Fresh off an astonishingly dominant win over AC Milan, Fiorentina stay home to for the first leg of the Round of 16 in the Conference League against Sivasspor in what will be the first-ever game between these two. In 8 previous meetings against Turkish teams, the Viola are W7 L1; that one, you may recall, was the Pierluigi Gollini disasterclass against Başakşehir earlier this year.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Enea Jorgji of Albania. In 22 total appearances this year, he’s handed out 107 yellow cards, 13 red cards, and 10 penalties, so don’t be surprised if there’s some drama centered around his management of the game during dramatic moments. He’s never refereed a senior match for an Italian club and has just one precedent with a Turkish one, so this is uncharted territory for him.
The match will be played on Thursday, 9 March 2021, at 8:00 PM GMT/3:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a cool Tuscan evening with a chance of rain, but that shouldn’t stop the fans from turning up, although a full stadium may be a bit too much to ask on a weeknight. Still, the Curva should be in full force and the atmosphere should be really good.
Unbeaten in 5 straight across all competitions, it feels like Fiorentina is finally finding its feet late in the season, scoring 13 in that span and conceding 4. That uptick in form could see the 12th-place Viola surge into the top half, meeting GM Joe Barone’s expectations, although landing a European place is out of the picture. Still, with the Coppa Italia and the Conference League both beckoning, the dream of continental competition next year and a trophy for this one is alive and kicking.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have LB Aleksa Terzić but has the rest of the team ready. Salvatore Sirigu will take over between the posts but everything else remains fluid; Cousin Vinnie may prioritize stability and stick with something closer to his first XI, but we could also see trusted backups like Riccardo Saponara, Luka Jović, Antonín Barák, and Lucas Martínez Quarta get a chance. There’s also the outside chance that Gaetano Castrovilli and Riccardo Sottil get an extended run, but Italiano likely wants to ease them in.
Sivasspor will likely sit very deep and narrow, hoping to push Fiorentina out wide and tempt the deeper players forward before countering at speed. Their midfield will likely act as spoilers more than anything else, looking to chop down anything that gets within 30 yards of goal, but won’t engage higher up. Expect a steady stream of free kicks in attacking positions, but if feels like the Viola midfield’s ability to get the ball into the box through central areas will determine their success. If it’s just crosses and 1-v-2 dribbles from the wingers against a set defense, it could get ugly.
On the pitch, it’s been a tough season for Sivasspor. The Yigidos have slumped to 14th place in the Süper Lig, just 2 points above the relegation places, although they did well to top Group G and advance without needing a playoff. They lost 4-3 at Fatih Karagümrük on Saturday (with 2 of their goals coming in stoppage time) but they may still be rusty following a 3 week layoff due to the horrific earthquake that struck Turkey last month. For more on Sivasspor, check here.
Manager Rıza Çalımbay won’t have CB Caner Osmanpaşa, DM Robin Yalçın, or CF Mohammed Yatabaré (the leading scorer with 11 goals). He’ll set up in a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 shape with newly-signed Ecuador international Jordy Caicedo up front and Max-Alain Gradel (9 goals, 8 assists) on the left. DM Isaac Cofie is a Genoa academy product and played in Italy until 2018, but there aren’t any other players with ties to Serie A.
Sivasspor like to defend deep and play on the break. Gradel looks to move infield onto his stronger right foot and thread passes through or shoot, while Caicedo’s clever with his movement and quick enough to get in behind. The midfielders don’t tend to get beyond the forwards and focus on sitting deep and hitting passes for the tridente to chase, while the fullbacks are also usually somewhat reserved. Sivasspor is capable of some nice combination play, but this is more of a rugged, physical side than one based around finesse.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are big favorites in this one for pretty obvious reasons. Fiorentina have a much larger budget, are at home, in good form, and (with respect) probably possess a significant talent advantage. The only real concerns for the Viola are that they could overlook Sivasspor, and that the visitors may have a massive emotional boost in representing earthquake-torn Turkey.
Even so, I’ll take Fiorentina in a 2-0 win; Sivasspor haven’t defended very well and have a pretty toothless attack and it’s hard to see them bucking that trend here, although they’ve been much better at the attacking end of late, scoring 6 in their past couple outings, albeit against somewhat less impressive competition. I’ll back Cabral and Bonaventura to score in a game that Fiorentina controls despite a lot of fouls from the visitors as they attempt to break up the rhythm.