Where We Are
FIORENTINA (3-0-0, 1st in Europa League Group E)
It is apparently a good luck charm to have a midweek fixture against Pandurii for Fiorentina, who celebrate the prospect of playing the Romanian club by beating strong Italian foes. But if the Serie A table still doesn't look ideal for la Viola, then we fans can turn our fretful minds over to the soothing, Vicks VapoRub-like relief of our Europa League results, where the boys in purple have asserted themselves with a perfect record in Group E, scoring 8 and conceding only 1 in their three matches.
The team arrive in Cluj only three points away from securing a place in the next round, but coach Vincenzo Montella is clear that the ambition is to win the group (and with good reason, as the draw could be nasty for the 2nd place finisher).
*note: the above video features Josip Ilicic actually standing, moving, and KICKING A BALL... He'll be on the bench against Pandurii. In other words HE LIVES PEOPLE.
As Montella mentions in the video, there will be player turnover, but it is unlikely to go so far as to give a starting place to any of the Primavera team youngsters that made the trip, such as Capezzi, Empereur, and Fazzi. Their ex-teammate Ryder Matos does look set to lead the line against Pandurii however, with Giuseppe Rossi resting comfortably... or apparently at Ikea watching his friends be dorks. Borja Valero is also forecasted to enjoy some well-deserved rest after running laps around the Milan midfield on Saturday. I personally hope that Gonzalo Rodriguez and Manuel Pasqual get to recline next to Valero on the bench, but Montella might be too concerned about defensive solidity to give them both a respite.
There may be further interesting developments in midfield with none of David Pizarro, Marko Bakic, or Massimo Ambrosini drafted into the roster due to minor injuries. The latest hypothesis is that Juan Cuadrado will play in central mid as one of the "runners" in Montella's usual midfield triangle (Aquilani may be asked to be a sort-of regista). Iakovenko and Joaquin would consequently be called upon to run the flanks of a 4-3-3... but who knows? It's the early Europa League stages, where predictions are futile and players like Robinho start for AC Milan. Oh wait...
Where They Are
CS Pandurii Târgu Jiu (0-1-2, 3rd in Europa League Group E)
Pandurii are still flying high in fourth place of the Romanian first division despite falling to Fiorentina 3-0 in Florence, but recently suffered a shock defeat to struggling Vaslui, losing 1-2 at home after their defender Paraskevas Christou was sent off right before halftime. The Târgu Jiu based club need at least a draw in this fixture (and a Dnipro draw or loss) to remain in contention for the next round of the Europa League, so expect them to "play hard," as the expression goes.
While Pandurii rotates personnel a great deal, expect the basic shape and top players to remain the same. Matulevičius hasn't rediscovered his scoring touch, but Pereira remains the key player in the blue and white midfield, and is now their leading scorer.
This will likely be a much less straight-forward fixture than the previous victory for Fiorentina, but 3 points are still the expectation. Much depends on the strength of the side Montella enlists, and the amount of pride exhibited by the home team. Cuadrado, Joaquin, and Matos promises to once again be a tasty proposition, although there are undeniable concerns in midfield if it is deprived of both Borja Valero and any deeper help (but please please please let Borja rest, we need him all season); managing the first 20 minutes well could prove crucial. Hopefully we will get to see some of the youngsters that Montella brought along, and celebrate moving on to the knock-out rounds with two games to spare! Avanti viola!
Pandurii (4-4-2): Stanca; Ungurusan, Christou, Erico, Sipo; Distefano, Cristea, Pereira, Anton; Alex, Matulevičius
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Neto; Roncaglia, Tomovic, Compper, Alonso; Cuadrado, Aquilani, Fernandez; Joaquin, Matos, Iakovenko