Where We Are
FIORENTINA Serie A Record 2-1-0 (7 pts, T-4th)
The buzz word for this sort of game is "reaction." Fiorentina enter their first proper Europa League fixture with a glum atmosphere hanging over Florence, the product of a double injury blow to Juan Cuadrado (shoulder, 3 weeks) and Mario Gomez (knee, 6-8 weeks) as well as questionable officiating in a frustrating draw at home to Cagliari. La Viola can seize this game as an opportunity to open their European campaign on a much more positive note and build momentum towards their trip to Atalanta on Sunday.
The squad selection for the Thursday fixture is quite up in the air, and presents a different challenge to the qualifying double versus Grasshoppers. Against the Swiss team, Vincenzo Montella was facing an athletic, organized side that was already in mid-season physical condition, and therefore selected close to his best team, despite fatigue. Now - even without considering the injuries - a certain degree of experimentation will become necessary. We can expect Pizarro to start given his suspension from Sunday's Serie A competition, but the question of how to best substitute Cuadrado and Gomez presents a more interesting puzzle.
In the next couple weeks, Montella will be forced to decide between two solutions: wingers or trequartistas. The mister could opt for a 4-3-3, with Giuseppe Rossi (or another, depending on stamina) playing the "false 9" like Jovetic did for stretches of last season, and then choosing between Rebic, Iakovenko, Ilicic, and Joaquin as wide players. Alternatively, Montella could try a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-1-2 that could see either Borja Valero return to a slot behind the strikers, or one of Vecino, Matias Fernandez, Ilicic, or Wolski be given a chance in their natural position. Matos Ryder could also be called into service. In other words, our squad has a lot of flexible young talent in these advanced midfielder roles, and it will be interesting to see what tactical and technical attributes they can bring to the Fiorentina XI; however, since Rebic, Vecino, and Wolski didn't make the cut for the initial Europa League squad, neither of those three will be the added interest in the formation this week. My projected formation and lineup below is based on word from fan sites, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a 4-3-3.
More concretely, we can expect Stefan Savic and Nedad Tomovic to return to the defense in place of Marvin Compper and Facundo Roncaglia, respectively, while Borja, Rossi, Gonzalo Rodriguez, and Alberto Aquilani are all expected to start on short rest. Montella will likely choose as reliable a lineup as he can to please what will definitely be a packed Artemio Franchi for our Europa League opener, and get the campaign off to a good start.
Where They Are
Paços de Ferreira Primeira Liga 0-0-4 (0 pts, 16th)
Paços come to Florence on a dire run of form; the northern Portugese haven't had a win in any competition since the 5th of last May, when they defeated Sporting at home 1-0. Granted, they have had a difficult beginning to the season, having already faced Porto, Benfica, and Braga, as well as Zenit St. Petersburg in the Champions League play-offs; regardless, they are one of only two teams in the Primeira Liga yet to gain a single point. Last season saw Paulo Fonseca's men as the surprise of the campaign, finishing a best-ever 3rd place and only losing four games, qualifying for a Champion's League play-off slot. With coach Fonseca now at Porto after last season's remarkable results, they are coached by former Portugese defensive midfielder and first-time coach Costinha, and naturally haven't looked quite the same. In other words, Os Castores ("the beavers") will be looking for a reaction of their own.
Paços de Ferreira generally play a 4-3-3. They will likely be without their usual starting striker Carlao, so Manchester United loanee and joke magnet Bébé may lead the line. The attacking threat from Paços comes from their wide players however, with Peruvian international Hurtado and Porto youth product Manuel José being their leading scorers from last year. Sergio Oliveira is one to watch in their midfield, a young Portugese starlet on loan from Porto.
In my eyes this game is considerably easier than the match against Cagliari on paper, but Fiorentina simply cannot afford to underestimate a European opponent. It will be essential for Fiorentina to dictate the tempo from the opening kick off and quell any anxiety around, both on the field and in the stands. Here's to a strong Viola performance and result!
Alonso, Ambrosini, Aquilani, Borja Valero, Bakic, Compper, Mati Fernandez, Iakovenko, Joaquín, Lezzerini, Munua, Pasqual, Pizarro, Matos Ryder (!!!), Rodriguez, Roncaglia, Rossi, Tomović
FIORENTINA (4-3-1-2) Neto; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Savic, Pasqual (Alonso); Aquilani, Pizarro, Ambrosini (Bakic); Borja Valero; Rossi, Iakovenko
Paços de Ferreira (4-3-3) Degra; Nuno Santos, Arnolin, Ricardo, Helder Lopez; Sergio Oliveira, Andre Leão, Vitor; Manuel José, Bébé, Hurtado