The window is closed and discontent reigns supreme among Fiorentina fans, but the season churns on with the team heading south to take on Lecce. In 39 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W15 D13 L11 edge, including W2 D2 L1 over their past 5. The reverse fixture ended in a 2-2 draw featuring our boys coughing up a 2-0 lead in the second half.
The referee for this one is 35-year-old Antonio Giua of Calangianus. In 6 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 25 yellow cards, 2 red cards, and 2 penalties; he’s usually pretty chill with the cards but isn’t afraid to point to the spot. In 5 matches under his direction, Fiorentina is W3 L2; last we saw him was the 5-0 demolition of Sampdoria last year.
The match will be played on Friday, 2 February 2024, at 7:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Stadio Ettore Giardiniero in Lecce. The forecast calls for a warm, clear winter evening, exactly as you’d expect in Apulia. Don’t be shocked to see some banners criticizing Fiorentina’s management after a transfer window that’s been widely panned by fans and media alike; with former Viola brain trust Pantaleo Corvino and Sandro Mencucci running the show for Lecce, it makes things just a bit spicier.
The team with Serie A’s lowest payroll looks a decent bet to stay up for the second year running. The Salentini sit 14th with 21 points, although that’s just 3 points out of the relegation spots. They’re in a tailspin, too, having taken just a single point from their past 6 outings, although they’ve faced Inter Milan, Atalanta, Lazio, and Juventus in that span. The underlying numbers, though, paint a picture of a team that’s a fair amount better than its results since the Yuletide.
Manager Roberto D’Aversa won’t have Kastriot Dermaku or Yiber Ramadani, but that won’t impact his plans. As you may recall from his heyday with Parma, he uses a 4-3-3 that focuses on wing play. The standout man is striker Nikola Krstović (5 goals), with winger Lameck Banda (2 goals, 4 assists) the other pivotal attacking figure. We probably won’t see new signing Santiago Pierotti, who’s replaced Gabriel Strefezza. We may, however, see old friend Lorenzo Venuti, although he hasn’t been able to push past Valentin Gendrey for a spot in the starting lineup.
Lecce aren’t particularly interested in keeping the ball at the back and instead focus on getting it forward down the wings, stretching opponents as wide as possible and letting the wide men cook; they’ve drawn more fouls than any team in the league, which nicely sums up the individualistic burden the attackers bear. The Salentini hold the dubious honor of having the farthest average distance per shot in the league, so expect some speculative efforts. This is a team based around winning 1-v-1 battles out wide, so if the Fiorentina defenders win their individual duels, the hosts shouldn’t offer too much danger.
Fiorentina’s right in the middle of a wild scene in that top of the table. 34 points is good for 7th (even on points with Lazio but they won the first matchup and Serie A takes head-to-head ahead of goal difference), 2 points behind Atalanta in 4th and 3 ahead of Torino in 10th. Yep, that’s 7 teams within 5 points of each other with Europe solidly in the sights. The problem, of course, is that the Viola have been spiraling of late, taking just a single point from their past 3. It’s not the last chance saloon yet but we’re getting there.
Manager Vincenzo Italiano won’t have Oliver Christensen, Dodô, Arthur, Gaetano Castrovilli, Jonathan Ikoné, or Christian Kouamé. He’ll set up the usual 4-2-3-1, of course, with selection questions in every department. The foremost question is whether Nicolás González is ready to start, as his presence will tilt the odds heavily towards the good guys. Nikola Milenković, Cristiano Biraghi, Michael Kayode, Maxime Lopez, and Riccardo Sottil all have a decent chance to return to the starting lineup.
Lecce tends to push up a bit higher than you’d expect out of possession; they lead the league in tackles, but also in fouls and cards. Goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone’s been fantastic, but his teammates have hung him out to dry at times: the Salentini lead the division in fouls and cards, mostly because they’re constantly selling out for tackles. That makes them particularly vulnerable to quick passing combinations or line-breaking dribblers, both of which Fiorentina can provide in the right conditions.
How to watch
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Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
The bookies have Fiorentina as favorites, which makes sense given the table, but it’s a lot closer than you might expect given the disparity between these two sides in the standings. That feels pretty accurate, frankly. Both teams have struggled of late, but for Lecce it’s been more about playing a bunch of top teams than anything, while for the Viola, the problem’s been absences in the attack.
Even so, I’ll take the visitors here in a 1-2 win, with the goals coming via Lucas Beltrán, Nico González, and (why not?) our good friend Lollo Venuti. Because he’s a lovely man and deserves nothing more than to score against his beloved Viola after being unceremoniously ditched. Anyways, Fiorentina should pretty well dominate territory and possession, but may go long more often than usual without Arthur around to direct proceedings. That’ll lead to a game that’s more up and down than expected, but I think the visitors have the horses to come out ahead.