It’s here. The big one. The Conference League final. The one that will, to some people, determine whether or not this magical Fiorentina season has been a success. It’s time for Fiorentina and West Ham. In 12 previous meetings against English clubs in Europe, the Viola are W7 D3 L2, although the most recent came in 2016: an embarrassing 3-0 capitulation at Tottenham Hotspur.
The referee for this one is 47-year-old Carlos del Cerro Grande of Spain. In 36 appearances this season, he’s handed out 164 yellow cards, 12 red cards, and 13 penalties (an average of 4.6, 0.3, and 0.3 per game). He’s never worked with either Fiorentina or West Ham; in 17 matches with Italian teams, they’re W8 D5 L5, while their English counterparts are W9 D4 L5 in 18 outings.
The match will be played on Wednesday, 7 June 2021, at 7:00 PM GMT/3:00 PM EST, at the Eden Arena in Prague, Czechia. The forecast calls for a grey evening with intermittent drizzle and temperatures around 20°C/68°F. Even those conditions shouldn’t dampen the excitement of the 7000 fans traveling to the game, although about 3000 don’t have tickets. The Stadio Artemio Franchi will also be open back in Florence, with screens set up to broadcast the action to those who can’t make the trip.
It’s been quite a wild ride for Fiorentina fans this year. Finishing as runners up in the Coppa Italia after arguably outplaying Inter Milan put paid to the hopes for a double, but the Viola could still cap off the season with their first major trophy since the Coppa in 2001. Winning this one would guarantee a place in Europe next season, too, and the attendant financial and emotional rewards. That’s important for an ambitious club that finished 8th in Serie A and won’t qualify for continental competition that way, unless 7th-place Juventus is penalized in an ongoing investigation.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano should have his full squad available after late injury scares for LW Nicolás González, CM Gaetano Castrovilli, and AM Antonín Barák. He’ll likely set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Rolando Mandragora partnering Sofyan Amrabat, with Giacomo Bonaventura as the 10. Igor should get the start in defense, while Luka Jović and Jonathan Ikoné will probably round out the front three with González.
West Ham will sit deep in two banks of 4, with the number 10 dropping in and the striker often dropping deep to keep all 11 behind the ball. Fiorentina’s job is to find a way through this well-drilled and notably large defense. Aerial bombardment won’t work, as the centerbacks and central midfielders are all enormous and Thilo Kehrer at rightback is also big, so the Viola will need to find a weakness (scroll to the 2nd thing we learned in this article). Otherwise, the team will be relying on someone to produce a moment of magic, and that’s probably not enough.
Much like Fiorentina, West Ham has underwhelmed in the league while impressing in Europe. A 14th-place finish with just 40 points hasn’t done much for fans, while relatively early exits in the FA Cup and EFL Cup mean that the Conference League is the only way to salvage something from this season. If anything, the Hammers need this more than Fiorentina, as they haven’t won a major trophy since the FA Cup in 1980. They’ll need to dig deep, too, as they haven’t impressed recently, losing 3 of their past 5 in the Premier League.
Manager David Moyes has his full squad available. He’ll likely trot out his usual 4-2-3-1, with most of the danger coming from wingers Jarrod Bowen (12 goals, 9 assists in all competitions) and Saïd Behrahma (11 and 5) and striker Michail Antonio (14 and 5). Attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá and striker Gianluca Scamacca will know some Viola players from their time in Italy, while Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal will know Antonín Barák from their time with the Czech national team.
West Ham, as you’d expect from a Moyes team, won’t try to keep the ball much and will instead look to play on the break. They want to get the ball to their quick wingers, who will drive forward and look to cut inside. Declan Rice will look to spray the ball around or carry it forward to start breaks, so shutting him down could be a major priority for Fiorentina. The Hammers are also very dangerous at set pieces, boasting an array of very large people in the side. Tactically, though, they’re pretty basic: get the ball from back to front as quickly as possible.
How to watch
TV: Should be anywhere that carries the Conference League, which is all too frequently nowhere. Check the international television listings to be sure.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The oddsmakers have this one pretty even, although they all seem to be leaning slightly West Ham’s way. Some of that is doubtless the Premier League bias, especially since so many betting houses are based in the UK, but the line probably isn’t that off; after all, even a 14th-place English club has financial resources equivalent to most Champions League sides in other nations.
Based on recent form, though, I think Fiorentina has a pretty good chance of getting through. I’d guess that the crowd will be evenly split, so there’s no advantage there, but I also think that the Viola may have the edge based on recent form, but I’m expected a finely-poised game of cat-and-mouse, with the good guys seeing the vast majority of possession and threatening more with the bad guys occasionally thundering forward on the counter.
We’ve seen this script play out various ways, but I’m pretty confident. I don’t foresee many goals; in fact, I think that the first team to score will probably have the winning margin. Therefore, I’m making it 1-0 to Fiorentina behind a late goal from Arthur Cabral off the bench in a game that’s more of a grind than anyone really wants.