First of all, let's forget Thursday. The Fiorentina home loss to bottom-of-the-group Dinamo Minsk did come in a dead rubber after all, and Vincenzo Montella has already expressed plenty of angst about it. And, looking at Fiorentina's form in Serie A, the result in Europe was actually a blip. La Viola were undefeated in 4 before the midweek match, and had won 3 in a row before the Juventus game. While it would have been nice to continue winning ways against Europa League minnows, let's just focus on learning lessons and beating some seahorses to start the winter campaign right.
AC Cesena are the "seahorses" (Cavallucci Marini) that I am referring to, and they have been clinging to the bottom reaches of the table since the beginning of the season. The Romagna-based club have only managed 8 points so far this season, with their only win coming against fellow-struggler Parma way back in August. Last weekend, Cesena succumbed to Atalanta in Bergamo after taking a two goal advantage in the first half, a collapse that proved fatal to the coaching tenure of Pierpalo Bisoli. Mimmo Di Carlo has stepped in, and looks to shake things up immediately, moving to 3 at the back.
Looking ahead to how both la Viola might line up, Fiorentina will return most of the starters from the past two weeks, although there was certainly a surprise name in the squad for the match. Mounir El Hamdaoui was selected for the first time this season, in the absence of Khouma Babacar. Not that the Moroccan will approach the starting lineup. Mario Gomez will keep his starting spot, not because of form but because he is the only quality striking option available at the moment. Behind him, the recently-electric Matias Fernandez appears to be favored over Josip Ilicic and Marko Marin for the "support striker" role in Montella's 3-5-1-1; Marcos Alonso and Joaquin will return to their respective wings, while Juan Cuadrado will miss out due to a one-game suspension.
While we fans have looked ahead to this stretch of fixtures for a while now as a potential period to climb back up the table, now the team needs to pick up the points. Fiorentina face all three promoted sides as well as Parma (20th) and Chievo (16th) before the calendar turns over for the "return" campaign, and we remain only 6 points off of 3rd. 3 points is an absolute must away to Cesena if Montella and company want to still dream of the Champions League.
Cesena (3-5-2): Leali; Volta, Capelli, Lucchini; Nica, Carbonero, Cascione, Tabanelli, Mazzotta; Defrel, Hugo Almeida
FIORENTINA (3-5-1-1): NETO; SAVIC, GONZALO, BASANTA; JOAQUIN, AQUILANI, PIZARRO, BORJA VALERO, ALONSO; MATIAS FERNANDEZ; MARIO GOMEZ