Cagliari vs Fiorentina: Preview

Fiorentina steams into the final (except for the postponed match against Atalanta) Serie A match of the year with a long flight to Sardinia and Cagliari. In 87 previous meetings, the Viola hold a W37 D25 L25 record, including 6 straight without a loss. The reverse leg ended 3-0 to the good guys back in October behind goals from Nico González and M’Bala Nzola.

The referee for this one is 37-year-old Alessandro Prontera of Bologna. In 9 Serie A matches this year, he’s handed out 28 yellow cards and 5 penalties; he clearly loves giving a spot kick, so brace yourselves. In 5 previous outings under his direction, Fiorentina is W3 D1 L1. Last we saw him was the 1-1 draw with Empoli in 2023 featuring a late headed winner from dearly departed chungus Arthur Cabral.

The match will be played Thursday, 23 May 2024, at 6:45 PM GMT/2:45 PM EST, at the Unipol Domus in Cagliari. Expect a pretty warm game under the Sardinian sunset, which should be lovely. Also lovely should be the atmosphere around the arena, as the Rossoblù have mathematically secured Serie A survival, although the Isolani ultras’ behavior in Florence back in October was pretty reprehensible—hoods, masks, smoke bombs—so it could turn a bit ugly, too.

Cagliari

36 points isn’t a great return but it’s enough: Cagliari currently sit 15th and, due to head-to-head results against Empoli, have guaranteed Serie A safety despite being just 3 points out of the drop zone on the final match day. That could lead to a bit of a lax atmosphere, especially on a weeknight, especially with the players focused on getting to a beach somewhere.

How can you not love this man?
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Manager Claudio Ranieri (everyone’s favorite nonno) won’t have CB Alberto Dossena, DM Antoine Makoumbou, or LW Jakub Jankto. He’ll set out his usual 4-2-3-1, but, this being a dead rubber, he might give chances to some of his bench players as a reward for their work this season; club captain Leonardo Pavoletti, veterans Marco Mancosu and Nicolas Viola, and stalwart Nahitan Nández are all out of contract this summer and will almost certainly get a farewell start. Viola fans will also keep an eye on Yerry Mina, of course, but the Fiorentina attackers will watch him (and their nipples) even more closely.

Ranieri’s style of play isn’t a surprise to anyone at this point: the primary approach is finding the front four in space, hoping to use their combination play to open up the opposing defense or win free kicks, from which they’re dangerous. Cagliari has a bunch of different forwards: Vito Luvumbo has electric pace, Leonardo Pavoletti is an aerial powerhouse, Gianluca Lapadula is a consummate poacher, Eldor Shomurodov is a pressing maniac, and Andrea Petagna is just enormous. Both fullbacks also get forward really well and need to be closed down, as Tommaso Augello and Gabriele Zappa are good crossers.

Fiorentina

While the focus is rightfully on the Conference League final on Wednesday, this game is extremely important for Fiorentina. A win guarantees 8th place in Serie A (as would a draw or loss from Torino against Atalanta) and qualification for the Conference League next year as well. While a win against Olympiacos would obviously be a better outcome, as it would bring that Europa League prestige and money, securing any sort of European competition is of paramount importance for a club that isn’t receiving much cash in the transfer market from Rocco Commisso these days.

Manager Vincenzo Italiano may rotate his side a bit ahead of the final in an effort to avoid injuries and keep everyone fresh, although the 6 days off could be enough to convince him to trot out the starters. There’s no telling which it’ll be, if either: predicting Cousin Vinnie’s lineups has historically been an impossible task, as evidenced by the fact that he’s only trotted out the same XI in back-to-back games once in his 3 years in Florence.

Cagliari will sit deep and narrow in 2 banks of 4 defenders, rarely pressing high and focusing on defending its own penalty area. They’ll likely concede plenty of crosses into a crowded box and happily allow Fiorentina to pass around anywhere outside 35 yards from goal. It’s worked well enough to keep them up but the Rossoblù have conceded 65 goals this year and, frankly, aren’t very secure back there. They’ve conceded a lot of goals in a lot of different ways and haven’t kept opponents out of the box very well; their average distance of shot conceded is joint-worst in Serie with (drum roll) Fiorentina.

Possible lineups

How to watch

TV: Doubtful but check the international television listings.

Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams.

Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department

Fiorentina is favored at the bookmakers but not by as much as you might think, perhaps due to this match’s appearance as a dead rubber (and again, it’s not). I’d expect a pretty high-scoring game, as Cagliari’s porous defense and Fiorentina’s consistent brain farts at the back promise plenty of goal mouth action.

I’ll take the visitors to win a 3-2 barnburner, overcoming any initial apathy in a back-and-forth game that’s actually quite fun to watch. Goals from Jonathan Ikoné, Nico González (from the spot), and Rolando Mandragora feel about right, with Pavoletti and Luvumbo on target for the hosts.

Forza Viola!

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