EUROPEAN football fanatic Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) is chasing a fifth consecutive European NAP winner on Sunday when he heads to Serie A.
Fiorentina v Cagliari | Sunday 21st October 2018, 17:00 | Eleven Sports
Sunday’s Serie A showdown from Florence between Fiorentina and Cagliari will be a poignant and emotional occasion. The two clubs were where Davide Astori spent most of his career and the encounter will be marked by a joint commemoration of his life beforehand.
The defender and La Viola skipper died suddenly in his sleep in the Fiorentina team hotel in Udine back in March, aged just 31. There will be a special choreography in the stands and a commemorative award handed over to his parents at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.
Home head coach Stefano Pioli says Astori is “still with us” as they look to cement their position in the upper echelons of the league table. And just this week the Fiorentina boss reaffirmed his commitment to challenging for European qualification, as well as the Coppa Italia title.
Thus far, La Viola are one of the surprise packages of the season. The side signed off for the international break with another exciting and enterprising effort but failed to make their pressure count at Lazio, losing 1-0 despite winning the shot and xG count, and firing in 11 attempts from inside the penalty area.
Fiorentina paid for their poor finishing but have impressed in four devilishly difficult away trips to Lazio, Inter Milan, Napoli and Sampdoria. Pioli’s posse may have garnered a solitary point from those games as guests, but La Viola have competed valiantly for large swathes of all four fixtures and deserve our respect.
A return to their Stadio Artemio Franchi base should do the trick, particularly with a home contest against wretched travellers Cagliari on Sunday evening. The hosts have a perfect record in Florence this term with four wins from four by an aggregate 12-1, silencing three of their four visitors.
The hosts have a fully fit squad available and boast an excellent W10-D2-L2 return when welcoming bottom-half teams under Pioli’s watch, keeping nine clean sheets. With that in mind, I’m happy to support the hosts at 5/6 (Ladbrokes) in a match featuring Under 4.5 Goals.
Two of Fiorentina’s six goals they’ve shipped at this early stage came via a penalty and an effort from outside of the box, whilst La Viola are giving up just 0.54 xG from open play per-game. Meanwhile, no Serie A side have faced as few shots on-target as the hosts.
Sardinians to come unstuck
Considering Cagliari have scored once on the road this season, the win ‘to nil’ is certainly an option. The case becomes stronger when considering the Sardinians have posted 10 losses from their past 12 trips to top-half teams, failing to score on seven occasions and being beaten by at least two goals in seven contests.
However, I prefer the security of having a potential away goal onside.
Rolando Maran’s men sealed a welcome 2-0 home triumph over Bologna before the international break but in truth have struggled to make major inroads in the final-third. Their 0.48 xG from open play per-game is third-worst in Serie A and only three clubs have registered fewer shots, or on-target efforts.
Even so, Maran is renowned as a defensive organiser from his time at Chievo and can keep Cagliari competitive here. The Rossoblu are giving up 0.85 xG from open play per-game and suffered 2-0 defeats in three of their four away days, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see the Islanders go down bravely.
Adding the Under 4.5 Goals angle allows us to have the Fiorentina winning correct scores of 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 2-1 and 3-1 onside, results that have landed in all bar one of their 12 triumphs at the Franchi under Pioli, as well as 44 (86%) of their past 51 home victories since the start of 2013/14.
Fiorentina v Cagliari – Fiorentina to win and Under 4.5 Goals (5/6 Ladbrokes)