serie A as the squad dealt with the wear and tear of competing on three fronts, it feels like Fiorentina has finally found its rhythm, stringing together its longest undefeated streak of the season. While it’d be nice to finish in the top half, the team really ought to focus on doing the bare minimum to finish mid-table and focus its energies on the cup competitions, which could bring the club its first trophy since 2001. That said, beating such a hapless side as Cremonese is a must, especially since any reversal could reverberate in the Coppa semifinal.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have LB Aleksa Terzić but should have everyone else. Expect some further rotation ahead of the long trip to Sivas in the midweek; Riccardo Saponara, Rolando Mandragora, and Lorenzo Venuti all look likely to start. The only real question is how the midfield will shape up: will it be the double pivot with a 10 that we’ve seen for much of the year, or will the mister revert to the 3-man engine room we saw against Sivasspor in the midweek?
We know how Cremonese will defend: deep, compact, and narrow. They won’t press farther than 35 yards from their goal. They’ll probably put in some, hm, robust challenges to set the tone in front of their increasingly desperate fans. The best way to beat them is probably getting some drive from the midfield, which might indicate that Saponara is the key man, along with Antonín Barák and perhaps Gaetano Castrovilli (who spent 2 years on loan with Cremonese). More than anything, though, it comes down to being sharp and not reverting to the push-it-wide-cross-it-in routine that left this outfit looking so listless for most of 2022.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers are all backing Fiorentina pretty hard for obvious reasons. Fiorentina have a higher payroll, are miles above in the table, and are in the midst of a good run of form. Cremonese, on the other hand, boast the 2nd-worst goal difference in Serie A and have won just one league game this year. The only possible stumbling block here is if the Dumutru Effect rears its head, but even then, the Grigiorossi are 12 points away from salvation with 13 matches left. They’re cooked.
I’m calling it a pretty calm 0-2 win for the good guys. While Cremonese will be stubborn, they’ve been so bad defensively (3 clean sheets in 23 games) that it’s hard to imagine them standing strong. I’ll back Arthur Cabral to open the scoring in the first half, forcing the hosts to emerge from their shell a bit, and Fiorentina to weather the brief storm before settling it with a set piece goal after the break to see it out relatively comfortably. I’d also take the over on yellow and red cards.