Fiorentina has a break in its scheduled programming for the cursed Supercoppa Italiana opener against Napoli. In 171 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W60 D50 L61 mark, including W4 D1 L5 in their past 10 games in all competitions. The good guys actually toppled the Partenopei 1-3 in Naples earlier this year and beat them in the Coppa Italia a couple seasons ago, so there’s no telling where this one ends up.
The referee for this one is 40-year-old Federico La Penna of Rome. In 10 appearances this year, he’s handed out 53 yellow cards, 1 red card, and 4 penalties. In 9 matches under his direction, Fiorentina are W5 D2 L2. In a fun quirk, last we saw him was the win at Napoli earlier this year. Let’s hope for a repeat performance.
The match will be played on Thursay, 18 January 2024, at 7:00 PM GMT/2:00 PM EST, at Al-Awwal Park on the King Saud University campus in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The forecast calls for a clear, dry 18°C/63°F. Should be a fine evening for it, although don’t expect too many supporters for either side to make the enormously long journey. It’ll mostly be local fans and onlookers, many of whom don’t have any real vested interest.
This season has been quite a letdown for the Scudetto winners. A lot of people expected Napoli to defend its status atop the heap, but the Partenopei sit in a disappointing 8th place with 31 points and have already been bounced out of the Coppa Italia in a historical 0-4 thrashing at the hands of Frosinone, winning just 1 of their past 5 games (and that a close one over fellow southerners Salernitana). The only real hope the Neapolitans have left is the Champions League (a round of 16 matchup with Barcelona beckons) and making a late push for the top four to try again next year.
Manager Walter Mazzarri (What year is it?) won’t have Victor Osimhen or André-Frank Zambo Anguissa, while Piotr Zieliński, Jens Cajuste, and Diego Demme may not be fully fit. The mister has maintained his predecessor’s 4-3-3, and, in the absence of Osimhen, will rely heavily on star wingers Khvicha Kvaratshkelia (5 goals, 4 assists) and Matteo Politano (6 goals, 4 assists) in attack. Old friend Giovanni Simeone may lead the line and would doubtless love to get one over on his old employer, especially since he’s reportedly looking for a move away to earn a bigger role. All in all, it’s a perfect trap game: a struggling giant with its back against the wall looking to prove a point.
Napoli leads Serie A in possession share, so expect Fiorentina to sit off a bit and look to counter. The Partenopei are great at getting runners into the final third, whether that’s the fullbacks overlapping, Zieliński darting into the box, or the wingers cutting inside to shoot. Those wingers are absolutely the key: if the Viola can stifle them (and Kayode erased Kvaratshkelia last time out), Napoli will probably end up passing around the box quite a bit without really threatening that much and get increasingly frustrated, leaving themselves open to the counter.
Despite dropping 5 of 6 possible points in 2024, Fiorentina’s astonishing season roles on with the club in sole control of 4th place with 34 points. Injuries, absences, and incompetence have sapped the team of firepower recently but the Viola have kept ticking by transforming itself into an unrecognizably gritty team. Even so, fans are worried about the lack of signings to bolster a dangerously thin squad competing on three (four if you count the Supercoppa) fronts, and it’s hard to shake the sense that all the success is only smoke and mirrors.
Reigning Serie A manager of the month Vincenzo Italiano won’t have Christian Kouamé or Gaetano Castrovilli, while Dodô and Nicolás González remain compromised as well. With Riccardo Sottil recovered, we’ll probably see the usual 4-2-3-1, although if the handsome winger is unavailable, a 3-4-2-1 is a distinct possibility as well. Adding to the drama is Napoli’s purported interest in Antonín Barák; a good showing could change the formula for a move, although the Viola probably can’t afford to lose any players from this shallow roster without finding immediate replacements.
Assuming that Napoli controls the tempo, Fiorentina will probably look to play pretty directly, trying to get the ball into Giacomo Bonaventura and Jonathan Ikoné in space. The latter especially could be really important, as he may have the pace to really threaten in behind a high line. Failing that, the burden will fall on Arthur to get Fiorentina past a fierce Partenopei press; his work in possession will almost be more important defensively to prevent the bad guys from winning the ball high up and attacking a disorganized defense.
How to watch
TV: Check whichever channel, if any carries Serie A or the Coppa Italia regularly; take a gander at the international television listings if you’re not sure.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The bookmakers have the line much closer than I would’ve expected, frankly. Fiorentina’s dropped 5 points in its past 2 matches against relegation strugglers and has some notable absences; even if González is ready, he’ll start from the bench. Napoli’s in a woeful vein of form and has some absences as well, but I would have expected the Partenopei to be much bigger favorites based on name alone.
I guess I’ll pick the mild upset and go with Fiorentina by a score of 1-2. I think Napoli will control the game but the Viola will get one on the break via Lucas Beltrán (who’s been prolific of late) before the bad guys get one back via Politano, prompting Italiano to bring on the extra defender and make it a 3-4-2-1, which disrupts Napoli’s rhythm enough to allow a dramatic late winner for (who else?) Nico González. Honestly, though, I’d be nearly as happy for Fiorentina to lose and head back to Italy for a few extra days of rest, given my previously-stated opinions about this whole dog and pony show.