Where We Are
Our gigliati enter this first of three "derby" matches against Juventus fresh off of one of our worst performances of the season at home against Lazio. Still perhaps distracted and frustrated by refereeing slights, Fiorentina forgot to play for much of the game, and after conceding a silly and slightly flukey goal we rarely looked like equalizing.
Vincenzo Montella now has to find a way to coax a reaction from his team for a big game, thankfully something which he has a habit of finding. We will be without Borja Valero for two more Serie A matches as he is still incomprehensibly suspended from the Lazio game, although his ban has been reduced by one game after a Fiorentina appeal. Diakite is expected to start ahead of Tomovic in defense, and Anderson (who can't play in the Europa League) is favored over Matias Fernandez to replace Borja. The still-returning-to-form Mario Gomez is also slightly favored over an out-of-sorts Alessandro Matri to lead the Viola line, with Juan Cuadrado and Josip Ilicic likely in support.
Where They Are
Juventus are enjoying a season in which they have been even more impressively dominant than their previous title-winning campaigns. What many pundits (and me, who do not qualify for that dubious honor) thought could be a slightly less impressive season as key players age have been proved emphatically wrong so far, with Juve losing only one game in Serie A (the 4-2 in Florence) and, even more worryingly, have a perfect record at home in Italy.
Expert cat trainer and Juventus coach Antonio Conte is deprived of the services of Andrea Pirlo due to yellow card accumulation, but otherwise has a full-strength squad to choose from, with Carlos "The Face of Juventus" Tevez in particularly good form.
By the time the return leg of the Europa League arrives in Florence on March 20th, these two teams will know each other quite well, but for now this game strikes me as a bit of an unknown quantity. Juventus obviously enter as heavy favorites, especially with Fiorentina in such poor form, but clouds of negativity surrounding a team often lifts with a big performance in a big game, and nothing focuses a team like a derby atmosphere. Interesting match ups are peppered all over the field, but big performances from Juan Cuadrado, David Pizarro, and Mario Gomez all figure to be key in finding ways around or through a Juventus team that is very physical and assured in the center of the field.
In addition, here is a weird bit of perspective: if we lose only one of these 3 games against Juve, I am ecstatic if it is this one. Every team that has visited Turin in Serie A this year has lost, so it is no great surprise or shame if we do as well... BUT if we learn enough to earn a draw on Thursday when Borja Valero returns, I will be optimistic of our chances in Florence.
Strategic thinking aside, I hope we run them over 3 times and Gomez scores 17 goals.
FORZA VIOLA RAGAZZI
Juventus (3-5-2) Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; LIchtsteiner, Vidal, Marchisio, Pogba, Asamoah; Tevez, Llorente
FIORENTINA (4-3-3) Neto; Diakite, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Savic, Pasqual; Aquilani, Pizarro, Anderson; Cuadrado, Gomez, Ilicic