Where We Are
Fiorentina are coming off of a 1-0 loss last weekend against Juve in Turin, continuing a terrible run of form in Serie A, with 2 draws and 3 defeats in their past 5 games. But anyone who saw the game on Sunday should be oddly heartened by that performance, with Fiorentina playing better in the second half than they did most of February, and probably deserving a draw after narrowly missing a couple late chances.
Now Vincenzo Montella will hope his team can use the weekend's 2nd half performance and their so-far exceptional Europa League run to bring a result back to Florence for the second leg. Montella is expected to move back to a 3-5-2 on Thursday, and is boosted by being able to play a rested Borja Valero (suspended in the league), who is expected to play alongside Matias Fernandez; Aberto Aquilani is favored over David Pizarro as the third midfielder and regista. In defense Nenad Tomovic returns and will likely play alongside Gonzalo Rodriguez and Stefan Savic (if the Montenegrin is fit, as he has had a slight muscular problem in training). Manuel Pasqual and Juan Cuadrado will be charged with the wide areas, while Alessandro Matri (ex-Juve) and Josip Ilicic are the anticipated attacking duo. Joaquin didn't make the squad do to a minor injury, but Matos or even Gomez could be surprise changes in attacking areas.
Where They Are
Juventus continue their apparently unstoppable march at the top of Serie A, having defeated our boys 1-0 at home, riding a good first half and a great Kwadwo Asamoah to victory. In their most recent European outing they looked imperious dismantling Trabzonspor in Turkey, but have also accumulated a couple 2-2 draws at home in Europe this season, a scoreline that would certainly be viewed as excellent for the Viola.
Antonio Conte will be without Carlos Tevez due to injury, and will likely play his second choice forward pairing of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo (ex-Viola) and Sebastian Giovinco. The Juve midfield will also be bolstered by the availability of Andrea Pirlo, with one of Arturo Vidal or Paul Pogba expected to be rested to make way. Mauricio Isla may be favored to Stephan Lichsteiner on the right wing.
I would never have expected a 1-0 defeat to be heartening, but the Fiorentina performance this weekend definitely has me hoping for even better in this huge game. Borja Valero is back, motivated and rested, and his mere presence should provide a much needed spark to the Viola play; several of his touches against Juventus in October were wonderfully decisive (if not as decisive as a certain other ex-Villarreal player's... but let that be). Cuadrado and Matri will be asked to give more than they have in recent matches, but Montella's anticipated rejigging makes sense and favors some form players, with Ilicic's positioning potentially problematic for Juve playing just behind Pirlo. His attitude in the press conference as well was encouraging, looking relaxed and confident, every bit a man with a plan in place, while underscoring Juventus' quality and our status as underdogs.
All we can do is hope for the best, or, even better, dream. Juventus is the better side, but maybe we can play two better games. I leave you with some wistful but heartwarming stuff from our Pepito:
Vorrei essere in campo a giocarmi il tutto per tutto in questa nuova sfida con la Juve.. Sarò con voi fino alla fine, forza Viola!
Vorrei essere in campo a giocarmi il tutto per tutto in questa nuova sfida con la Juve.. Sarò con voi fino alla fine, forza Viola!— GIUSEPPE ROSSI (@GiuseppeRossi22) March 12, 2014
Juventus (3-5-2) Buffon; Caceres, Bonucci, Chiellini; Isla, Marchisio, Pirlo, Vidal, Asamoah; Giovinco, Osvaldo
FIORENTINA (3-5-2) Neto; Tomovic, Gonzalo, Savic; Cuadrado, Matias Fernandez, Aquilani, Borja Valero, Pasqual; Ilicic, Matri