Fiorentina scuffled at the weekend against a newly-promoted side in the league and now face another in the second leg Coppa Italia seminfinal against Cremonese. In 17 previous meetings against the Grigiorossi, the Viola hold a W9 D7 L1 mark (with the only loss coming in 1929), including a 0-2 win in the first leg; indeed, Fiorentina have the chance to beat the Violini 4 times this season, having won both Serie A fixtures as well.
The referee for this one is 38-year-old Livio Marinelli of Tivoli. In 16 appearances this season, he’s handed out 63 yellow cards, 3 red cards, and 9 penalties. In 4 matches under his direction, Fiorentina are W2 D1 L1. Last we saw him was the scruffily comfortable 0-2 win over Sampdoria earlier this year, in which he waved off the most obvious penalty you’ll ever see despite checking VAR. He’s usually better than that, so let’s hope it was a one-off.
The match will be played on Thursday, 27 April 2023, at 8:00 PM GMT/4:00 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for a beautiful Tuscan spring night, which should only encourage a raucous atmosphere as the Viola faithful pack the venerable stadium in hopes of seeing their team advance to the final for the first time in a decade.
After reeling off an incredible streak of 14 straight unbeaten, the Viola have now lost 2 on the bounce; while the loss to Lech Poznań felt more like a win, considering the all-time bad refereeing performance, there’s no way to positively spin a loss at Monza. That result left the Viola in 10th with 42 points, even with Udinese and Torino—they’ve lost to both though, so they’re effectively in 12th pending results later in the year—and pretty well put a nail in the coffin of finishing in the European places, particularly with Juventus getting 15 points back. Joe Barone’s much-desired top half finish is still in the cards, at least.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have CM Giacomo Bonaventura and may still be missing LW Josip Brekalo. Expect some heavy rotation from the team that lost on Sunday, with Nicolás González and maybe Jonathan Ikoné returning to the XI. With the fixtures hitting thick and fast, it’s up to the mister to strike the right balance between maintaining continuity and keeping legs fresh.
Cremonese are in an awkward spot. Their natural inclination will be to sit deep and counter, but that won’t work when they need 2 goals. They’re surprisingly active in pressing and will probably push out a bit, so it’s really on Fiorentina to find the spaces they’ll inevitably leave and pick them off. And hey, that’s very doable: this is Serie A’s worst defense by a decent margin, prone to big errors; see Emanuel Aiwu’s sending off in the away leg. The Viola will have chances in this one, so it’s just a matter of taking them.
Let’s not be cute about it: Cremonese is getting relegated, but the Grigiorossi can hope a return to the top flight won’t have to wait another 27 years. Indeed, they’re riding a bit of a wave, having won 3 of their past 5 (accounting for more than half of their points on the season) and even passed up listless Sampdoria to get out of the bottom spot. This makes them a weirdly dangerous team: freed from the pressure of surviving, every moment in the spotlight is gravy, and the players will feel either loose or desperate to earn a move to another Serie A side.
Manager Davide Ballardini won’t have CB Vlad Chiricheș or CB Aiwu and may not risk Frank Tsadjout. He’s recently gone to a back 4 (previously unthinkable for the sunglassed 3-5-2 aficionado), so it could be 4-3-1-2 or 3-4-1-2. Keep an eye out for Viola loanee Marco Benassi, who’s piling up minutes in Cremona, but the real danger comes from Cyriel Dessers (6 goals) and supersub Daniele Ciofani (6 goals).
Regardless of which shape Ballardini picks, we all know how Cremonese will play: deep, compact, and direct. The forward duo will work the channels and try to link up, causing havoc in 1-v-1 matchups in space and sometimes looking for the trequartista on knockdowns and cutbacks. The midfielders won’t really get forward and the wingbacks/fullbacks will stay wide rather than crashing in. It’s a simple enough system, but it can cause big problems when it’s executed well.
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
Fiorentina are massive favorites at the betting houses and hold all the cards. The Viola hold a 2-goal advantage, which should allow them to sit deeper and pick Cremonese off, and are playing at home. There’s also the small matter of relative team strength: one of these sides is about to play in the Conference League semifinal, and the other’s getting ready for Serie B. The only potential obstacles are that the Grigiorossi have been playing really well of late and may hold the emotional high ground.
Even so, I’ll call it a 3-1 win for the good guys. I’m expecting the visitors to come out with tremendous intensity and make it very difficult for the hosts to work the ball forward; I’ll even spot Ballardini’s men a first half goal via Dessers. But as the game drags on, I expect the Grigiorossi to commit too many numbers forward, and that’ll give Fiorentina a lot of space to pick them off on the break, with Gaetano Castrovilli, Nico González, and Riccardo Sottil all profiting.