Where We Are
FIORENTINA (5-3-1, 5th in Serie A)
The Tuscan club enters a blockbuster midweek fixture after an effective away win in Verona, following big wins before that in the Europa League and against Juventus. Now Fiorentina have to match up with another "big" of Serie A with Napoli visiting.
La Viola carry a couple important absences into the match. There's obviously the continued absence of Mario Gomez, who hopes to return in the game at Udinese after the next international break. But another blow is the loss of the other bomber, Gonzalo Rodriguez, who has to sit this one out due to yellow card accumulation; at least he will be fresh to play Milan on Saturday, and will hopefully continue his sterling form marshaling the defense at the San Siro.
Vincenzo Montella is said to be favoring a return to the 3-5-2 against the Neapolitans, with the usual starting midfield trio, Marvin Compper entrusted to the center of defense in Gonzalo's place, and Joaquin asked to pair Giuseppe Rossi up front. Despite the win against Chievo, all three units will be asked to perform far better than they did on Sunday. Stefan Savic and Alberto Aquilani in particular will look to kick-start their form in front of 30,000 home supporters at the Artemio Franchi.
Where They Are
Napoli (7-1-1, t-2nd in Serie A)
Rafa Benitez has a much-transformed Napoli side towards the top of the table early into the season, but losses away to Arsenal and Roma have shown that they are not invincible, especially if a team is able to get behind the formidable midfield shield of Gokhan Inler and ex-Viola (and continued heartthrob of mine) Valon Behrami.
Super Slovak Marek Hamsik remains the creative key to Napoli's attack, with recent Spanish transplant Jose Callejon to one side and Dries Mertens (favored over Lorenzo Insigne) to the left of Benitez's 4-2-3-1. Apparently Napoli also have some Argentinean guy named "Gonzalo" who purports to score lots of goals, but has only scored two more than our bomber Gonzalo in all competitions. Also keep an eye out for another ex-Viola in Christian Maggio, both for potential defensive liabilities as a pure right-back, and for his ability going forward.
Let's be real folks. I was going spend a lot of time talking about the epic Gonzalo versus Gonzalo showdown, but now that Rodriguez is suspended it's moot (though that clearly isn't stopping me from trying). So here are a couple other quick stories to watch out for:
- Rafa Benitez has faced Fiorentina twice before, of course, but neither of those matches will be his fondest memory... Cesare Prandelli's team beat Liverpool home and away in the Champions League group stages of 2009/2010. The fixture at Anfield was also Aquilani's debut for Liverpool.
- This should be a very interesting tactical battle, and we should watch for how high Napoli decide to press. A higher press will likely give our ballplayers trouble to play their possession game (especially with Gonzalo's absence) but may also expose the Napoli back four to the speed of Joaquin and Cuadrado. A deeper press will concede a majority of possession to Fiorentina, but Napoli will then look to break quickly 4 versus 3. Knowing Rafa's traditional tendencies, he will likely keep the team compact and deep, and look to break quickly.
- Fiorentina will definitely need all three of Aquilani, Pizarro, and Borja Valero on their game today to respond to how Napoli set up, a midfield triangle that seemed so unstoppable last season but has sputtered at the beginning of this campaign. Of course, little else may matter if Napoli encounter a Juan Cuadrado playing like he was at the weekend, and the Borja - Vespa - Pepito axis is always capable of a moment of magic.
- A win would put Fiorentina in fourth place, just one point behind Napoli, probably 4 behind Juventus in second. A loss could leave us sixth, 7 points behind the Champions League places. The stakes are high, in other words.
FIORENTINA (3-5-2) Neto; Roncaglia, Compper, Savic; Cuadrado, Aquilani, Pizarro, Borja Valero, Pasqual; Joaquin, Rossi,
Napoli (4-2-3-1) Reina; Maggio, Albiol, Fernandez, Armero; Behrami, Inler; Mertens, Hamsik, Callejon; Higuain