The Serie A relegation battle took another huge swing over the weekend as Empoli, who before their Sunday afternoon match against Fiorentina, sat on 29 points, five from safety and looked all but certain to be relegated to Serie B.
Wet conditions, and a wasteful Fiorentina created a perfect storm for Empoli, as Diego Farias’ second half strike breathed new life into the Tuscan side and now they sit two points adrift of Udinese and an unlikely redemption story.
It’s been a difficult season for the Empoli who were crowned Serie B champions last season, earning promotion with an attractive, attacking style of play under coach Aurelio Andreazzoli. They were referred to as the Napoli of Italy’s second tier, making reference to that style, as well as former coach Maurizio Sarri, who was then with the Partenopei.
However, things didn’t go how they wanted in Serie A. An abysmal defensive record created issues, and meant too many games have been lost. The Azzurri have conceded 66 goals the second worst the division after already relegated Chievo. That has meant they have struggled protecting their leads and have dropped a staggering 28 points from matches in which they have been in front.
They have also conceded 13 goals from set pieces, six on the counter attack, as well as losing 55 percent of aerial duels, exposing a key weakness for the Azzurri. A mid-season coaching change saw Andreazzoli sacked in November then re-hired in March, with Giuseppe Iachini taking over in the interim, didn’t help matters much as 10 points from a possible 24 look to have doomed Empoli to season in Serie B.
The team has been able to rely upon their 31-year-old striker Francesco Caputo, who has bagged 15 goals and Bosnian midfielder Rade Krunic who has got five goals and seven assists this season. The consistency of these two has helped give Empoli the tiny sliver of hope they have at the moment.
The January acquisition of Diego Farias from Cagliari was an important one for Empoli as the skillful and lively Brazilian midfielder has helped form a dangerous trio with Caputo and Krunic, while also getting three goals in 13 his appearances.
It may be too late for Empoli to be able to improve defensively, but goalkeeper Bartlomiej Dragowski has produced man of the match displays in recent weeks he will no doubt be relied upon to bail out his defenders if Empoli are to have any hope of staying up.
In their final three games, Empoli first face Sampdoria which may prove to be a winnable game as the Blucerchiati have picked up only four points from their last six games. Torino will be a difficult match with the Granata pushing for the Champions League, this making home advantage crucial if the Azzurri are to pick up anything from the game.
Finally, Empoli travel to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza to face Inter in what could be a nothing match for the home side, if they have managed to secure a Champions League spot as expected.
Many had already written Empoli off, and they looked to be joining Chievo and Frosinone in Serie B next season, but a vital win over Fiorentina may very well have given them the confidence to believe and produce the mother of all escapes as the Serie A season draws to a close.