Where We Are
Fiorentina is in a bit of a funk after a more-than-controversial draw away to Parma this past Monday. The fans are furious about the officiating, the players are nervous, and Borja Valero has been banned four matches for his late red card (although appeals will be made). Despite all the bad vibes, this European match may well give a chance to reflect on all of the things that continue to go right. Fiorentina continue to sit fairly comfortably in 4th place in Serie A, and are poised to advance into the Round of 16 in the Europa League after an extremely good campaign. Oh and there is that Coppa Italia Final in May too.
Looking at the options at the disposal of Vincenzo Montella, it's not all doom and gloom either, despite the shifting he will have to make on Sunday against Lazio. Some papers including La Gazzetta dello Sport expect Mario Gomez to be a part of the Fiorentina starting eleven for the first time since September, while Borja Valero and David Pizarro (both suspended for the weekend Serie A game) are certain starters. From there, the selections are almost any one's guess, with Montella having a wealth of options should he wish to rotate. After the positive performance in Denmark, I would expect Ryder Matos to play wide on the left, and Facundo Roncaglia (who was less positive in the first leg) to again get some minutes on the left.
Where They Are
Esbjerg were able to bounce back from their loss to Fiorentina last weekend, recommencing their Danish Superliga campaign with an important victory at home against Nordsjaelland. The 2-1 result temporarily lifts our European opponents out of the relegation places, with Bakenga and Pusic the scorers.
Coach Niels Frederiksen has the option to do a complete swap of the starting lineup and accept the tie as lost in order to focus on league matters, but I very much doubt that this will be the case. Regardless, my knowledge on the Danish club's preparation and potential turnover is minimal at the time of posting.
With such a heavy advantage on aggregate in Fiorentina's favor (we could even lose 2-0 and go through on away goals), it's hard to see a scenario where la Viola do not move on to the next round. What is more important - in my opinion - is seeing a side who is focused and playing excellent football, instead of dwelling on injustices from previous games or sitting on the result, as we have done in some other dead rubbers in Europe this year.
A careful eye will surely be cast on Borja Valero, who not only looked troubled before being ejected in Parma, but generally had a terrible game. Mario Gomez will also definitely be given a second look by us tifosi in his first start since returning to injury, but the important thing is to continue to give the individuals (and the team in general) patience, as we have seen it rewarded. Forza Viola everyone, and facci divertire ragazzi we need it after these past couple days.
FIORENTINA (4-3-3): Neto; Roncaglia, Savic, Compper, Vargas; Bakic, Pizarro, Borja Valero; Joaquin, Gomez, Matos
Esbjerg (4-4-2): Ronnow; P. Ankersen, Hansen, Drobo-Ampem, Knudsen; J. Ankersen, Andreasen, Lekven, Lyng; van Buren, Bakenga
P.S. I just looked back through the comments on the first Esbjerg preview, and I am really sorry I missed out on the thread! So many of you guys know one of my favorite plays by one of my favorite playwrights, best fan community ever!!
P.P.S. Do search #WellBehavedBorja on Twitter to check out the other project I was working on this morning...