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Fiorentina looking to stay focused in Empoli derby

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The last Viola game of 2014 pits Montella's rejuvenated team against bitter neighbors Empoli

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Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

Yes, Fiorentina have found a bit of a groove and are in the middle of a softer run of fixtures, but no one in purple can afford to relax this weekend, as a fired-up foe comes to town. Empoli haven't won in Florence since 1997, and find themselves in Serie A for the first time since 2008. Empoli fans have always hated Fiorentina, the most glamorous Tuscan club, and (if that weren't motivation enough) their team enters the derby undefeated in their last 6, impressively beating Lazio at home and drawing away in Naples.

Empoli's good form and the huge motivations that the blue-clad visitors will bring have produced an admirable midweek response from Fiorentina players and Vincenzo Montella, who emphasized the importance of the game with extra training sessions and an early "retreat" for match day preparations.

Both teams have most of their first-choice starters available for the big game on Sunday. Montella, while lacking long-injured Giuseppe Rossi and Federico Bernardeschi, regains Juan Cuadrado after his one-match suspension, while on-loan Viola talent Matias Vecino won't get a chance to shine against his club because of his own yellow card accumulation (by most accounts, he is quietly having a very good season just down the road from the Tuscan capital). Empoli coach Maurizio Sarri is expected to favor a typically youthful 4-3-1-2, while Montella is not expected to deviate from the 3-5-2 of the past month. Mario Gomez will again lead the line, hoping for a big goal in front of the home fans. Joaquin and Matias Fernandez - both in a wonderful spell of good form - are both expected to start with Juan Cuadrado, with Alberto Aquilani the most likely to drop to the bench. Manuel Pasqual has also recovered from his injury ahead of schedule, and will challenge Marcos Alonso for a starting bid on the left.

All in all, expect a tightly contested match to finish off the pre-Christmas campaign... and a packed, electric stadium: Empoli are said to be bringing as many as 1,000 "traveling" fans to the Artemio Franchi for the daytime kickoff. A win would keep Fiorentina only 3 points off the magical 3rd place in the league going into the holiday break. Let's hope they can grab a huge result against determined opposition. FORZA VIOLA ALE!

Projected Lineups

FIORENTINA (3-5-2): NETO; SAVIC, GONZALO, BASANTA; JOAQUIN, MATI, PIZARRO, BORJA VALERO, ALONSO; CUADRADO, GOMEZ

Empoli (4-3-1-2): Sepe; Hysaj, Tonelli, Rugani, Mario Rui; Croce, Valdifiori, Laxalt; Verdi; Tavano, Maccarone