After a rude welcome to the Conference League playoff from Rapid Wien, Fiorentina finally plays its first match of the season at the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The opponent is Lecce, which means we’ll see a host of familiar faces on the pitch and on the sidelines. In 38 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W15 D12 L11 edge, including . Last time these two met was a scrappy 1-0 for the good guys in March.
The referee for this one is 32-year-old Maria Sole Ferrieri Caputi of Livorno. She’s the first woman to referee a men’s game in Serie A and at international level. She’s handled 3 Serie A matches previously, handing out 7 yellow card and a penalty, which indicates a pretty hands-off attitude. This will be her first outing with Fiornentina, so it’s time to open the new ref spreadsheet.
The match will be played on Sunday, 27 August 2023, at 5:30 PM GMT/1:30 PM EST, at the Stadio Artemio Franchi in beautiful Firenze. The forecast calls for another sweltering day, with temperatures hovering around 33°C/90°F at kickoff. Hopefully the heat won’t lead to another Viola meltdown.
As you might expect, a big win in the opener at Genoa and a tight loss in Vienna has this fan base reeling like it’s mid-season rather than the second fixture in league play. It’s not surprising, as it takes a little while to get the machinery humming, especially when you’re playing in a Dantean inferno. On the other hand, Fiorentina really needs a win here to maintain the Scudetto-winning pace it set in last week.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have Sofyan Amrabat, Abelhamid Sabiri, Antonín Barák, Jonathan Ikoné, or Luka Jović. Even with all the absences, though, he’ll likely want to rotate his side. We could see guys like Yerry Mina and Fabiano Parisi make their debuts, while Alfred Duncan and Lucas Beltrán could get the nod from the start. With a deficit to overturn at the Franchi against the Grün-Weißen on Thursday, Cousin Vinnie needs to keep his guys fresh rather than running them into the ground, especially this early in the season.
Lecce will probably sit fairly deep but won’t be afraid to come out and press occasionally. Expect them to defend pretty narrow after seeing Rapid Wien’s success with that approach, so the Viola will need to shift the ball around quickly to take advantage. The positive side is that the Salentini have a bunch of strapping centerbacks but not a lot of quickness in that area, so clever and mobile forwards have found space in the box against them.
The Salentini started their season with a bang, coming back with 2 goals in 3 minutes to beat Lazio. It was a welcome result for many Viola fans, given how unlikable Lazio is and how many beloved ex-Fiorentina figures are now working for the Giallorossi. Lecce is still predicted to fight against the drop, but they’ll be ready to go off the back of a big result and will be looking to claim a high-profile victim for the second week running.
Manager Roberto D’Aversa doesn’t have any absences. He’s opted for a very fluid 4-3-3 so far that focuses on the wide areas; indeed, it was goals from the wingers that beat Lazio. Keep an eye on the sizable contingent of ex-Viola players: GK Federico Brancolini, RB Lorenzo Venuti, and CM Youssef Maleh are all likely to start on the bench, but the latter two could easily see some minutes. Keep an eye out for former backroom stars Pantaleo Corvino and Sandro Mencucci, too, who’ve built a pretty interesting project down in Puglia.
D’Aversa’s most interesting move so far has been benching the very tall Assan Ceesay and using the very short Gabriele Strefezza at striker. With Lameck Banda, Pontus Almquist, and Federico di Francesco on the wings, he’s always got a fluid tridente that boasts pace and dribbling. Lecce have mostly played on the break, trying to bypass the midfield, with leftback Antonino Gallo quite influential going forward while the midfielders mostly stay home. It’s a very different sort of challenge and one that will test Fiorentina’s high line.
How to watch
TV: Not looking likely but 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 Fiorentina as big favorites, for pretty obvious reasons. The home team is in (the playoffs for) a European competition and the away team is expected to fight relegation. However, extreme heat is always a leveler, and the Viola are probably going to rotate the side quite a bit, which could result in an unfamiliar XI, especially with so many new faces. Add in the considerable amount of satisfaction a lot of folks in the Lecce camp would take from getting a result here and I’d argue it’s probably a bit tighter than you might think.
Still, I’ll give it Fiorentina the edge here, as the new signings have plenty to prove too and the Franchi should provide quite an atmosphere for its first match of the new season. I’m expecting another low-tempo affair as both teams try not to tire themselves out too much. The Viola should dominate possession and position and eventually get the breakthrough. I’ll say it comes from Beltrán sneaking in behind, with Nikola Milenković doubling the lead off a set piece before a Strefezza strike makes us sweat the final moments a bit more than we’d like. 2-1 and the dream of a perfect season still alive.