Following a comeback campaign in 2021-22, Fiorentina get their Serie A season under way on Sunday, as they welcome promoted Cremonese to Stadio Artemio Franchi.
The visitors return to the top flight after 26 years away, and they are faced by a side that put together Italy’s second-best home record last term.
Years of turmoil and decline were cast aside by Fiorentina last season, as an upturn in fortunes saw them finish seventh in Serie A after continually threatening the established order near the top of the table.
Vincenzo Italiano‘s arrival in the summer brought a progressive style of play, and the Viola became Calcio’s great entertainers; ultimately qualifying for a return to continental competition, in the Europa Conference League.
Ahead of the playoffs for Europe’s newest club competition, in which Fiorentina will face Twente later this month, Italiano has been preparing for the challenges ahead: refining his squad by signing midfielder Rolando Mandragora, Brazilian full-back Dodo and Real Madrid reject Luka Jovic, who will seek to rebuild his reputation in Florence.
Defensive mainstay Nikola Milenkovic has also agreed a new deal amid interest from Italy’s top clubs, citing the Viola’s renewed ambition, though Lucas Torreira and loan striker Krzysztof Piatek have followed last term’s top scorer Dusan Vlahovic – who left in January – out of the door.
An opening-day win is now expected, as only Inter accrued more points in home games than Fiorentina in the 2021-22 campaign, and the Tuscan side won 13 of their 19 fixtures at the Franchi in the process.
The chances of extending such an impressive record are substantial given precedent, too, as they remain unbeaten against Cremonese in Serie A across 10 previous encounters – though the clubs’ last meeting in the top flight was back in 1996, when Claudio Ranieri was in charge.
Not only have they never beaten Sunday’s opponents in Serie A, Cremonese’s seven previous openers at the top level – which, incidentally, all came away from home – have ended in defeat.
The Lombardy club last left Italy’s elite in 1996, when they finished second from bottom of the standings, and now finally return after edging out Pisa to snatch second in Serie B last season.
Winning the most games of any team in the second tier – 20, a record for the club in a single Serie B campaign – Cremonese are set to tackle the task of avoiding relegation under new management, following the resignation of promotion-winning coach Fabio Pecchia in May.
Former Perugia boss Massimiliano Alvini‘s first ever Serie A appointment represents something of a risk for the newcomers, but the addition of David Okereke and Cyriel Dessers should provide the Grigiorossi’s firepower in the coming months.
Following four wins from five in pre-season, Cremonese then progressed in the Coppa Italia on Monday, as Okereke scored the second goal in a 3-2 ‘home’ victory over Ternana at SPAL’s Stadio Paolo Mazza – they must play their first two league matches away, while renovations at Stadio Giovanni Zini are completed.
Fiorentina’s defence conceded five goals in the course of losing their final two friendlies in pre-season, but Vincenzo Italiano’s commitment to attack will remain apparent on Sunday.
Newly acquired full-back Dodo is more comfortable going forward than tracking back, and was involved in the most goals of any defender during the last two seasons in Ukraine: recording two goals and nine assists for Shakhtar Donetsk.
In front of the back four, a three-man midfield will be short of Gaetano Castrovilli – who is still sidelined by injury – while up front, star signing Luka Jovic should be flanked by Jonathan Ikone and Nicolas Gonzalez.
The latter – in his first Serie A season – ended last term top of the Viola’s stats for assists (six), touches in the opposition box (148), successful dribbles (57) and chances created (37).
Meanwhile, Luca Zanimacchia and Cristian Buonaiuto played a part in the most Cremonese goals in Serie B last season: both 13, with eight goals and five assists each.
The pair will hope to feature in a familiar front three alongside Daniel Ciofani, but face competition from Nigerian new boys David Okereke and Cyriel Dessers.
Of the visitors’ other summer signings, Genoa duo Johan Vasquez and Paolo Ghiglione, plus Romanian pair Vlad Chiriches and Ionut Radu are most likely to start, but Santiago Ascacibar (on loan from Hertha Berlin) is ruled out by injury.
Fiorentina possible starting lineup:
Terracciano; Dodo, Milenkovic, Igor, Biraghi; Bonaventura, Amrabat, Maleh; Ikone, Jovic, Gonzalez
Cremonese possible starting lineup:
Radu; Semicola, Chiriches, Vasquez; Ghiglione, Milanese, Castagnetti, Valeri; Zanimacchia; Dessers, Okereke