Off the back of a 1-1 draw with relegation-threatened Udinese, Stefano Pioli’s Fiorentina look to return to winning ways as they play host to second-place Napoli at the Stadio Artemio Franchi on Saturday.
Unlike the Partenopei who sit cozy in second with an 11-point advantage over Inter, the Viola are currently playing catch-up in the heated race for 4th and have their work cut out, trailing the likes of Lazio, Milan, Atalanta, Roma and Sampdoria.
Napoli managed to trim the deficit between them and Juventus back down to single digits last weekend with a 3-0 win over Sampdoria, and hope to narrow the gap even more at the Franchi – confines proving not so friendly for Fiorentina.
Here are five things to watch for in Fiorentina vs Napoli.
Fiore coping without suspended CB Milenković: The highly coveted Serbian central defender, aged 21, projects to make a massive move this summer as several Premier League outfits lurk to pry him away from Firenze. But while they have him under wraps, it is imperative the Viola make the most of what could be his final half season and ride him defensively to the promised land in the form of a fourth place finish. However, due to suspension, Milenkovic will observe from the sidelines and hope the projected central duo of Pezzella and Hancko can hold Napoli’s attack in check in his absence.
Milik keeping pace with Piatek: A revelation in every sense of the word, Piatek’s the Pole receiving most of the praise and plaudits on the peninsula. With 14 Serie A goals to his credit compounded by a major €35 million move to Milan last month, the Rossoneri’s new bomber will remain in the spotlight. Caught in between all the craze behind the former Genoa’s massive goal eruption, however, is perhaps an equal, but underrated, campaign from his fellow countryman. Milik trails Piatek by two goals, yet is scoring at a better rate (104 min/g vs 121 min/g) and in nearly 500 less minutes. Expect the ex-Ajax forward to assert himself early and get on the scoresheet for the second straight match.
Chiesa, Muriel assuming bulk of attacking burden: Since returning to Italian soil, Muriel has terrorized virtually every opponent in his path, scoring three goals in as many league matches. During this same span however, Chiesa’s taken his game and offensive production to new heights with 7 goals in his last five matches across all competitions. Fiore fans did not anticipate Giovanni Simeone to struggle this much, and remain hopeful in the Argentine break out of his funk. But for the time being, while ‘El Cholito’ is in a cold spell, riding Chiesa and Muriel’s blistering form may be the best route towards playing spoiler.
Hysaj quelling any doubt about his starting status: For a brief period, Kevin Malcuit seemed to have convinced us all he should be the starter, and perhaps many still believe that to be the case. The Frenchman may seem like the optimal choice while in form, but Hysaj’s body of work spanning multiple seasons is at least deserving of a fair shot at winning back his right-back job full-time. With Malcuit having already passed previous tests with flying colors and impressing on both ends, now is the time for Hysaj to quell any doubt about who is Ancelotti’s best option.
Dabo’s deserved showcase in the midfield: For whatever reason, the former Saint Etienne midfielder appears to be low on Pioli’s pecking order at the moment, this despite turning in one positive shift after the other in limited minutes. The 26-year old, who isn’t a standout in any one role but provides enough versatility to fill in multiple positions, could get the starting nod in Pioli’s three-man midfield next to Edimilson Fernandes and Jordan Veretout. Perhaps in a showcase fixture of this importance, Dabo can stake his claim for an increased workload by showing up in a big way.
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