Fiorentina return triumphant from Poland after thumping Lech Poznań in the Conference League, but now they face a very different challenge in Atalanta. In 138 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W61 D43 L34 record, including W3 D2 L5 over their past 10 Serie A meetings (although a couple of wins in the Coppa Italia tilt the scales further towards the good guys). The reverse fixture ended in a 1-0 defeat back in October.
The referee for this one is 41-year-old Marco Guida of Torre Anunziata. He hasn’t reffed a Serie A game this year, which is weird, and has done just 4 this year; hopefully there’s nothing wrong with him health-wise. In 21 games under his direction, Fiorentina are a symmetrical W8 D5 L8. Last we saw him was the utterly dominant 2-0 win over AS Roma last season.
The match will be played on Monday, 17 April 2023, at 6:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a clear, blustery spring evening, so the atmospheric conditions are just right, even if the stadium might be emptier than usual.
If anyone worried that the draw against Spezia would derail Fiorentina, the team emphatically answered that question by whacking Lech on Thursday. That result pushes the unbeaten streak to 13 straight. Unfortunately, a rocky start to the season means that, despite being Serie A’s form team, the Viola are still just in 9th, although a win here would vault them past Bologna and into 8th. With the table the way it is, though, it feels like the league’s mostly for keeping guys fresh and maintaining momentum rather than getting wins; the eggs are firmly in the Coppa Italia and Conference League baskets now.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano has his full squad to choose from, minus GK Salvatore Sirigu. Nikola Milenković should continue to work in central defense, so one of Igor or Lucas Martínez Quarta will drop to the bench. We might see some rotation elsewhere, as Cristiano Biraghi and Dodô have played the full 90 4 times this month already. Jonathan Ikoné is likely to return to the XI, with Luka Jović a good bet to draw a start as well.
Atalanta’s defense has fallen off a bit since the last time these two met; early in the season, la Dea was the stingiest outfit in Serie, but has now fallen to the 6th-best. While they still press well, they now sit considerably deeper than in years past. This new-found solidity has changed the whole structure, but they’re hardly invulnerable; in the reverse fixture, Fiorentina created some chances but couldn’t finish. With the team clicking now, it feels like they need to keep doing what they’ve been doing more than anything else.
It’s felt a bit like a transition season for Europe’s biggest overachievers, as a number of the old guard have moved on and been replaced by youngsters. That loss of experience has slowly caught up to la Dea, which climbed as high as 3rd before suffering a bad run over the past few months; over their past 5, they’ve garnered just 7 points, including a defeat against Bologna and a draw against Udinese. Because this is Atalanta, though, the team’s still fantastic to watch and full of unheralded but excellent players, and only a real numpty would think there’s no danger here.
Manager Gian Piero Gasperini won’t have RM Hans Hateboer, LM Matteo Ruggeri, CM Mario Pašalić, or LW Lucas Vorličky, while CM Teun Koopmeiners may start from the bench. This is Gasperini, so you know to expect the fluid 3-4-2-1ish shape with the tridente drifting into space, rotating, and combining between the lines and through the channels and the wingbacks getting into the box. Ademola Lookman (13 goals, 4 assists) and Rasmus Højlund (7 goals, 2 assists) are the main danger; despite combining for 3 goals over their past 9 outings, they’re both too good to ignore.
With their more passive defensive approach, Atalanta isn’t quite the whirring storm of knives that they’ve been in years past. With so much pace up front—Lookman, Højlund, and Jeremie Boga are all very quick—la Dea likes to play on the counter. Expect more long balls into the channels than usual and a slightly more reserved approach from the defenders, who aren’t quite as eager to get forward as they used to be. If that doesn’t work, though, Gasperini can still rely on a physical group to grind out a result.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers have this one pretty close to even, and I think that’s about right. Atalanta’s higher in the table but Fiorentina’s in better form, so there’s not much to decide there. The visitors have some injuries, but the hosts have to rotate while competing on 3 fronts. Statistically, they’re pretty similar. It’s basically a toss-up.
I’m taking a 1-0 win to Fiorentina, though. Gasperini’s men have been slumping recently and it feels like opponents are figuring out their defense, while the forwards have been toothless. The Viola, on the other hand, are firing on all cylinders, and Italiano’s definitely got the leg up on the Gasper after winning all those games against him last year. I’ll call a Luka Jović goal to settle a tense affair in which both teams have a chance to win but only the good guys do, with the help of a Curva Fiesole which will give Gasperini the warmest of welcomes.